One of the advantages of a long career in any discipline is the ability to look back and see lessons learned over many companies, initiatives and projects. This is why you want to hear your surgeon say that this is their 400th similar procedure, and not: I just graduated and this is my first procedure. When it comes to B2B marketing and sales, here are six lessons that have served me well.
Lesson 1: Magical thinking will not make your numbers improve. As a long-time B2B marketing and sales executive, and an occasional investor – I am used to seeing/hearing revenue projections that are simply unattainable. For example:
- My sales reps will close 50% of qualified sales leads (not likely).
- We beat our chief competitor every time we face them in a deal (nope).
- Our products are so good; they sell themselves (not in this lifetime).
Most start-up revenue projections are more fantasy than reality. This is understandable when the company is trying to raise venture capital. However, established companies shouldn’t get a pass when it comes to making outlandish projections. I have been in a position where the CEO or board demands performance based on magical thinking. And yes, I have succumbed to such pressure, especially early in my career. It’s always a judgement call but usually better to set tough but achievable objectives.
Lesson 2: Strong marketing and sales are both necessary. A software company CEO once told me, “My salesforce is so good that we don’t really need any marketing.” Not surprisingly, this gentleman came up through the sales ranks and was very sales-centric, and unappreciative of the benefits marketing could bring. The fact is, most category leaders are good at marketing and sales, not just one of these disciplines. The synergy created by the blend of quality marketing and sales can really propel revenue and profit. This is why alignment between the two functions is so critical and why we create lead-to-revenue programs that are holistic and tightly integrated.
Lesson 3: An anemic brand is an anchor around marketing and sales performance. I’ve written a lot about branding and positioning: It is a key part of what we do at Fusion Marketing Partners. Your branding and positioning may need a transformation or a tune-up, but either way, it is not going to fix itself. For more about this critical subject, join my BrightTALK online event, Branding and Positioning for Marketplace Leadership, March 26 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time.
Lesson 4: Consistency is often more important than creativity. My company often partners with clients that face much larger competitors. While researching the industry giants, I sometimes notice that despite their large budgets and big marketing staffs, they are not always impressive when it comes to the cleverness of their messaging. However, what they lack in creativity is often more than made up for by a relentless focus on getting the message out. Of course, the best option is to be both creative and consistent.
Lesson 5: You should stop trying to prove that you are better. The problem with claiming to be better is that the whole concept of “better” is subjective. We have the best product, we have the best people, we have the best pricing, we have the best service, ad nauseum! Most prospects won’t believe your claims of being superior – they have heard this too many times. Instead of trying to be better, focus on being different, in a way that is relevant and meaningful to your target prospects. My December 2018 article shares a four-step method for achieving differentiation in a way that increases the financial health and brand equity of your company.
Lesson 6: If you are not making mistakes, you are probably not progressing. During my career, I’ve interacted with many B2B marketing and sales professionals who were afraid to try something new, take risks, or operate outside their comfort zones. I was reminded of this when a business colleague asked me what I would do if one of my staff made a particular mistake. My answer was that, assuming it was the first mistake of its type, I would tell the individual, “Congratulations. You just learned a valuable lesson. Just don’t make the same error again.”
Yes, there is risk in the willingness to try new things and make mistakes, but in my opinion, the risks are more than compensated by the potential gains. John F. Kennedy had a great perspective on this when he said: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.” For more on which risks to take to truly move the needle in your markets, download our Business Value Hierarchy white paper. It contains many more lessons learned from my experience in the B2B trenches.