Everyone thinks marketing is easy. But it’s a business function like any other, and it takes time and effort to become good at. Your own B2B company may or may not have reached that point.
So how can you tell whether your firm is doing the best job at marketing it can? And how can you determine whether your marketing will be effective in the coming year? Here are five pointed questions you should ask your marketing department—or yourself, if you run your firm’s marketing—to gauge whether you’re on the right track to achieve powerful results in 2013:
1. Is our marketing working well now?
For many CEOs of B2B companies, this question is easy, and painful, to answer: they already know their marketing isn’t working well. They know they are operating without a marketing plan, are underinvesting in marketing or are executing inconsistently. When the CEO or another member of the executive team is accountable for marketing as only part of his job, this is often the outcome.
If your answer to this question is “No,” it’s time to consider how you’re approaching your marketing. And if you plan to approach it the same way in 2013, how successful do you think you’ll be?
Regardless of whether your marketing VP’s answer to this question is “I don’t know,” “Yes—well, maybe” or “Everything is going great!”, you’ll want to get more specific information. You need a scorecard so you can review what your key business goals are and how well marketing is performing relative to these goals.
2. How long have we been using our current marketing tools and tactics?
If you’ve been using the same old reliable methods for many years, you may be overlooking newer approaches—such as search engine optimization (SEO), webinars and sales-lead nurturing—that can take your marketing to the next level. Buyer behaviour is changing dramatically in many industries, and technology has evolved to put buyers in the driver’s seat. That means your company needs to get a different message to potential buyers in a different way than it did five years ago. If you don’t incorporate the newer marketing tools that can help get your message into the market, your 2013 marketing won’t nearly be as effective as it could be.
On the other hand, if you’re completely switching your marketing tactics every year—or, even worse, throughout the year—that’s too much change. It’s important to find a balance between tools that you know will work and deliver results if consistently executed and newer tools that may deliver better results in the future.
3. Are we spending the right amount on marketing?
Can you even answer this question? Many companies can’t. If you don’t know how much you’re spending on marketing, how can you determine your ROI? Once you figure out what you’re spending, and on which tactics, you’ll be able to start the process of evaluating ROI.
It’s easiest to figure out your marketing spending if you have accounts in your general ledger set up for specific types of marketing expenditures, such as for your website, collateral material, SEO, advertising copywriting and trade shows. If you don’t have these accounts set up, make sure you do so for next year.
If you feel, as many CEOs of B2B firms do, that you’re spending too little on marketing, chances are you’re right. If you’re spending too much, it’s probably because you haven’t stopped doing some of the marketing activities that you’ve traditionally done but that are no longer delivering good ROI.
My company worked with a client that was exhibiting at 50 trade shows per year. Once we discussed this fact, everyone agreed that this firm didn’t need to go to all these shows. They were right. We reduced the number of shows to 35 without any negative impact on this client’s brand or lead generation. We did shift some of that spending to digital tactics, so we didn’t reduce the budget by as dramatic an amount as the savings on trade shows. Still, this case shows that sometimes you’re spending more on marketing than you need to.
How much should you spend? There is no single right answer, because it depends on your industry, size, target market and position in the market, among other variables. As a starting point, I suggest 2% to 4% of your gross target revenue—not your current revenue—with all the previously mentioned variables as caveats.
4. How well does our marketing align with our business strategy?
Good marketing flows from a company’s overall business strategy. Too many companies waste money on marketing activities that don’t support their strategic goals. Their marketing ends up being willy-nilly—all over the map with no clear direction. For each of the marketing activities you’re undertaking, you should be able to answer what you’re trying to accomplish with it and how this lines up with your company’s business strategy.
And if you don’t have an overall strategy for your business, that’s a different problem—one that’s up to you, not your marketing head, to solve.
5. Does your marketing team have the skills it needs?
Marketing is changing fast, and many marketing professionals aren’t keeping up. Some are still using outdated tactics because that’s what they know and they aren’t familiar with newer tools that could connect with your target more effectively. If your marketing team is relying solely on what it has done in the past (or what you’ve told the team to do), it’s becoming less effective every year—and isn’t delivering value to you in growing your company.
Take a close look at your marketing plan for the next year, and based on the answers to the above questions figure out which change you need to make. Do you need to change the people in your marketing department? Outsource your marketing? Or provide professional development to educate your team?
If you want better results from your marketing in 2013, it’s time to make some changes. To paraphrase Albert Einstein: poor marketing is doing the same thing over and over—and expecting different results.
Lisa Shepherd is author of Market Smart: How to Gain Customers and Increase Profits with B2B Marketing and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She was the youngest female CEO of a PROFIT 200 company in 2007 and 2008 and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.
More columns by Lisa Shepherd