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It’s time to reclaim B2B marketing as a strategic growth driver – if not now, when?

Every commercial company started out more or less as the brainchild of a founder/entrepreneur who saw an opportunity in the market. He or she managed to free up the means and the time to turn an idea into a product/service, take this to market and develop it into a successful business. The ‘taking to market’ step is crucial and this is essentially what marketing is. Still, I suspect that if you were to ask entrepreneurs about the foundation of their business, few would claim it was marketing. What you tend to hear is that they saw a gap in the market, had an idea, the product was sound, they persevered, worked their socks off, were able to close great deals, and so on. 

Marketing is part of doing business 

The origin of the word marketing lies in ‘getting the market’. The ‘getting’ part can be explained in two ways. Firstly, in the sense of conquering the market. So, increasing your market share. What we see is that increasing market share tends to be perceived as a sales achievement. However, since it is fundamentally underpinned by marketing, a fifty/fifty ratio would actually be more accurate. This first interpretation only makes sense once you grasp my second interpretation of ‘getting the market’. 

This second argument is not so much about increasing your market share; it’s more about ‘understanding’ the market/customers. When you understand, or ‘get’ your customers’ struggles, problems and challenges, you can add value when solving these problems. You then have a business model with marketing at its heart. So, the key competence is being able to reason from the outside in. Do you get it!? 

Sales is part of running a business

If it’s early days for your company and you’re growing as an enterprise, business management principles start to matter. You improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your processes and you scale up. One of the first things you scale up is sales, because income must be generated in order to cover the investments. And because sales and the deals they make are essential to business continuity, there’s no question about sales being represented in the boardroom as the company grows. No sales, no company. 

The reasoning here is strongly inside out – a model that is sustainable in a traditional seller’s market. Today, however, we find ourselves in a buyer’s market (read: the internet enables everyone to do their research/acquire knowledge). As an organisation, you should therefore be far more oriented towards the second explanation of ‘getting the market’, meaning that marketing should always be represented on the board too. This often fails to happen.

Marketing as a profit centre, not a cost centre

In B2C, it’s long been clear that marketing is essential and its place in the boardroom has never really been questioned. This is mostly, if not completely down to the fact that B2C is primarily a transactional market. Few risks are associated with the purchase of a product and emotion very often drives the purchase. In this kind of emotionally driven market, branding and trade marks play an important role. The involvement of marketing is therefore self-evident. 

In B2B, the picture is completely different. B2B is much more about personal selling and it generally involves bigger risks and larger sums of money. To assess and reduce the risk as best they can, buyers seek lots of information. In the past, the selling party held the specific information. But since the purchasing process now begins online, that’s where you need to have a presence. On top of that, technological developments are moving so fast that the product lifecycle is hugely truncated – as is the time to market. All the more reason to bring marketing onto the board. 

Marketing ROI – just as measurable as # sales deals

These days, your marketing efforts are measurable. Measurable in the sense of what they cost, how many customers were created and how much revenue was raised. Just like sales. Within sales, the proportional relationship between number of salespeople and revenue has been obvious for years. More salespeople tends to mean more sales. This can nowadays be achieved within marketing too. How much will attending that trade fair bring in? How many new staff members do we find through LinkedIn? How many leads do we generate through Google? In brief, a rationalisation and objectivisation of marketing rather than subjective experiences related to brand, colours, brochures and advertising. 

Commerce is not a department

We at Webs also sometimes fall into the trap of referring to the ‘commercial’ department or divisions. This is understandable because that’s how we’ve set up our marketing, sales and customer service disciplines. But the reference is meaningless to customers. All they want is help when needed and good service. So if your company says that the customer is at the centre, these three disciplines must absolutely collaborate closely. This is not an aspiration – it’s an obligation. 

There’s no place today for marketers who never talk to customers or end users. Nor for sales people who don’t bother to find out about customers and talk only about their product or service. So pull together and put that customer at the centre for real. You can only achieve ‘customer first’ if you take a 360-degree view and have a growth team that works collectively to bring this about. 

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Picture of Emiel Kanters
Emiel Kanters

Managing Director & Partner