When I meet owners of business-to-business (B2B) companies, they ask a lot of questions about marketing. Believe it or not, marketing is a relatively new function for many B2B companies, especially manufacturers and technical businesses. Many owners and managers are still learning what they should be doing, and how.

The top concern of any executive new to marketing relates to how much time it will take to get results. It’s usually phrased in a more blunt fashion: “How long will this marketing stuff take to produce revenue?”

The short answer? It takes time.

The long answer? It really does take time.

For B2B businesses, marketing doesn’t produce results in a month or two. In fact, if results are solely defined as “revenues,” it can take longer than six months. A lot depends on the nature of what your company sells, and how long it takes buyers to make a purchase decision.

I suggest approaching marketing like you’d approach dating: If you want a long-term, successful relationship, you put the foundation in place early and grow things gradually

I suggest approaching marketing like you’d approach dating: If you want a long-term, successful relationship, you put the foundation in place at the early stages of a relationship and grow things gradually.

Read: How to Measure Your Marketing Campaign’s ROI

In my experience, the best way to do that is to apply a “first 100 days” approach. This allows you to establish an initial marketing foundation that’s robust enough to handle acceleration down the road. So, what do those first 100 days involve?

  • Creating a strategy, in which you clarify your target market, determine your value proposition and figure out your messaging.
  • Producing new sales collateral so your sales team can sell confidently.
  • Building a website that is based on a keyword strategy. Note: doing this in 100 days is only feasible if you operate a reasonably straightforward business. A company with a single product line should be able to a get a good site up in the first three months. A larger organization with multiple products will take longer. I recently worked with a large company with 14 product lines; their site took eighteen months to overhaul, which was a reasonable window given the number of people involved and the complexity of the business.
  • Establishing pay per click advertising—but only if it’s appropriate for your target market and type of business.
  • Setting performance benchmarks using metrics such as visitors to the site, content downloads and number of leads. Every company will have a different scorecard, but it’s important to start measuring at the beginning so that you can accurately monitor progress and refine your plan based on the outcomes.

By doing these things in the first 100 days of your marketing program, you’ll be putting the foundation in place, but you won’t likely be getting any dollars-and-cents payback—not yet. It might not be what you want to hear, but it’s what is realistic.

However, once the foundation is built, most companies can expect growth in their pipeline—meaning more engaged prospects and more leads to build and nurture within—two to four months. Depending on the buying cycle, these prospects might convert to revenue in a few weeks (or, in the cases of more complex purchases, in a few years).

Read: The “Just Right” B2B Marketing Budget

Overall, a typical B2B company should expect their marketing to be running smoothly—and to produce measurable pipeline growth—within the first year. Often revenue will come in that time. But it’s crucial to note this important caveat: not all campaigns achieve positive ROI in the first 12 months, and as hard as that is to swallow, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just think of marketing as you would any important capital investment: you’re doing it for the long-term payoff.

Lisa Shepherd is author of Market Smart: How to Gain Customers and Increase Profits with B2B Marketing and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She was the youngest female CEO of a company on PROFIT’s ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies in 2007 and 2008 and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.

More columns by Lisa Shepherd

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