The Marketing Problem: How We Lost Our Way and Gave Up
If you described B2B marketing to a B2C marketer, would they see it as marketing, or would they see it as:
- Digital sales
- Sales enablement
- Total madness
Either way, they’d be right. Unfortunately, most of B2B marketing simply doesn’t deserve to be described as marketing.
To understand how we got here, we need to understand the never-ending debate and tension between leadership and marketers (and functional silos in the entire organization), and how it led to the current state of B2B marketing.
From there, we’ll look at how using customer journey data to refine marketing strategies can help marketers get more buy-in from leadership for more creative and brand building efforts.
Proving ROI gets you more leadership buy-in
If you went out looking for data on what marketing efforts are the most effective in building trust, brand association, growing pipeline, and ultimately, bringing in customers, you’d most likely find things like:
- Case studies and testimonials showcasing the real business impact of your product
- Ungated product demos that help you understand the impact of a product without signing up for it
- Strategic or tactical content that helps your ICP solve their pain-points
- Overall positive experiences with your marketing efforts and product that makes your audience & customers recommend it to others
On the other hand, the answer you’ll rarely find is: I loved their lead gen ads and how their sales team consistently followed up after I downloaded their ebook.
And yet, it seems like almost every B2B organization still runs this exact playbook.
This has had marketers scratching their heads for the longest time, but the reason why companies are stuck with lead gen is actually very simple:
Lead generation models allow us to measure marketing’s impact on revenue, while the same can’t be said about more creative marketing or brand-building efforts.
That leaves us stuck since we know there’s a better way, but we can’t measure its impact.
So, how do we get out of this situation?
The never-ending debate between marketers and leadership
The relationship between marketers and leadership in most B2B companies can be described this way:
Leadership wants to allocate resources to activities that have a measurable impact on revenue. Marketers want to do more creative work and brand building and impact business growth that way. However, since it is difficult to directly tie such efforts to conversions, it’s difficult for marketers to show leadership the impact of those efforts, making it even more challenging to get buy-in on long-term marketing strategies.
And back and forth we go.
So, this leaves most marketing teams focused on direct-response campaigns – the only way we can fully measure the direct impact on revenue with our current technological capabilities.
If you were okay with how things were, you wouldn’t be reading this article. So, let’s summarize why the way things are isn’t so fine after all:
- Acquisition costs are rising (70% increase in the last 6 years)
- Sales is stretched thin with having to inspect, qualify, follow up with, and convert leads
- 90%+ of sales and marketing efforts are wasted since these leads convert to customers at zero-point-something rates
- Most follow-ups or demos end in closed/lost and win rates keep dropping
- Sales is either barely hitting their goals or not at all
- You’re annoying most of your market by treating prospects as active buyers when in fact 95% are not interested in making a purchase any time soon
Marketers know that things like a strong brand, word of mouth, referrals, and awareness are more important in influencing buying decisions than direct-response campaigns shouting ‘download this ebook’ to prospects.
We know this because we talk to customers, conduct research, understand psychology, and also from our first-hand experiences. Our job is to understand how people operate and eventually buy.
The issue is, we need to convince leadership of this. And that was impossible for the longest time because these things are almost impossible to put into a report.
Additionally, since we’re all in the same boat, it’s difficult to point to similar SaaS companies and say “well, look, they did it, and it’s working for them.”
So, how do we convince leadership to do real marketing?
To end this debate, you need to get more data and visualize the customer journey
Before we show leadership the evidence that will get us buy-in to do more expand our marketing efforts beyond direct-response campaigns, we need to understand the flawed premises upon which businesses operate today:
- The B2B customer journey is linear and simple
- A single touchpoint or team can be responsible for the conversion and be given credit to
- Simple attribution models provide enough context to feed strategy
However, we can simply show leadership what our customer’s journeys actually look like to prove these premises wrong.
As mentioned in Chapter I, by using a tool like HockeyStack, you can blend your data from different sources (Salesforce, Marketing, ads, tools like Gong, etc.) and present it all as visual customer journeys you can analyze.
Here are the key insights we will walk away with once we begin visualizing our customer’s journeys:
- The B2B customer journey is complex; we need more data to better understand our buyers
- A single touchpoint or team cannot be fully credited with a conversion; we need to understand the entire journey and figure out what touchpoints collectively impact conversions before having conversations about ROI
- No attribution model is perfect; a combination of attribution models is better suited to give us the data we need
Once your leadership sees your customer’s journeys for what they really are and starts understanding these principles, it’ll be easier to have conversations about blending mid- and long-term efforts into your strategy instead of solely focusing on short-term conversions.
You’ll see the long-term revenue impact of these neglected marketing initiatives since your brand building & demand generation efforts will be visible and measurable. Then you can begin getting more budget for things like, for example, building a B2B streaming platform.
To get to this point, you essentially need to:
- Blend your owned data: connect all your data sources into one place
- Remove bias from the process: use a single source of truth that doesn’t overreport specific touchpoints
- Visualize the customer journey: see how different teams, channels, and initiatives work together and better understand your buyer
- Uncover more hidden touchpoints: the more light you can shed on these hidden interactions, the better you’ll understand the customer journey
Also, remember that you won’t be able to achieve these transformations overnight.
By building momentum through multiple, low-effort/short-term activities, you can start to see an increase in the brand lift (awareness, association, mentions, branded search traffic, etc.) and base sales over the mid-term, helping you get buy-in to sustain it for the long-term.
Insights from the customer journey inform your strategy
Most B2B companies run pretty much the same playbook (e.g., gated ebooks, display ads, etc.) because it’s what their attribution software tells them to do.
If all you can measure are short-term direct-response campaigns, and if those same initiatives are the only ones getting credit, leadership won’t experiment with anything else and will stick with these outdated strategies, even though they don’t serve the customer or impact sales cycles.
Visualizing your customer journey and uncovering more of these hidden touchpoints allows you to get better data and refine your content strategy.
Some of these hidden touchpoints are:
- LinkedIn ad impressions and engagement
- Brand marketing campaigns impressions
- Referral visits from third-party sites
- Podcast listens
- Gifts received
If your attribution software noticed the impact of your brand building initiatives and other long-term marketing efforts, then gave them the credit they deserve, your strategy would undoubtedly change for the better.
But unfortunately, it doesn’t, so here’s what we’re left with:
- Poor data (the only visible touchpoints in your attribution software are direct-response campaigns and they get all the credit)
- Wrong insights (this leads you to thinking that lead generation campaigns are the only thing that’s working for your business)
- Poor decisions (and so you decide to spend most of your resources on lead generation)
- Misguided execution (you keep building more lead generation campaigns regardless of diminishing returns, stuck in an optimization cycle that never leads to the desired results)
On the other hand, once you implement modern attribution software that gives you more data, removes bias from the process, uncovers more hidden touchpoints and is able to visualize your customer journey, you can turn this vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle that feeds your strategy and accelerates your growth.
Free up marketers to do more creative marketing and brand building
B2B doesn’t need to be boring forever. A lot of today’s fastest-growing companies have said done away with the status quo and are seeing incredible growth rates, large rounds, and ever-growing valuations because of it. On top of that, everyone is talking about them.
One look at what companies like Loom, Miro, Figma, Gong and others are doing and you’ll see proof that creative marketing and brand building play a key part in growth and differentiation, even in oversaturated verticals that have been dominated by incumbents for decades.
Let’s look at how enabling marketers to focus on long-term initiatives benefits your business.
Get more buy-in for brand-building efforts by using software that can track their impact
Once you have attribution software that can recognize brand-building efforts and their immediate but, more importantly, long-term impact, you can work on getting leadership buy-in, as well as more time and resources to focus on those efforts.
When marketers no longer have to justify the previously impossible work to measure, we can spend more time building creative campaigns that plant seeds of trust and association in the minds of out-of-market buyers.
As we know from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute research, 95% of B2B buyers are not looking to buy. However, other research shows that long-term strategies that create memorable experiences will affect their decisions once they are ready to buy, i.e., they usually go with the brand they’re most familiar with.
Having no means to track the impact of these long-term initiatives leaves us chasing leads and forces us into running direct-response campaigns to people that cannot be swayed into buying no matter how hard we try.
Once we understand the impact of brand building and demand generation, we can finally adjust our strategy and execution for out-of-market prospects.
To an outsider, this can sound like ‘it’s just marketers wanting to get creative’.
To you, it’s an opportunity to finally be able to:
- Create memorable experiences that plant seeds of trust and association in the minds of your buyers
- Kill the old, boring B2B messaging that stops you from standing out in oversaturated markets
- Rapidly experiment with more than just simple website A/B tests
- Build a media company inside your marketing department
And yes, also get truly creative and have some fun while still accomplishing your business and departmental goals – creating “edutaining” content that gets everyone talking about your brand like it did for Lavender, Gong, and other rapid growing B2B companies, including HockeyStack.
Fix the attribution problem and attract the best marketers out there
Organizations that have adopted this approach to attribution are the best environments for marketers to build careers in.
They attract marketers who:
- Know their customers better and understand how to market to them
- Are not stuck with a decade-old playbook
- Are curious and not happy with the status quo
- Want to do what’s best for the company and the customer, not just what enables them to hit their department goals (i.e., leads)
Just imagine the compounding effect on your growth when you hire marketers that fit this description.
Today, one thing the fastest-growing companies have in common today is that they have individuals on their marketing teams with strong personal brands that help grow the company brand, attract other similar marketers (A players attract A players), and build successful employee advocacy programs – one of the strongest growth loops a company can have.
The importance of sustaining long-term brand-building efforts
The growth you’re experiencing today comes from the seeds you planted months or even years ago.
If you’re only marketing to in-market buyers through direct-response initiatives, you’ll fail to plant those seeds and shouldn’t be surprised when your growth slows down.
Even if you can get away with the lead gen model during good times, when budgets get cut during economic downturns, you’ll wish you’d invested more in long-term strategies two years ago. Unfortunately, at that time, it will already be too late.
Most of us understand this, but short-term initiatives that produce immediate business outcomes are almost always prioritized. However, when you solve the Attribution Problem, you can measure the impact of the long-term initiatives that drive the most growth – just not immediately – and show it to leadership.
From there, we’ll be able to solve the Marketing Problem, restore its glory, and focus on long-term brand-building efforts.
Building a media company gives you next-level insights
There is so much hype in B2B around building a media company and its impact on growth – for good reason.
Some of the best-known B2B companies earned their reputation through well-oiled content engines — ProfitWell, Ahrefs, Paddle, Gong, etc.
We’re also seeing more and more companies acquire niche media companies — like HubSpot’s acquisition of The Hustle (for roughly $27M), or Outreach acquiring Sales Hacker – as a shortcut to building one.
In this section, we’ll look at one hidden benefit of building a media company: the customer journey insights you can gather from it and how they can feed your strategy.
Build a platform where you host and own all your content
In a nutshell, here’s what building a media company could mean:
- Create content as episodic series
- Host all your series on a page on your site
- Collect insights on how your target audience spends time on this page
One of the biggest benefits of this marketing approach is that you’ve created an owned channel, which is less affected by constant algorithm changes on rented channels (search engines, social media, etc.).
Activity from this platform feeds data to your customer journeys
Building an owned channel like this is great on its own, but there’s more.
We never talk about the opportunity that lies around increasing your owned data (first-party data) by building a media company.
If you can get even just a small chunk of your audience to spend their time on your platform and consume content, just imagine the insights you can get with software like HockeyStack that allows you to track on-site and off-site activities on your platform:
- Users and accounts that visit and engage with your content
- What they watch, how long they watch it
- The companies, industries, and verticals they come from
- The long-term impact of this content on revenue and sales cycles
- What channels do they come from
There are countless practical applications of these insights. Here are just a few:
- Refine your positioning and messaging
- Double down on the best-performing content
- Understand your buyer journey
- Use a list of high-intent accounts in your account-based marketing
- Highly accurate, timely, and relevant retargeting campaigns
This feedback loop will provide you with infinitely better insights about your customers than any benchmark report, survey, analyst, consultant, or any piece of third-party data could ever give you.
Own your content and use social to distribute it
Hosting all of your content on a platform you own solves many problems, one of them being the distribution problem.
Currently, most companies focus on creating content for social media channels and use their own site as a place to dump their content – or don’t use them at all.
Creating a media brand allows you to return to owning your content and using rented channels as distribution platforms – how it should be.
Once you start getting insights by tracking activity on your platform, you can really up your content game:
- You’ll better understand content performance – what hooks work best, where people drop off, how long is too long, who exactly consumes your content, etc.
- Content decay is much slower – your content can be consumed constantly, not just for a day or two like on social media platforms
- You won’t be dependent on algorithm changes
- Become the go-to place for education and/or entertainment for your audience
- What content is worth repurposing for social media
Building a media company on its own is one of the most powerful plays we’ll see more and more companies make.
Paired with the owned data HockeyStack can provide, this will become a go-to-market strategy that creates the next generation of high-growth B2B companies.
The fact is that you, the marketer, already know most of the things we talked about in this article:
- The B2B customer journey is a complex mess consisting of many different touchpoints across teams, channels & campaigns
- 95% of B2B buyers are not in the buying phase, and you can’t push them into a sale with direct-response tactics
- Proper marketing has always been about planting the seeds of trust and association in the heads of your future customers by creating memorable experiences in the places they spend their time
The issue was you lacked buy-in from leadership to be able actually to execute these insights. We can’t say it’s leadership’s fault either – it is their responsibility to prioritize strategies and tactics that have a measurable impact on revenue.
With a modern attribution platform like HockeyStack, you will be able to show definite proof that long-term marketing initiatives (brand building, community building, demand generation, creative marketing, etc.) drive revenue more effectively than outdated direct-response tactics and will finally be able to get buy-in to do more of what is needed.