Shocked businessman

I’m working on a presentation for a group of CEOs of small and mid-sized B2B companies, and I was asked to discuss what’s working in B2B marketing and what isn’t. So I started to make a list of both.

Sadly, the list of wrongs is long (20 items!). But like all things in business, we have to prioritize. So I’ve boiled the list down to the three things that I believe are the most critical issues to address and, if fixed, will provide the most benefit to the most companies.

These problems are especially common in three environments:

• smaller businesses,
• companies who operate in extremely technical industries, and
• companies where the owner / president really doesn’t have a marketing bone in his or her body.

Costly mistake #1: Wrong tools for the job
You can build a house without a hammer, but it will take you longer and the resulting structure will be less sturdy. So it is with marketing.

Far too many companies spend marketing dollars and time on tools and tactics that make no sense, and they spend no time or money on the things that could make the biggest difference in their marketing. Perhaps they use direct mail to sell an extremely technical product. Or they use social media to promote a service to an audience that isn’t tech savvy. But they never take the time to write a case study. Or they haven’t updated their website in 3 years. It makes me heartsick to see so much money so poorly invested.

B2B companies have a vast array of tools and tactics to choose from. It can be tough to know which ones will work for a company given its industry, market position and audience. But companies should pay more attention to their selection of marketing tools and stop wasting money on activities that they chose on a whim as opposed to on a plan.

Costly mistake #2: Inconsistent execution
Marketing is dating. It takes a gradual process of increasing levels of information and commitment to build a relationship. If you blow hot and cold, your target will get confused and run away. Marketing is the same – it takes consistent execution to make sure that the marketing investments made previously continue to provide returns in the form of more engaged prospects.

I see this problem occur often in the form of ‘people transitions’. It happens when responsibility for marketing is passed from one person to another within a company, or when the marketing ‘hat’ is worn by a sales or operations executive who often gets called to other duties – and has to ‘drop’ marketing whenever that other duty calls.

In these situations, untold marketing dollars are wasted by companies who don’t follow up on marketing activities (all those business cards collected at a trade show, for example), or who are caught behind the eight ball and have to spend twice what is necessary because they’re behind schedule on an immoveable deadline (e.g., having to get an entire trade show booth produced in a couple of weeks).

Costly mistake #3: No marketing strategy
Most people think of marketing strategy as the 4 Ps – product, price, promotion and placement (distribution). Indeed, it is. But there’s another layer of marketing strategy that is equally important when it comes to execution of a marketing communications plan.

The keys to this part of marketing strategy are Target Market, Positioning and Messaging. I’ve seen too many companies with a rough sense of who they sell to, but nothing definite on their ideal customer or target market. Further, they don’t define their position in the market and what their unique value proposition is – i.e., how are they different from competitors. And finally, they don’t figure out the messaging that will resonate with their target market and trigger some response from them. Without this kind of strategy in place, companies waste precious time and money on marketing that talks to the wrong people, with the wrong message at the wrong time.

If B2B companies really want to improve their marketing results, they’ll tackle these 3 problems first.

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