“The only good marketing guy… is another sales guy.” – B2B Sales Leader
The statement above is an actual quote from a B2B Sales Leader in my not too distant past. Unfortunately, this is a prevailing belief in many B2B companies and industries where Marketing is often seen as a “support” function. Marketing should not simply be relegated to communications. Instead, Marketing should be leading a strong market-driven strategy that can provide direction, focus, and balance to both your short term business requirements and longer term growth trajectory.
In our experience, organizations that employ a market-driven strategy are best at identifying growth opportunities. Research has shown that market driven companies are 31% more profitable, twice as fast in getting new products to market and own 10-20% higher customer satisfaction levels. So why do we in many of our engagements often see B2B companies ignoring the end-user in their sales and marketing activities?
B2B companies tend to concentrate on the converters, distributors or middle men who buy their product and ultimately sell to the end-user. This strategy is driven by Sales teams who typically live in the 0 to 90 day zone, focus on ‘making the month,’ and try mainly to please cost-driven customers. This can create a conflict between the short term pricing needs of the Sales organization and the long term value positioning of the business. A heavy, out of balance short term approach can devalue the product and reduce profit margins.
In contrast, a market-driven strategy focuses on creating value, building awareness, and establishing trust in the marketplace by working with the end-user. ‘A market driven organization has a customer focus, together with awareness of competitors, and an understanding of the market. You know it is right when a ‘firm’s policy or strategy is guided by market trends and customer needs instead of the firm’s productive capacity or current products.
If the end-user understands the value of your product, you’ve produced a successful Want-Buy-Sell model where the end-user has a ‘want’ that causes the converter/distributor to ‘buy’ and the manufacturer to ‘sell’. This market-driven strategy creates ‘pull’ or growth from the marketplace rather than ‘pushing’ the product through to the end-user.
Without driving ‘want’ by the end user, companies limit their opportunities. Marketing should drive that “want” and ultimately growth creation. Whether your company’s competitive advantage lay in engineering, technology, or manufacturing, world class companies ‘live in the market’. ‘Living in the market’ means considering both short time horizons of 90 to 180 days, and longer timeframes of 18 to 36 months. Great companies do both simultaneously—they plan and compete in the present and proactively monitor the market for future needs, opportunities, inflection points and threats.
Marketing is responsible for intelligently defining the future path and the strategic tactical choices. Sales is responsible for executing on the path.
Marketing is more than pretty brochures and price lists. In a market-driven organization Marketing must research, debate and resolve both the hard and soft market insights, and most importantly clarify the implications and convert them to tactical actions and initiatives. This is a critical competency for strategic marketing. Some important elements:
Know The Landscape
A great B2B Marketing function brings insight on the industry landscape back into the company. One of its core responsibilities is to understand and define the arena in which the business competes. This is done through product and market research and importantly Voice of the Customer (VOC). The work of deciphering and segmenting markets is crucial for establishing a crisp market-driven strategy that can be executed by the Sales organization.
Build The Insight
Just knowing the landscape of your industry isn’t enough; you need to go deeper. Marketing’s continuous and iterative work of capturing data should be used to form insights about the industry’s landscape. The data and insights allow a business to see trends, needs, and customer demands in context with each other. The organization can then make a determination on how evolving trends will impact the industry.
Synthesize The Data
The final role critical to a dynamic, market-driven strategy is synthesis. A good Marketing function synthesizes the amalgam of data and insights into market strategies, key initiatives and customer plans. They connect the real needs of the end-user to benefits of the product/service, ensuring that the benefits are and remain differentiated from the competition.
Good market data and insight is critical for the Sales function to stay competitive. The entire process must be propelled by validated customer needs combined with synthesized trends. By “living in the market”, you minimize the risk of an industry altering surprise and optimize your strategic choices before your competition does. You have a better chance to invest in the right segments, with the right customers using the right tools to grow. This operating model makes your tactical sales activities more efficient and effective.
At the end of the day, the best B2B marketing guys are marketing guys, working in tandem with the sales guys. One group focused on the strategy and tactics, the other on execution.
It’s a powerful combination that can give your organization a win-win for both the short and long haul.