Why the B2B Marketing Playbook is broken (and how you can fix it)

Photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash

In marketing, everyone is using the same playbook. Think about it. How many marketing discussions have you heard that follow some variation of this narrative?

Let’s…

…get together an email campaign

…send a newsletter

…do some events

…focus on a digital funnel

…do some outbound

…implement ABM marketing

In fact, while researching this article I typed “best way to build a marketing strategy” into Google and retrieved 5,360,000 results in a matter of seconds.

Of those results, the top entries from magazines like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Hubspot and Business News Daily mentioned one or more of the tactics above. The B2B marketing playbook is predictable. Everyone is following the same approach.

Not only that, the method itself is broken. It isn’t a true playbook. The point of a playbook is not the individual plays. Although all of the plays are valuable, it’s how they work together that’s critical to winning the game.

Playbooks provide the iterative framework, guiding principles on strategy and tactics. They are the options at a your disposal when things aren’t going as planned. The same is true in B2B.

A marketing strategy should not only provide specific touch-points and actions. It should also provide fluidity, interconnectedness, and flexibility for when things don’t go as planned.

Currently the B2B marketing playbook focuses too much on singular touchpoints. At a time when B2B marketing is harder than ever, a more fluid, better planned and connected strategy needs to emerge.

Why B2B marketing is harder than ever

It is harder than ever because the market that it’s working in is harder than ever. B2B selling has been flipped on its head. What is clear is that marketing is becoming harder because marketers now have far more responsibility for the sales cycle. The new marketing funnel is real.

Increased spending and power of the CMO is real. The buyers increased and exponential level of awareness to solve their challenges is definitely real. Marketing is no longer about “pipeline” but about revenue generation — clever marketers know this point.

It’s not easy. We all need to think about how to elevate our game tactically, joining up channels to avoid fragmentation.

Beware of unconnected experiences

Let’s take events as an example — a channel that’s critical for B2B. The standard approach to pipeline development is designing an events programme. The massive problem here is there is generally no after thought about how you tie events into your whole demand generation funnel. They are massively disconnected.

A lack of leadership with sales exacerbates this even more because traditionally in marketing we feel the job is done post-event — it’s sales issue now. That is fundamentally wrong.

Planning journeys for customers in the B2B process is imperative. This does not need to be a complex, cumbersome addition. It simply means asking:

What is the outcome we want when someone comes to an event?
What is the outcome we want after someone is sent an email?
What is the outcome we want after we’ve had a meeting with them?

The idea of connected work-flows for prospects needs to resonate through the whole team. The role as a marketing leader is to enable that process. Sam Hurley cited that “Every brand interaction counts, regardless of perceived influence on sales!” in his predictions around 3 Hot B2B marketing trends in 2018.

We need to plan for a life beyond singular activities. This will make you truly stand-out.

Whether CMO, or manager, lets move away from:

“The pipeline is down five million, let’s plan an event.”

It’s fine to create a point-in-time campaign to drive a particular action, but it’s essential that you think about how that campaign fits into your wider strategy.

Events will bring in potential consumers and help you build relationships — it may even solve a short-term pipeline problem. But it’s just a bandaid. It won’t help you build a sustainable, long-term strategy that leads to continuous growth.

The only way to do that is to build a deep understanding of what’s wrong with your pipeline in the wider context of your sales process.

When you’ve determined where customers are falling out of the funnel, you can solve the problem. You need to find a way to provide fluidity between the touch-points. You don’t need to create new ones.

Smart leaders know this. As proven research from Sagefrog Marketing Group showed that B2B marketers are augmenting that traditional method with a digital-minded approach and mixing digital in the B2B marketing approach.

Tiny connections between each touchpoint is critical. This allows you to build, what I like to call next step layers. They will be the crucial, fundamental moments that move customers through the funnel. Next step layers are paramount to taking people on a sequential journey — like writers, it’s all about “getting your reader onto the next line”.

How to Build a connected system

Connected touch points are integral to the process of generating revenue.

However, more important than the points themselves is the way in which they interact and work together.

It doesn’t matter if potential consumers have interacted with a newsletter 30 times or 50 times. It matters whether or not they have turned into revenue. It’s about understanding the value of each interaction and how they influence the overall end-sale.

This is where a more unified playbook comes in. It allows the focus to shift from the singular interaction to how that interaction will be used to propel potential customers through the funnel.

Step #1: Design a high-level process

When it comes to designing a connected funnel that will allow you to execute tactics, you really need to start with a high-level map.

Using a mind-mapping tool like Coggle, design the whole process in your head, and focus on the simplest process based on overall outcomes.

A high-level system design will allow you to visualise a lightweight approach to connected experiences but will give you useful guiding principles based on all activities planned.

I want to show you the next step.

First up is a very robust overlay system that can start providing value immediately.

Step #2: Break-down granular activities

You need to break the overall plan down into small tactical steps that are easy to action. For example, you can break down all your activities into a simple google sheet.

And then if you want to take it even deeper, and visual. You can create timelines in your favourite project management tool.

Really bringing all the connected experiences to life.

Step #3: Measure and change-course

Most importantly, you need to now measure how effective your campaigns, connected events, offline, online are influencing your funnel. Using this data is key to understanding the overall success of your investments and ROI evaluation,.

To do this with success. It has to be tied closely to your CRM (I’m currently using HubSpot which has limitations but does work).

If you do not take the time to see where prospects were actually interacting, you will never be able to optimise, step 1 and step 2 above.

I’ve even used a timeline approach manually to review how closed deals flowed through all the various interactions with impressive insights.

Using this data, I was able to revitalise my approach and strategically re-design the high-level design, reporting on results.

Opportunities to re-shape your playbook

Closing thoughts are, all marketers need to think strategically about revenue generation. These thoughts need to be based on the long term.

Think like a sales professional. Create momentum that is going to build a 10x growth mechanism rather than getting focused on singular activities within a campaign. Advise your colleagues and push back on leadership — if the team is not pulling in one direction.

Avoid the traditional representation and interpretation of data in silo format. Instead of focusing on the results from each type of marketing activity, focus on the cohesive process and the predictable outcome.

If you can convince your CEO that the future of marketing is about interconnectedness, and that it’s critical to optimise each touchpoint to generate revenue in a tangible way, you’ll be in a good place. The results will come when your strategic, interconnected planning results in your tactics actually driving some real results.

Always think ahead.

Always think about how your touch points work together.

Think simplicity, challenge yourself to have connected experiences, not complex funnels.

This is how to win the game of B2B marketing.


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