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B2B Marketing’s Role Reexamined

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Ruth Stevens, a NY-based consultant in B2B marketing and part-time instructor at NYU Stern School of Business, joins our guest host Camela Thompson in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Ruth shares some truth bombs about marketing’s role in B2B, the importance of disciplined data management, and the reality of data in B2B.

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Ruth Stevens

Based out of New York, Ruth Stevens is a noted consultant in B2B marketing and part-time instructor at NYU Stern.

Revenue Marketing Report

Full Podcast w/ Ruth Stevens

Tailor Your Message, But Be Practical

We’ve said it many times before. The buyer journey in B2B is not linear. People move in and out of different stages as they acquire budget, lose budget, and get a change in priorities from executive leadership. We also see several people involved in the decision-making process.

Ruth said, “I've seen data suggesting that fewer than 10% of B2B transactions involve a single buyer. Those purchases are typically low-expense items such as copy paper and toner. Otherwise, just about every business purchase involves more than one party.

“There was some data from a few years ago that suggested the buying group or buying center in large enterprises comprises as many as 21 individuals on average. And in some categories, like technology, it's probably larger.”

Marketers still focused on attracting a single point of contact at an account are out of touch with the reality the sales team faces.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to prepare materials to cater to the different buyer personas.

persona messaging

Decision-makers are persuaded by ROI discussions like employee productivity or efficiency in a factory. ROI is the umbrella term for their buying criteria.

End-users care about whether the product will work and if it will be easy to use. End-users look for reliability, availability, and ease of use.

Specifiers care about meeting technical requirements and review specs.

“And then there are Purchasing Agents who tend to be all about price and tactical criteria, like shipping dates, reliability, and reputation. They want to know if they can trust you to deliver on time and budget.”

This isn’t to suggest that marketing should be communicating to all 21 people on a buyer committee throughout the buyer journey. It takes a salesperson interacting with people at an account to understand who is involved in the buying decision and which role they play.

While marketing should develop the content sales needs to help move a sale forward with these buyers, cold prospecting content should be aimed at two to three broader buyer categories.

“Marketers should tailor their message as early as possible, but realistically speaking, marketers often divide materials by business buyer and technical buyer. The technical buyer is going to care about availability, reliability, and ease of use. When you’re talking to the business buyer, they care about productivity and ROI.”

What’s With the Tension Between Marketing and Sales?

Ruth and I discussed marketing metrics when we stumbled on some key sources of tension between marketing and sales.

Ruth said, “The quality of a lead may be measured by sales conversion, but this is where businesses struggle. The sales conversion is seldom attributable to a single marketing investment, not to mention a single sales call. As we know, it takes scads of touches from both sales and marketing into all those 21 people in the buyer committee we were talking about.

“Ideally, we get to the account level to look at how much we have invested in trying to persuade this account to buy. The other challenge is going to be the pressure from sales. We’ve all seen the constant disconnect between sales and marketing. I've never heard a salesperson credit marketing with anything that he or she converted, and marketers, of course, are always complaining that sales doesn't follow up properly on the leads they have so assiduously and creatively and carefully developed.”

That isn’t to say that marketing or sales is right. There’s a bit of truth from both sides. Marketing tends to develop buyer profiles and content without input from sales, and sales is on the phone with prospects all day, every day. They are a wonderful, qualitative resource that can weigh whether or not a specific message is landing almost immediately.

There’s also a realization that needs to take place that marketing’s role in B2B is very different than B2C.

“Marketing needs to step up and acknowledge internally that we marketers are in service to sales. The P&L (profit and loss) in a B2B company is owned by the chief revenue officer, not the CMO. And our job in marketing is sales enablement and finding sales productivity improvements.

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“This can be a difficult pill for a marketer to swallow if he or she comes from consumer marketing where the P&L is owned by the product manager, who's a marketing person. Being in a service role is challenging if you're used to being responsible for the P&L.”

In addition, Ruth identified an area she often sees marketers struggle. “We have to make sure that our customer and prospect data is clean and complete. I'm talking about customer data and prospect data, which is an important corporate asset. If the phone number is wrong, if the title reflects what the person did last year and they’ve changed jobs, if the postal address is non-deliverable, if the email bounces—then no wonder the sales teams think that we're incompetent and irresponsible.

“Our job is to serve them information properly. So stop passing the responsibility to a data administrator. This applies to both sales and marketing, by the way. I often hear, ‘Oh, data's not my job.’ And I say, that is wrong.”

Marketing operations doesn’t always realize that everything they do in their marketing automation platform (MAP) drastically impacts the rest of the company. Therefore, the marketing automation administrator must understand the order of operations between their MAP and CRM. They must understand which system is considered the source of truth and configure things accordingly.

For example, if a salesperson updates a record with a new phone number, it’s my job in marketing ops to make sure the enrichment tool—that may have data that’s six months old or more—doesn’t overwrite the sales entered data.

Marketing operations—what you do is so important. It's critical to understand how your systems talk to each other and how everything you do impacts systems and people downstream. This applies to data enrichment, lead scoring, MQL thresholds—anything you change will significantly impact the sales team and customer success teams.

Get Data-Driven or Get Out

“If your executive leadership team doesn’t believe in the importance of data in decision-making, then we have to change companies. Every business person today understands the value of good quality data, not just customer and prospect data, but also data about the operations of the entire company.” Ruth recommends everyone read the classic article “Competing on Analytics” by Tom Davenport (published by The Harvard Business Review in 2006).

While many executives understand the importance of using data in decision-making, they don’t always realize how much an investment in data analytics infrastructure can improve the quality of data (and life for a marketing analyst).

In this scenario, Ruth recommends, “Have a vendor who you think can solve some of these problems provide case studies, research reports, and other persuasive points that can be assembled to show how the solution can be a productivity and ROI producer. Then internally capture data in two areas:

  • Do a brief time and motion study cataloging the number of minutes that it takes to do some ridiculous task that could be automated. This shows the cost of that inefficiency, which can be pretty persuasive.
  • Get some statistics about analyst and operations turnover. Then, weave in a couple of sob stories that show analysts are quitting because they don't have the tools in place to help them do their real job.
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“That has an enormous expense and impact on productivity.”

Executives tend to place too much faith in Excel. Marketers need a robust reporting application that can handle hundreds of thousands of records, if not millions, to track and organize all of the interactions a person could have with their company. The work to make sense of disconnected data systems results in analysts spending all of their time looking backward and figuring out what has already happened.

The real value of an analyst is their ability to piece together insights about why something happened and come up with recommendations on how to fix the problem. Empowering an analyst with the tools they need to shift from providing data to providing insights is career-altering.

“The single most important business tool for an individual is the ability to communicate. An analyst who can add three bullet points of what all the data means is the one who will get the respect and the promotions that are well deserved.”

For more from Ruth, including a fabulous way to travel the world, listen to the full podcast above. You can also learn more on her website.

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