Do the British prefer ‘muddling through’ to evidence-based B2B marketing?

I was at a meeting the other day with the CMO of a leading cloud-based software vendor. American, super-experienced, confident, digitally at the cutting edge and with a long track record of running effective sales lead generation campaigns around the world. He was frustrated that over the last couple of years or so his company had found it really difficult to get the lead machine working  here in the UK, despite having a lot of success elsewhere.

Why, he vented, was it so hard to persuade the Limeys to implement cohesive marketing programmes that had been proven to work elsewhere? Why did we find it so difficult to do the hard yards of building a solid database of customers, prospects and suspects, segmenting them every which way, targeting them with creative campaigns and measuring results?  And then doing more of what works and ceasing to do what doesn’t?

His justified spleen reminded me of criticisms of British public policy in the post-War era. We denizens of Blighty have long suffered from politicians taking the non-strategic, easy choices. We prefer to muddle through rather than making decisions on evidence-based analysis. We have a long history of simply firing and calling what we hit the target.  Is this malaise also affecting B2B marketing too? And, if so, why?

As part of the download process for our recent B2B Marketing Manifesto we asked people to complete the sentence, “The hardest part of B2B marketing is…” (You can read the full results of the survey here). An eye-popping finding was that the hardest part of B2B marketing was convincing other people within the company to do the right things.

So, why? Two factors, I think, are key. British firms are either sales-led or engineering-led. Hardly any are marketing-led

Lead by sales

Much of the British tech industry happens to be entirely sales-dominated outposts of American technology companies. Or run by people who earned their spurs at such companies. American firms love the openness of the UK market and the fact that we speak the same language (though after 20 years, Doug is still confused by the difference between the top or bottom of a road. And he insists on bringing things when he should be taking them and vice versa. We’re hoping Velocity’s newest star striker Ryan Skinner, (born in Portland, OR, but brought up and educated in the Peach State) isn’t cut from the same Yankee cloth.)

American tech firms most often choose guys (and it’s nearly always guys) with stellar sales track records (usually from other American firms) to lead their Redcoat subsids. These people invariably cut their teeth in the pre-digital age. By and large, they see marketing as made up of people who make the arrangements, rather than the ones who make the rain. As our survey showed, most B2B marketers spend a lot of their time trying (and often failing) to persuade their boss to do the right thing. This was OK (though definitely not optimal) when we were locked into the broadcast, print-centric world of a few years ago, where the marketing pinnacle was launching Version 3.1.6, organising the next industry piss-up (I mean, exhibition) and inviting some  trade press to the company’s latest product launch. But in the new science-based marketing world, where you need to blend multiple tactics to move individuals through a complex sales funnel, it doesn’t cut the mustard. Sales fixated managers often don’t get that.

Lead by engineering

By contrast with the sales-led invaders, many indigenous tech firms were begun by engineers and techies. While these folks should  be open to the science-based arguments marketers can make today, most have experienced marketing as a discipline that dumbs down their products and solutions, reducing them to white noise benefits. This has largely been the fault of B2B marketers themselves, too many of whom have been happy simply to be the marcoms person, rather than getting so close to their company’s technology they can smell the benefits, let alone articulate them clearly and concisely.

A dearth of world-class product marketing

There’s a third reason that British B2B marketing is so hard. The obsession with sales and the preponderance of engineers has led to a dearth of true product marketing in the UK.

Product marketers are the people who are responsible for conceiving and defining a new product (based on customer interaction and insight), for developing and improving the product through its lifecycle, for its application in new market segments and solutions, and for, should the time come as it inevitably must, deciding to kill it. They tend to be people who are as comfortable talking to engineering as cutting edge customers. They are people who are responsible for the success (and failure) of any product. They are vital to any marketing department. They have been largely invisible in perfidious Albion.

Doug and I have been in the business a long time and have met many, many brilliant product managers in the US tech firmament. Many have become CTOs. But we can count the number of great ones in the UK on our fingers – and a good proportion of those were American in any case. This is not, despite what he says, because Yanks are inherently superior. It’s actually a painful symptom of the other two issues: an obsession with sales and engineering. And it really hurts B2B marketing over here.

The good news for my American CMO is that the situation seems to be changing. Most of our clients (and an increasing number of the people we run into out there) are embracing analytics and lead nurturing. And most are throwing their weight behind complex, mutli-thread content-led campaigns that motivate prospects to move towards a sales conversation. They understand the importance of the right positioning and messages (and keeping these refreshed in the light of changing marketing circumstances.) And they value creative that incites action.

It is true that Brit B2B marketers have found it traditionally difficult to earn an equal place at the sales or engineering table. In future, and in the best companies, that will not be the case.


Great post Stan.

At a macro level, I believe things will only get worse (as anti-D:Ream once sang) as the market for smart, senior marketers will decrease.

This is driven by 4 things:

1. The ongoing dominance of US technology businesses, and the continuing subsidiary status of European operations.
2. The move of businesses to deliver their products via SaaS forcing a trend towards lower cost infrastructure such as telebusiness (and less $$$ to spend on seasoned marketers)
3. The rise of marketing automation platforms, enabling the ability to do things more centrally (i.e. in the US).
4. The move to online meaning customer understanding can be done digitally, negating the need for field marketing-led customer engagement.

I wrote more about it “5 reasons why Marketing Automation marks the end of the VP Marketing EMEA”



Great analysis and great post.

There will always be companies that think that by solving their workflows they’ve solved their marketing problems. But it does feel as if there’s an emerging band of marketers that recognise that content and creative to push through the tools is the hard bit. You’re right to point out though that marketing automation makes it easy to turn European marketing into a satellite execution business. Hope not though.

Thanks Stan,

It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my frustration. I’d add that to many UK Marketers have done a bad job of stepping up to the new environment. I spent 3 years working in the US with Hi-Tech clients. I was always impressed by how much even the most junior marketer knew about their industry, products and what was also around the corner.
UK Marketing education doesn’t help. The CIM still assumes everyone works for Unilever and B2B Marketing content on their courses is fairly non-existent. So where do young B2B Marketers go to get ‘their chops’? (see I remember the B2B Manifesto)?
The Marketing Automation success stories have been well documented and recognised as the way forward savvy B2B marketers. I believe I’m posting alongside B2B Mags ‘Marketer of Year’ but I don’t think 2010 was a bumper year for UK company investment in Marketing Automation.
Meanwhile, at DemandGen we see lots of MA instances spreading to EMEA from the US. The skill set required to drive through a successful lead scoring and nurture activities is significant. Yes it is complex too. There is a tendency for marketers to noodle around with the technology rather than go toe to toe with the engineers and salesforce and get their buy-in first.
So to b2b marketers I say leave the technology piece to the experts (cough cough DemandGen…other MA consultants are available!). We’ll hold your coat while you take on sales and go for that ’sales and marketing alignment’ thing. A sort of “Mickey” Goldmill to your Rocky

I agree with you completely. Marketing education is unwaveringly focussed on B2C, not B2B, so people are forced to ‘learn by doing’ – another example of the British ‘muddling through’ I talk about in the post.

Leave a comment