The next interview in the B2B Marketing thought leader interview series is with Robert Bell, Vice President of Alan/Anthony, Inc., a partnership of business development and marketing experts, and co-author of the book B2B Without The BS (along with Louis Zacharilla). He’s an expert on B2B marketing in general as well as marketing and sales alignment, both topics that is always near and dear to me.
1. How have you seen sales and marketing change since you first entered in the industry?
In B2B sales and marketing, the rise of the Web has triggered unbelievable changes. It’s a lot like the break-up of the old monopoly on long-distance telephone. As the price of a call dropped from dollars to cents, volume exploded. The Web has made it possible for every company to market itself globally, professionally and successfully at a tiny fraction of the cost incurred when I got started in the business.
One thing that has not changed, however, is the degree to which the Next Big Thing confuses and dazzles. I can remember when the Next Big Thing was fax broadcast. At the moment, it’s social media and Twitter. Talk about them is everywhere. In the past three days, I have been invited to a half dozen Webinars and seminars about them. With each Next Big Thing, we tend to get excited about the process and its unlimited potential. It takes time and experience to learn what the downsides are and what kinds of content actually work. Fax broadcasting was all the rage until it began to occur to marketers that the only person seeing the faxes was the manager of the mailroom.
2. Your book, B2B Without the BS, calls out B2B companies that errantly go to market and try to play by B2C marketing rules. Why do you think so many B2B companies revert back to B2C marketing fundamentals?
Most B2B companies, in my experience, are run by engineers, technologists or financial professionals. They don’t “get” marketing in general. When it comes time to make decisions, they do what most of us do and fall back on what they know, which is the B2C marketing we are all immersed in every day.
I have actually had an engineer say to me, “I don’t know why we need marketing. If it’s a good product, people will buy it.” This was not a stupid man; he just wasn’t applying any real thought to the issue. I have had the most success as a consultant to engineering-driven companies when I explain that marketing is a discipline, just like engineering. You identify your requirements, you design a process to meet them, and you measure results. As soon as I say it, everybody in the room relaxes. Oh, a process! That makes sense to them.
3. How would you describe the difference between sales and marketing alignment in B2B industries, versus B2C?
In general, B2C industries are much more sophisticated about sales & marketing because they operate in markets with millions of potential customers. Most B2B companies serve addressable markets numbering in thousands. In B2B, the point of sale is generally not going to be a retail outlet. It will be one of the company’s own salespeople. So marketing is not quite the make-or-break issue that it is in B2C. In B2B, it is about boosting the efficiency and effectiveness of sales, rather than of creating, entering or growing markets on its own.
4. In your experience, what is the biggest consequence you’ve seen experienced by a B2B company that did not properly align sales and marketing efforts?
The biggest and most frequent mistake I have seen is asking marketing to substitute for sales. Management will decide to enter a market but not dedicate any new sales resources to it. They devote money to marketing, get some marketing results but don’t generate sales and then abandon it, usually muttering something about how marketing is a lot of BS. (Hence the name of our book.)
My all-time favorite example took place a couple of decades ago. I was sitting in a client’s office talking over our current projects. On his desk was a stack of reply cards (remember those?) from our direct mail campaigns. Fishing for a compliment, I remarked on the size of the stack. He chuckled knowingly and said there had been a lot more than that, but he just couldn’t get around to making the calls. “I threw them out,” he told me.
5. What three tips would you offer to B2B companies to improve sales and marketing alignment?
B2B markets are small and intimate compared with B2C markets. That fact should condition everything a B2B marketer does. My three tips would be to know your market, nurture your market and feed the sales team.
Invest in data gathering, data maintenance and CRM despite how time-consuming, costly and downright boring they all are, because they give you the power to know your market.
Use communications, events and all the other marketing tools to deliver useful information and experiences to prospects even as you sell them, because that nurtures the market.
And remember that the sales team is the pointy end of the spear. Marketing should feed the sales team with the knowledge and tools to maximize their productivity and reduce as much as possible the vast amount of time they spending hearing the word “no.”
6. Lead generation, lead management and lead nurturing. How would you rank these in order of importance for B2B companies?
Lead management has to come first, because without it, lead generation is wasted and lead nurturing can’t take place. It is the least glamorous, most dauntingly complex part of the job but is the engine that drives everything else.
I rank lead nurturing second. Because B2B markets tend to be of such limited size with relatively high revenue per account, the payback from nurturing leads over time is enormous.
Lead generation is third not because it is unimportant but because it is relatively easy. Do direct marketing, go to trade shows, make cold calls, and you wind up with leads. It’s what you do with them that counts.
7. Bonus question: Anything else you’d like to discuss?
A surprising number of B2B companies, including fairly successful ones, are under-equipped when it comes to sales. The people who do the work also sell the work, with the help of sales assistants and proposal writers. It’s entirely understandable and terribly mistaken.
We came to call the usual result the Lebsack Curve, in honor of a client executive who first described the problem. In the Lebsack Curve, revenues climb and everybody works like mad to meet demand. Then revenues start to fall because nobody has been selling. With free time on their hands, everybody gets out and sells like mad and after some frighteningly thin months the revenue tick back up again and everybody works like mad to meet demand. And on it curves, up and down, never really getting anywhere.
Before B2B companies worry about anything else, they need to figure out how to break the Lebsack Curve.