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A planning vacuum means most B2B marketing progresses in fits and starts. Inertia kills momentum.
Ask a consumer marketer for a look at their marketing plan and you're likely to get anything from a 20-page powerpoint deck to a 400-page binder with tabs, spreadsheets, gant charts and dashboards.
Ask a B2B marketer for their marketing plan and you're likely to get a funny look and some awkward rationalisation. "Erm... we're agile here. Our market moves too fast. If we had a plan it wold be out of date in a week." Yadda-yadda-yadda.
The result is that the vast majority of B2B marketing departments are run in an ad hoc way, pacing through the year from campaign to campaign. There are lots of problems with this:
- Tactics replace strategy – you end up just doing stuff, then doing more stuff; no real direction, no real progress.
- Reaction looks like action – and everyone mistakes busy-ness for effectiveness.
- Progress is intermittent – a campaign works, then the energy dies back down.
- Mistakes are repeated – ad hoc marketing is notorious for ignoring all learning; so you never really get any better.
- You waste a lot of money – chasing opportunities instead of using your assets and playing to your strengths.
- Your marketing loses focus – and your audiences never get a coherent sense of what you're all about.
This list could go on for twenty more bullet points. And most marketers know it. But they're still happy to lurch from item to item on the To Do list and call it progress.
If marketing is the act of rolling a big, heavy rock up a steep hill, then most B2B marketers tend to give their rock a push, rest, chat, give it another push, stand back, write a deck, hold an offsite, then realise the rock has returned to the bottom of the hill. And start all over again.
Why does B2B marketing tend to be so short-sighted?
Maybe because B2B marketers just aren't as professional as our peers in consumer markets (ouch). Let's face it, many B2B marketing directors backed into the job from sales or product management.
Others got marketing thrown into their remit at some point and never managed to lose it. Few are dedicated, career marketers who chose B2B for its unique challenges. They exist, but they're rare.
Or maybe it's because many B2B businesses are not really marketing driven like Coke and Nike are. Some fabulously successful B2B businesses have been built with little or no marketing.
Some B2B businesses can win with great engineering and sales alone. They'd do better with great marketing but they'll succeed without it. Coke and Nike wouldn't.
Or maybe it's because B2B businesses have lost faith in their marketing departments and, as a result, ask much less of them (double ouch). Low expectations means less accountability. And accountability is what drives marketing plans.
But this is changing. The new, digital, social B2B and the new technology arsenal (marketing automation, lead nurturing, revenue performance management) are bringing accountability back to B2B.
Marketing is starting to deliver more to the business – and prove it with charts and graphs and pipelines gushing money. So expectations ar rising. Accountability is emerging. And, lo and behold, the B2B marketing plan is making a comeback.
Just scan the agenda of this year's FUNNEL B2B marketing event and you can see the emergence of a new kind of B2B marketing.
It's a discipline that's far less likely to stumble through the year and piss away the budget. Or let the rock roll all the way to the bottom of the hill before staring to think of new ways to roll it back up.
How can you fight inertia and get the momentum back into your marketing? Take four hours max and do these few simple things:
- Write a two-page plan – even if you only show the team members.
- Make three explicit and quantifiable goals – with deadlines.
- Jot down three strategies for each goal – simple ones.
- Name three tactics for each strategy – also simple ones.
- Put them on a timeline – or chart.
A few hours. Two pages. And you've done more for your marketing than all those meetings, decks and offsites put together.
Here's to momentum...