Why strategy & data must harmonize

Jon Miller recently said that the B2B go-to-market playbook is kaput. That’s the same Jon Miller who practically invented that playbook at the dawn of inbound marketing. You know, Marketo and Engagio founder and CMO at Demandbase (and, it just so happens, serial Velocity client). That Jon Miller.

I agree with Jon that most (not all) B2B tech businesses are struggling to meet the pipeline needs of the business and the main reason is that they’ve either neglected performance brand strategy altogether or just found it too hard to mesh with their performance marketing efforts. Data driven branding efforts are like that empty town in westerns, filled with tumbleweed and lack of purpose.

Growth is harder than ever to deliver. Non-marketers – salespeople, senior executives and CFOs – were thrilled a decade ago when marketing claimed to be fully accountable for the money they were spending as a result of the marketing automation and data revolution. The excitement has turned to ashes for many B2B tech firms and CMO tenure is lower than ever. All those crappy eBooks, product-led campaign dross and ‘I just wanted to follow up my email last week’ carpet bombing have alienated most prospects. Few are paying attention.

The penalty of sugar rush

The sugar rush leads dilemma is largely at fault here. In the last decade, sales activation became the new religion. It’s understandable: non-marketing managers expect marketing to deliver on ambitious growth KPIs; the VC and PE tough guys often impose their own one-eyed marketing models centered on driving and converting leads quickly; public markets are obsessed with growth – and if you’re a SaaS company expanding less than 20% you’re a failure; and lead volume and pipeline ambition are the measure of a CMOs virility. 

But an obsession with sales activation strategies frequently bites B2B marketing teams on the backside. Some companies are really good at it, but most are building campaigns with a half-life shorter than popcorn. Initial results may look good, but longer-term, the meal tastes like air and cardboard and you get indigestible matter stuck in your teeth. The high disappears fast, leaving just an empty, hungry feeling that makes you angry and leaves your non-marketing colleagues rolling their eyes. Sales reps in most B2B tech firms ignore up to 70% of leads provided by marketing. Nearly three quarters of the content produced by marketers to power campaigns is never used by sales or read by customers. The result: four fifths of all marketing leads die in most companies’ funnels. 

A logical flaw

The obsession with sales activation has a logical flaw. The idea is that because B2B marketing is a precise science, you can pour content in at the top of the funnel and drive some leads (via programmatic, paid search or social), nurture, leave to simmer and hey presto you’ll generate a bunch of SQLs that you can pass on to sales. 

But some recent work by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute says that only one in twenty of your prospects are in the market to buy at any time. Even my rickety mathematics says that means  95% of potential buyers are not ready to buy. If that’s the case, two things become clear. The first is that you and all your competitors are in a bare knuckle street fight to convert one twentieth of the market. And second, the remaining 95% will probably not respond to hard sell product campaigns no matter how often you hit them over the head. No wonder B2B pipelines are so under pressure. 

Binet & Field have shown conclusively why brand building is so important in B2B.

Sales activation in its purest sense should be all about converting brand preference into immediate purchase responses. Brand building is all about driving brand preference among your best prospects, which in turn reduces their price sensitivity. Brand building, they conclude, is the main driver of long-term growth and profit. Your future pipeline comes from brand building. 

Ty Heath from LinkedIn agrees:

‘Most of your growth potential lies in reaching people who won’t buy from you today, but who will buy from you in future.’

Brand is performance

So, it turns out that brand is performance. Performance brands don’t just win more business, they shape the whole marketplace over many years. 

So if short-term sales activation strategies go together with branding like an electron cleaves to protons and neutrons, why do so few B2B tech firms abandon any thoughts of brand and focus on short-term one-off demand gen campaigns to drum up some MQLs? 

Well, one reason is that most B2B marketers believe that brand is a B2C thing; and it’s true B2C does brand better. We’re purportedly better at long, complex sales cycles, unwieldy buying teams and rational arguments. 

The other is that it’s hard to build a powerful, compelling story and marry that to your content and performance efforts when your team is siloed around a set of disparate disciplines. The evidence that people don’t care about brand is the flood of content effluent produced by the vast majority B2B firms. This is content produced for content’s sake with very little focus on what’s needed to build relationships with buyers, particularly buyers not ready to buy. Prospects are not reading much of that content. It’s boring, it’s not relevant and its mediocrity signals that they shouldn’t work with this firm. If it’s true that brands struggle to get prospects to read boring, mediocre stuff, why do so many companies continue to produce exactly this? Getting people to engage is what everyone needs to plan to solve.

On top of that there’s a specious belief that B2B buyers don’t care about stories powered by emotion. Actually, B2B buyers are humans first and purchasing directors, CFOs and data analysts second. When B2B marketing makes people feel something as well as think something, that combination is lethal (emotions are intrinsic to brand). 

The I’m a Mac, I’m a PC campaign from Apple that showed Mac users were cool and PC users just weren’t is a classic. We worked with Calm Business to help them promote their app as an employee benefit. By making people happier and healthier, Calm clearly drives business benefits. We chose to focus less on these business benefits and more on an empathetic story: that the best companies don’t use Calm to make money, they do it to help people succeed.

We were evangelizing a new mindset: that the increasing uncertainty in the business world has created a perfect storm of stress that the best employers have recognised and are doing something about. They want to support employees to build the resilience to handle the epidemic of stress. Here’s some (non-designed) creative that drove our work:

Great brands have a distinct point of view about the world that’s based on some core beliefs. If you can express that confidently, people will buy your stuff. 

Galvanizing Story

We talked about Velocity’s approach to B2B Blueprints in the last article. Our blueprints start with what we call a Galvanizing Story which then is tightly integrated with the performance plan. The galvanizing story powers the blueprint and the blueprint powers everything else.

With a galvanizing story, everything – strategy, content, creative, website, channel marketing, sales calls and performance marketing – all have a shared focus. Without a galvanizing story, all of your marketing efforts are higgledy piggeldy, made up of separate tactics often springing from different tactical goals.

The result is marketing that costs too much and doesn’t work as well as it could. The galvanizing story unites all your marketing in one place and – with the blueprint it engenders – drives short-term lead gen success and long-term brand building. A galvanizing story is a narrative that explains why anyone should buy your product, why you brought it to market and why all that matters. 

Our process works for any B2B tech firm, though it’s optimized for ambitious middle-sized companies who want to move fast and who may not have the team that can deliver strategy and performance. We believe brand sits at the heart of all those dashboards and data and go-to-market plans and revenue expectations. Without it, B2B companies are stuck in a one dimensional performance world with diminishing returns. With it, their lead gen works more effectively and they build the future pipelines that deliver growth over the longer-term.

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