Avoiding B2B Marketing Mistakes: Thought Leadership with Kathryn Roy

Modern Marketing


The next interview in the B2B Marketing thought leader interview series is with Kathryn Roy, Managing Partner at Precision Thinking, a consulting company that addresses three key areas for B2B sales & marketing teams — primary research, strategy, and sales enablement. She’s worked with some of the most successful B2B companies including IBM, Avid, CA, and Lotus, and has published in HBS Working Knowledge, MarketingProfs, and Mass High Technology. In fact, her article Seven Infectious Diseases of B2B Marketing — and Their Cures is currently rated #1 on MarketingProfs. (Note: if you’re not a MarketingProfs member, you can also access the article here.

1. Tell us a little bit about how you got into B2B marketing, and what you like most about it.

I started my career far from customers – building computer models at Bell Labs. I went back for my MBA so I could switch to work that had intensive customer interaction. What I like the most about B2B marketing is its focus on addressing real customer needs as opposed to selling something like bottled water by making prospects feel a certain way about themselves. I also like the puzzle aspect of figuring out which prospects are the best match for a specific solution and how best to reach them.

2. What are the biggest mistakes made by today’s B2B marketing and sales teams?

My article talks about 7 common mistakes, but the 3 most important are:

  • NOT using a formal process to develop campaign or sales strategies
  • NOT testing messages and vocabulary before using
  • Thinking prospects want to read or hear as much as the sales & marketing team want to share

I write about “infectious diseases of B2B marketing” because these problems are surprisingly prevalent. Take not using a formal process. Big agencies and sales training organizations demand that clients participate in formal strategy planning sessions. But many B2B companies – often working with smaller agencies or internal resources – skip this step. When we pull sales and marketing executives into a planning session, though, we frequently uncover conflicting assumptions about prospects as well as critical insights previously overlooked.

3. How big a problem is not testing messages?

Here’s how serious it is: After being acquired, one client was forced to finally conduct messaging research. The research confirmed what I’d suspected: For years they had been stressing features and benefits prospects didn’t value and hadn’t been talking about what prospects thought was critical. They had wasted years of marketing investments. I can’t think of a time we conducted research where the client wasn’t surprised by some of the insights.

Mark Twain said it best: “It ain’t what you don’t know that will hurt you. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

A research study conducted years ago by Xerox found that salespeople’s effectiveness declines after roughly 18 months. The reason is that as salespeople become more confident of their assessment of the prospects needs they spend much less time questioning and listening to their prospects.

The corollary for marketing professionals is this: The effectiveness of marketing professionals declines as their confidence increases if they don’t take the time to properly test their gut instincts. A “trust but verify” attitude can also protect Marketing from Sales. In companies selling big-ticket item, salespeople can over-influence messaging. Their gut feel is just as susceptible to being wrong as that of experienced marketers. A discipline of testing before investing will help prevent wasting marketing funds on the wrong messages.

4. What do you think are the biggest opportunities companies have for more effective demand generation?

I am amazed at the tsunami of best-practice whitepapers and webinars that deluge prospects in hot areas like sale analytics. It takes increasing creativity to stand out. If companies do the preparation work I recommend, they’ll get the insights that point them in the right direction for marketing content and vehicles.

Juicing the Orange, a book by the advertising team that came up with United Airlines’ wildly successful advertising campaign, has a free 27-page workbook (pdf) with 127 questions to help marketing professionals deeply understand a company’s market and challenge. This analysis is that team’s prerequisite to prescribing messages and mediums for delivery. (Not all 127 questions will necessarily pertain to your situation.)

5. How can companies use lead nurturing, lead scoring, and lead management most effectively?

I agree with what you have already published as best practices in this area, especially around gathering prospect details incrementally through repeated interactions. I continue to be shocked by large companies who demand 12 pieces of information before enrolling you in a webinar. Ironically, the American Marketing Association is one of these offenders.

Marketing executives also need to keep in mind that automated lead scoring doesn’t imply that prospects don’t get a call early in their interactions. There’s no harm in a company representative calling to see if there are any immediate needs they can address. This brief phone call can filter out useless prospects and fill in some details for others that enable a more customized – and therefore more relevant – nurturing process.

6. What role do you see for marketing automation technology in today’s marketing departments?

To use Geoffrey Moore’s terminology, the marketing automation arena is increasingly looking like a tornado — B2B companies with a dozen or more salespeople aren’t asking whether they need marketing automation, just which solution they should buy.

7. What three pieces of advice do you have for companies to improve sales and marketing collaboration?

Here are 2:

Test Messages and Vocabulary before Using. The bestseller, The Wisdom of Crowds, reminds us that we continually overestimate our own knowledge, expertise, and decision-making capabilities. This applies to sales and marketing executives as well — they may confidently hold flawed assumptions about prospects. But, focus groups or in-depth interviews often identify language and messages that are irrelevant, confusing, or — in some cases — insulting. Even sales and marketing executives who frequently interact with clients and prospects are surprised by the results unbiased research delivers.

Use a Formal Process to Develop Campaign or Sales Strategies. Here are 5 questions I use to uncover conflicts and false assumptions. (Insist on written answers developed by a group with diverse and independent perspectives.)

  • What is the biggest impediment to sales growth today?
  • What are the different market segments you are pursuing and how do they weigh the relative importance of different product/ service capabilities?
  • How does your offering compare with competitive alternatives on the key product / service characteristics listed above?
  • What is the target segment’s current perception of your company and your competition?
  • What is the buying process and what are and specific concerns by role for your top segment

8. What are the most important metrics you look at to measure marketing ROI?

Metrics have always been and I suspect will always be a challenge. Recognize what they DON’T tell you. For instance, they don’t tell you what you are NOT doing that would have a bigger impact than your current efforts. If I may, I’d like to see more companies with long sales-cycles leverage independent research to test their current and proposed messages and use formal planning to gain the insights needed to generate even better marketing campaigns.

One company was focused on tracking the percentage of marketing qualified leads that were accepted by sales. Marketing can bump that number by being more selective about passing on only leads that are really ready to buy now. But the price paid is that sales is not engaging at all with clients that are on the verge of buying. That meant that the competition had a better shot of reaching these “prospects on the verge” and swaying the purchase criteria in their favor. The result was lower win ratios for the deals sales did chase. It’s important to remember that conversion metrics are not independent.