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.