7 reasons B2B Marketing is broken – and how we can fix it

  • Anol

Some cutting discussions and heated debates during the BBN AGM prompted me to write this piece. I am not going to be politically correct. If this article ‘triggers’ you – please drop me a note, with verifiable data points.

1. The tyranny of ‘OR’. 

One of the main themes during the BBN AGM was the imbalance between art/creativity and science.

The notion of balance is misleading. Why choose one over the other? Why can’t we aspire for greatness in both? Where is the contradiction? Is there any enmity between brand creative and martech? Or brand strategy and revenue pipeline? This imposed dichotomy is useless and seriously hurts our industry – on both agency and marketer sides.

2. The role of the CMO is devalued in the C suite.

In other words, B2B Marketers don’t get the same level of respect as Sales, IT or Finance. The question is – who’s fault is it? Unfortunately, the evidence points to marketers and agencies. We are still not able to translate, adapt and align business strategy to marketing strategy. 

For brand marketing, we implement advertising gimmicks to win awards. And field marketers overuse counterproductive and short-term lead generation and nurturing campaigns. Sales enablement processes are broken, as sales and marketing are not on the same page. Most activity-based marketing departments can’t prove their value without ambiguous data points, or back their claims with evidence.

3. Everything is Performance Marketing. 

Because the opposite of that will be non-performance marketing. I like to classify B2B marketing in two sections –

  1. Brand marketing, which should include brand strategy, awareness and brand association. With the efficiency of digital surveys and focus groups containing a large sample size, we can measure both dimensions in the short term. And in the long term – performance in profit and loss, market share, and the secondary market are irrefutable proof points for the effectiveness of brand strategy and marketing.
  2. Field marketing or Revenue Pipeline Marketing, which includes lead generation, qualification, nurturing and contribution to revenue pipeline. It’s mind-boggling that marketers and agencies still get away with presenting some vanity metrics instead of showing any real value for field marketing in the era of marketing automation and analytics dashboards.

4. “Short-Termism” 

99% of the B2B marketers I know are going through the constant whirlwind of living with quarter-to-quarter lead generation targets. If your average sales cycle is nine months long, how on earth can you evaluate a campaign success (or failure) within three months? 

Even brand marketers succumb to the pressure of activity-based marketing and change brand creative way too often in this Kafkaesque B2B marketing world, where appearing busy is more important than the actual outcome. 

5. Bad data, Motivational Reasoning

Most of the B2B Marketing ‘research’ is complete bull%*@t! Either the research data sample is statistically insignificant or originates from motivational reasoning, i.e., first, the hypothesis was conceived and then ‘data’ gathered to support the ‘theory’. Let’s look at one of these ‘reports’. I am not going to take a cheap shot at an obscure report to prove my point. I’ll cite one of the most-shared B2B reports by the well-respected B2B Institute by LinkedIn – The 5 Principles Of Growth In B2B Marketing.

The introduction says that the report was done by Peter Field and Les Binet – “two of the greatest marketing minds of our time“. Marketing – you say? But wait –  the first chapter is titled, “Why Advertise?”. So why say Marketing and not Advertising? 

The report is filled with some great looking ‘charts’ – with absolute data points (fractions included – so it must be true). Like this:

Or this

If you are like me – you are already thinking – where does this data come from? The diagrams mention the source as IPA Databank, 1998-2018 B2B cases, an award submission database. Let me repeat that – an ad agency/self-reported, annual award submission database! Not market research or even statistically significant survey results. 

Even if I completely ignore the issue of extracting objective numbers from unstructured data, the evaluation period is a maximum of one year!

To be fair to Les and Peter, the introduction has the disclaimer –

By necessity, our findings are tentative. There are still relatively few B2B cases in The Databank, so sample sizes are small, at less than 50 cases. And those cases may not be typical of B2B marketing in general because the IPA Databank is biased towards effective campaigns: all were cases entered into the IPA Effectiveness Awards competition (although comparisons with other research suggest that the bias is modest). Geographically, they are skewed towards the UK (although nearly a third of cases come from elsewhere). They also tend to have relatively big budgets. But despite all these limitations, we believe that there are some interesting patterns in this data, patterns that B2B marketers may well find helpful. 

But when citing the charts – none of the agencies or marketers include that disclaimer. So the apparent ‘Empirical Observations’ propagate like wildfire. 

Let’s take a look at another ‘graph’.

Anyone who studied math in high school can tell you that this is an illustration and not a graph. Plus – does this ‘graph’ illustrate the problem of a tactical campaign or the issue of short-termism mentioned before?

To my fellow agency leaders – please stop circulating data points that are inconclusive at best to forward your agenda. In the short term, you’ll convince some gullible marketers, but in the end, you are hurting your industry.

On a separate note, Peter Field is speaking at the BBN Face of the Future conference.

6. Is it B2B Marketing or B2B Advertising?

In the agency world, we tend to use the terms advertising and marketing interchangeably. Advertising is a tool in your marketing toolbox. But, agency leaders are more than trigger-happy to quote Ogilvy or Haggarty. Seldom do I hear references to Peter Drucker, Clayton Christensen (disruptive innovation, jobs to be done), Geoffrey Moore (chasm theory), Seth Godin (Purple Cow), or anyone from the field of marketing – neither academic nor practitioner perspectives. 

If you are communicating your agenda as an advertising agency – there are no issues. But if you are trying to peddle an advertising solution as a one-size-fits-all hammer for every marketing problem – that’s dangerous!

7. Awards promote ego-driven, activity-based, band-aid B2B marketing. 

Have you heard about any awards for Sales or Finance teams or their work? Then why do you need third-party recognition for your work as a marketer? 

The motivation for the agencies is obvious – awards increase their visibility. For the publications and other organizations giving out those awards, it’s one of their primary sources of revenue. But what’s in it for marketers? The value of marketing is not self-explanatory and immediate as it is for their sales or finance counterparts. That’s the origin of the craving for validation through awards. 

Annual awards might not be an issue for a B2C company but vastly skews the result for B2B companies. For larger size B2B deals, where the typical sales cycle is almost a year, how can one judge the effectiveness of any marketing initiative within one year? 

I can point out at least five major award-winning campaigns which failed to create any business value that I am aware of. If any major publications venture to research the performance of the ‘winners’ over slightly longer terms, it will open up a large can of worms.

So where do we go from here?

B2B marketers ought to feel comfortable in their own skins, and convince themselves first that they are delivering long term value paired with shorter-term results.  

They should consider data as their ally in proving their worth to their organisations. That means no waffling or bending over backwards to prove a point. And that applies to self-referential lingo. 

Instil rigour in metrics. Report with honesty. Abandon exclusivist approaches and consider broad-spectrum partnerships with the brand and revenue sides of the business.

And finally, stop chasing after awards. They are but feathers in the cap. Let’s ensure the cap is well-knit and placed firmly atop our heads first, by delivering on campaigns that move mountains for our clients.


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March 1, 2022

Web Designing company Mohali

Hi! This article is filled with answers to my ample questions. I am starting a new blog and this article will be a bookmark for my future reference. Thanks for sharing this informative article.