One of the areas in B2B Marketing I don’t think we speak enough about is time to market and setting expectations around Marketing ROI impact. I find this topic particularly relevant for startups who’ve received a substantial funding round and are making their first meaningful investment in Marketing. But it’s equally important within larger organizations, especially when you’ve been brought in to lead a growth function like demand generation.
In the case of the former, big expectations are often the norm. It’s likely the business has bootstrapped different marketing motions in a scrappy way, resulting in some modest gains. The influx of investment (alongside typically onboarding an experienced new hire) is often interpreted as a surefire way to amplify the growth engine with guaranteed immediate results.
While there’s a degree of truth to that, the reality is much more nuanced. The context of what you’re stepping into has equal weighting on the success that awaits, and there’s inevitably a period of build-up that’s required. In equal parts, this involves needing to get to grips with what you’re inheriting, part understanding what’s working and what should be retired through running audits, part plugging gaps around tools and capabilities, and part the natural cycle of allowing your test and learn investments to run their course.
All these motions require time.
For example, in the world of SaaS selling, success is foremost dependent on putting the model of generating awareness>> consideration>> favorability>> purchase>> retainment in place. Each of these stages has its own marketing lifecycle. What on the surface may seem like a straightforward exercise, in reality is a complex lattice of understanding buyer personas, researching how and where they consume information, designing content that addresses their needs, writing with a unique value proposition, mapping the customer journey, building landing pages and versioned email comms, setting up paid media, versioning campaigns with different A/B tests, measuring and optimizing outcomes, and so on. Even the simplest exercise like an A/B test requires time to run its course.
It’s not to say you can’t create impact and deliver results with a short turnaround time. It’s healthy to have a mindset to look for quick wins and expedite initiatives quickly to develop an understanding of where the gains are to be made. My point is around how does one inform expectant parties that there’s no instant gratification to be had when building a high-performing growth engine from the ground up?
In situations like these, educating the org through ongoing comms should be the default intent of any B2B Marketing leader. I spend an inordinate amount of effort communicating what Marketing is tackling and why we’re focusing on those things. Not so much in a ‘sausage making’ sort of way, but to inform and level-set on expectations. It offers an opportunity to bring transparency into why the things we’re doing matters, as well as providing visibility into when initiatives drop and the likely outcome we expect to deliver for the overall business.
When it comes to the role Marketing plays within the org, communication is only one part of the equation. There are some additional steps I’ve identified to proactively align and set expectations across teams, while expediting time to market efficiencies:
Align Goals, Interests and Motivations
Reframing Marketing impact starts with aligning the approach to customer acquisition. It requires establishing a framework for mutual goal setting. Both sales and marketing should be measured on a set of shared goals or OKRs, with each division also tasked with tracking a sub-set of metrics particular to their line of business (e.g. for Marketing: web traffic growth, conversion rates, cost-per-acquisition, etc.). This ensures common goals are the shared focus of all activities, eliminating vanity projects that don’t deliver business outcomes, and instilling discipline into owning the delivery of successful outcomes.
Putting this into a formalized workflow where each group understands what parts of the customer cycle they’re responsible for, is critical to establishing the common language of how Marketing impact is achieved and in what timeframe. This is the handshake of ownership.
Once the internal goals are clear, turn your focus back to the customer. Marketing should build their go-to-market plan with the motivations of the target buyer in mind. Recognizing that different decision makers will want to consume information and be convinced in a way best suited to their needs, make marketing content intersection points within that customer journey. Mapping content and activities to respond to specific problem statements is the logical start, and the effort should be a continuum pre, during and even post sale to enable retention.
Create Appreciation for the Buyer’s Journey
The conventions of traditional B2B selling are no longer the norm, so to remain relevant, we need to mirror how buyers expect to consume their information in our efforts to engage with the market. B2B buyers are sophisticated creatures, often completing over 80% of their preliminary research independently before even putting their hand up to make themselves known as a potential sales lead.
To make things even further complicated, the B2B sales funnel has also transformed. It’s no longer a linear relationship, where sole buyers move from one stage to another in a highly coordinated way. There are multiple stakeholders weighing in on the purchase decision, each with their own set of expectations. On average, there’s a minimum of 6-10 decision makers involved in the consideration/evaluation process, and each will have independently gathered four or five pieces of information they need to corroborate with each other– sometimes more for complex solution sales.
Given so much of this research takes place in a manner invisible to vendors, Marketers need to make sure we’re participating in those conversations. Otherwise, we risk losing our voice in the discussion and stalling the sales process. Whether its conducting research, looking for testimonials, peer reviews, product sheets or outcomes-driven messaging, the marketing we offer must be meaningful to where the buyer is at that point in time of the research cycle.
Understand the Needs of the Customer
Once we understand the customer journey, Marketing should anticipate these needs to create timely relevance and mindshare. Keeping buyers engaged will require ever-evolving visibility – be it through content marketing, engaging over social channels, interviewing customers to extract case study material, or in the form of a steady stream of blog posts –the machine will need to churn-out lots of different materials and formats. Again, this will take time to get off the ground, but prioritization in this instance is your friend.
From the perspective of where to focus, digital assets like your website should work hard in driving customer acquisiton. It’s highly trackable, has great reach when it comes to establishing one-to-many relationships, and can be an always on, always running asset to continually drive contact requests and informational exchange. Leads that come through the website tend to have a higher conversion rate, and even in instances where the buyer doesn’t immediately make themselves known, there are tools in the market that capture company information and potential target prospects to facilitate follow-up activity.
The bottom line
Knowing there are no silver bullets or realistic short-cuts to success, it’s important to set realistic expectations within any new company you join from the get-go. Sales and marketing collide only when there’s an absence of trust, communication issues, and/or a lack of understanding around why Marketing may appear to be underperforming.
Successful brands thrive when the investment being made across the organisation is not just in dollars spent, but in collectively shifting the thinking, approach, and belief in how marketing is done. Over-communicate in those first critical few months. Educate and build confidence not just in your team, but also in the strategy you’re building. Involve key divisions in your go-to-market planning, get them excited, and make sure you’re taking the whole company along on the ride with you.
Then all that’s left is making sure you deliver what you promise.