The 4 Questions B2B Marketing Directors Ask – and my answers!

In the years since I established Purple Salix, I’ve been fortunate to work with CMOs and marketing leaders of large global companies through to small startups, and across the tech sector and multiple industry sectors beyond – including Finance, Oil, and Green chemicals manufacturing. However, irrespective of size and industry, the areas of  challenge are remarkably consistent. Without wishing to betray any client confidences, here are 4 of the questions that every marketing director most frequently asks me to help them address. 

Q1: How do I link Strategy and Execution?

The 4 Questions B2B Marketing Directors Ask - and my answers! Purple Salix

Fundamentally I think this is a question of leadership. In my experience, clients tend to fall into one of two camps.

  • There are those who are executing lots of marketing activities but they are not sufficiently well integrated, and not necessarily aligned to a common set of goals.
  • Then there are others (more commonly in larger enterprises) that seem to fixate on the whole strategy development piece, and would rather not go to market until they have the plan perfected and polished. In fact there often seems to be a reluctance to move from the comfortable world of strategy development into action.

Usually the desired state is somewhere between these 2 extremes.

There can be many potential reasons for this imbalance. A key role of the leader is to ensure that there is sufficient focus on thinking as well as doing, and the personal style exhibited by the marketing director is likely to be one of the key influencers on the overall balance between the two factors; an imbalance could be the result of a gap in the skills and competencies of the people within the marketing team – people tend to operate within their comfort zone; then again the organisational design or measurement structure frequently get in the way of achieving a healthy balance between Strategy and Execution – “my job is to keep cranking out these widgets, it’s someone else’s role to figure out how to combine them into something useful”.

So what can we do if we think the balance is not right? Here’s a couple of areas that I frequently recommend to my clients:

  • Clarify the value proposition. If we can’t simply articulate what our company’s (or offering’s) purpose is – who we are trying to engage with, what their needs are and how we can help them – then we shouldn’t expect our clients to work it out on our behalf! I challenge you to write your proposition down in a single sentence now. I find many companies have insufficient clarity on their proposition –  or else everyone has their own version of it. Frequently pulling together the leadership for a facilitated proposition workshop can be a great way to air the different views and arrive at a consensus. Time invested in this will form the bedrock of a multitude of downstream activities
  • Adopt some Agile Marketing approaches. Initially pioneered to accelerate the process of Software development, Agile thinking and principles are now being adopted in many other areas including project management and marketing. Agile offers us an approach that helps break down silos and eliminate strategic “analysis-paralysis”.  Being focussed on what outputs you can create in your market in the next 2 weeks may be all that you need to shift the needle.
  • Encourage Trust, Accountability and Experimentation. One of the exciting possibilities of today’s digital world is that it’s now easier than ever to devise experiments to test our marketing hypotheses before we scale. But in order to encourage experimentation we need to develop a culture that recognises that there will inevitably be failures along the journey. So we need to set the tone that experimentation is expected, and that we have trust in the team, and that we will learn together.

Q2:How can we go faster?

The 4 Questions B2B Marketing Directors Ask - and my answers! Purple Salix

I recall discussing with the CMO of a global tech client some of the transformation initiatives I’d been involved in at IBM. My story described a marketing transformation that was a multi-year journey (arguably one that never really ends at all). “I want to get everything you got done there – but in less than 12 months!” was his demand. On the one hand, I’m an advocate of setting aggressive timescales, but it needs to be backed up with the right investments and enabling infrastructure, as well as sustained and consistent leadership.

Here’s a few approaches I’ve often deployed in client engagements:

  • Skills/Competency Audits. Moving an organisation from its current state to a brave new world always involves developing new organisational competencies. Having established the skills you need, you need to map that against the skills and competencies that currently exist within the individuals in the team. A good audit tends to look not just at the functional skills of marketing, but also the softer skills like collaboration, assertiveness, communication etc.
  • Behavioural Style profiling. We are all individuals and our styles of working vary enormously. Additional complexity also comes from the fact that our teams now comprise of a mix of marketers from both the baby-boomer and millennial generations – each of which often have very different expectations around work. So in order to move a team in a particular direction it’s important to understand whether people have a natural preference towards a particular work style – whether they are predominantly introverted or extraverted, analytical or emotionally driven, etc. Understanding peoples individual preferences enables us to adjust our engagement strategies accordingly. Furthermore, I have found such approaches exceptionally useful in building both individual self-awareness and stronger team cohesion.
  • Change Management Communications Planning. People absorb change at different paces. One of my bosses used to liken change to a train leaving a station: some people jump straight onto the train, others need to be helped on and a few get left on the platform. These issues of cultural change cannot simply be treated as an afterthought – successful change programmes place a strong emphasis on the delivery of a sustained, two-way communications programme. Without one we risk driving an empty train!
  • Individual Productivity. Productivity and time management at a personal level is a skill set that many leaders have developed organically rather than intentionally (or alternatively have just steadily increased the time spent working). If we translate that situation to an organisational level, it becomes clear that a team of individuals who have learned to work in a more productive and efficient way can have a huge positive impact on both the quantity, quality and velocity of output from the marketing team, as well as helping everyone learn vital life-skills. Prioritisation is the bedrock of this – and if the professional priorities of the individuals are aligned with the priorities of the broader marketing team (or business) then it becomes much easier to make the right choices on what to do next. Intentionality is also crucial – either we execute our plan for the day, or else we are at the mercy of somebody else’s plan. I spend much of my time helping teams become more smart at the way they approach the art of getting work done. In this age where we seem to glorify “busyness”, this is becoming an increasingly important skillset.

Q3: How can I understand my customers/prospects better?

The 4 Questions B2B Marketing Directors Ask - and my answers! Purple Salix

Every marketing leader understands the potential value of understanding more about our clients and prospects. However the reality is that most companies’ data quality ranges from “pretty poor” to “worse than that”! But the prize at stake is massive – less wastage, enhanced customer experience, better quality leads, greater sales engagement – all leading to increased revenue.

So what can we do to start making a positive impact around the effectiveness of our marketing data?

  • Data Audit. To a marketer not steeped in data and analytics, the word audit can sound frightening. But in reality it’s only about identifying the gaps between what you have in your data and what you need. I have done several of these now, and they always yield some fascinating actionable insights – whether in terms of cleaning up duplicates and missing fields, or changing the process for capturing data. It doesn’t need to take long and the impact can be huge. However let me give one caveat – don’t make the mistake of assuming that an audit is a one-off exercise. You should plan to review it on a regular basis (at least annually) and measure the improvements.
  • Establish a data governance process. Scary words again! But the principles are simple – your processes and rules for capturing data need to ensure it is as clean/consistent as possible (e.g. makes some fields mandatory, use drop down lists to ensure consistency etc). A little consistency and ownership will go a long way.
  • Get support from sales leadership. For most B2B organisations the CRM is the centre of the data-universe – and of course the sales team are a key input source. It’s no secret that salespeople can be a little reluctant to enter data into tools (particularly if they think it might encourage inspection of their activities). But their support is vital, so you need to build the case with sales leadership to ensure that they appreciate the value the themselves and the business of improving the data, and get their teams to step up to their responsibilities in the improvement process. As part of this process, marketing need to consider what insight they can feed into the CRM such that it becomes a valued intelligence tool rather than simply a reporting device.
  • What’s the art of the possible? Even if the current data insight is primitive, there may be straightforward ways to connect social data, purchase data and other sources to help give you insights based on actual behaviour rather than just firmographics.  By linking with your actual sales data you might be surprised what you can start to learn about predicting most likely outcomes from your activity.

Q4: How can I get sales to pay attention?

The 4 Questions B2B Marketing Directors Ask - and my answers! Purple Salix

I’ve lost count of the number of times that a marketing leader has described how few of the leads the team creates actually get followed up by sales; or sales leaders telling me how the leads from marketing are rubbish. At the core of the issue is a lack of dialogue between the two departments. And, I have to say, a lack of self-confidence within the marketing team itself.

The topic of sales and marketing alignment is not a new one – however we seem to be making very little progress as a profession.

So here’s a few things that have proved successful that you might want to consider:

  • Mix it up! So the teams don’t understand each other, right? So a good step might be to take one or two people from the marketing team and loan them into the sales organisation for a few months – even if only in a support role. Similarly perhaps there are a couple of sales people who would welcome a change in direction for a short while. Both can be an ambassador for their “home” function and will return with a wealth of myth-busting insight. While I have had most of my career in marketing I did spend 5 years as an IBM sales representative, and am convinced that experience taught me to be a better marketer.
  • Cultivate some advocates. Not every salesperson thinks that marketing is just the “colouring in department”. Identify a handful of potential sales advocates and proactively build a relationship with them – ask for their views and listen to their challenges. If you can help, you’ll make a friend who will also act as an evangelist to his/her peers.
  • Integrate sales into the campaign planning process. The fist ever nurturing campaign I developed was fundamentally an attempt to digitise the approach that a salesperson might take in a sales qualification call for a particular solution. By inviting a friendly sales person to help me construct the campaign, not only did I end up with a more realistic journey, but he became a key supporter for the campaign to his colleagues on my behalf. Given that most campaigns have a hand-off point to sales at some point, it would seem sensible to harness the input from any willing sales contributors.
  • Establish an SLA between sales and marketing. Despite the fact we have been discussing this for years, Sirius Decisions has found that still only 43% of organisations have a service level agreement in place between sales and marketing that defines what should be done by each function and in what timeframe. But even more worryingly, only 11% of those companies with an SLA in place have an active management system around it to drive compliance. So we have an SLA but it’s not enforced! So the action here is simple – negotiate an agreement between sales and marketing, and build a simple process to review it.
  • Deliver fewer leads! What? Yes, you heard me correctly! The handover between the digital marketing activity and the human sales team is a critical point of failure in many campaigns. Most sales teams I’ve ever worked with would much rather have a lower number of well-qualified leads to work with than a bunch of poorly qualified “stuff”. Incomplete and immature leads handed over to sales will only waste their time, and reduce their inclination to engage next time around. In fact I advocate ALWAYS having a human touchpoint between the digital journey and the sales team – for instance an inside sales function or a telemarketing agency. Because this function is a half-way house between sales and marketing, I find many marketing departments need help defining precisely what they need their telequalifcation/telenurturing process to do, and to identify potential partners to provide that service. But done well it is a key contributor to successful ROI, as well as providing valuable customer insight and helping bridge the relationship gap with our sales colleagues.

So there we have it. The most common areas I’ve identified have been around getting the balance right between strategy and execution, accelerating the transformation, improving our customer insight and winning over our sales team.  I hope this article gives you a few ideas to consider. If you would like to discuss any of this with me, or need some help putting some of this into practice I’m only an email away –

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