The Most Costly Mistake B2B Companies Make About Marketing

An all-too-common misperception could be holding back the growth of your business

Written by Lisa Shepherd

In 2012, Dave Zavitz joined Canada Cartage, a $600 million fleet outsourcing company. While the company had a seasoned, professional sales team, it had never put a lot of focus or resources into strategic marketing. When I asked Zavitz to name his biggest priority during his first hundred days on the job as senior vice president of sales and marketing, the answer he gave was funny€“and telling. “I needed to show everyone that marketing isn’t about choosing a new colour for the logo,” he said. “Marketing is NOT the art department.”

If there’s one thing I wish I could change about marketing in B2B companies, it’s that perception. Strategic marketing isn’t about the color of the logo, the layout of the brochure, or the design of the pens you take to trade shows. Rather, it’s about the target markets your company pursues and the position it establishes in the market.

In my experience, many B2B executives confuse marketing with art. Until recently, revenue generation at B2B companies was solely the responsibility of the sales department. “Marketing” was usually just code for “glorified graphic design.” But that’s changing. Today, marketing in B2B companies is a strategic function that defines essentials like the firm’s position in the market to which customers it pursues and how it connects with them, to what prices it charges for its goods and services. It now bears as much responsibility for revenue generation as the sales team.

As with any significant shift, perceptions change slower than reality. But you can’t afford not to update the way your employees look at and work with their colleagues in the marketing department. The longer you wait, the more potential revenue you’re giving up.

Here are a few ways marketers can help their colleagues understand what it is they actually do, and what B2B business owners must do to support them.

1. Clearly define “strategic marketing”

When Leslie Carter started as Chief Marketing Officer at Knightsbridge, there was no department for her to lead. Having had no experience of an established strategic marketing function, many of Carter’s colleagues didn’t understand her role, and she found her team being asked to create brochures and other such tasks. So she contracted a specific graphic designer to be responsible for such tasks, and informed everyone within the company to direct such requests to that person.

By clearly separating her team’s planning and decision-making duties from the task of art production, Carter began to reshape the perception of marketing among her colleagues. Business owners and CEOs can speed up the process at their own companies by ensuring that their marketer’s role and responsibilities are widely known and understood within the organization.

2. Share the numbers

Good marketers are interested in measuring the return generated by their work, and keep such data close to hand. Elizabeth Williams of ADP always brings a calculator with her to meetings, and occasionally uses it to run the numbers, calculating ROI on marketing campaigns and ideas in real time. It’s an approach that alters the perceptions of marketers and non-marketers alike, emphasizing that her work is numbers-driven, and that marketing isn’t about pretty colours but rather delivering financial results for the business.

A good way to support your marketer—and figure out whether you’ve got a good one—is to foreground marketing metrics in your decision-making and strategic planning. By showing you understand and respect the measurable results the department is delivering, you’ll encourage your employees to do likewise.

3. Draw the line

In the name of being helpful, junior marketers tend to do absolutely anything that is asked of them, including brochure layout and presentation preparation. That doesn’t do anything to help with the misperception that they are primarily graphic designers, or—more importantly— to help them achieve the objectives of a strategic marketing function.

If a request is not linked to delivering more revenue, or an important step on the path to revenue, marketers must be empowered to refuse it. If the company needs artwork and doesn’t have a graphic designer on staff, business owners need to be willing to reach into their pockets to outsource the task, rather than hand it off to the marketing department. It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but ultimately it will pay off—allowing your marketers to focus on strategic, revenue-generating activities is the best way to grow your top line.

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I don’t mean to disparage graphic designers—they are a vital and powerful part of the marketing mix for any business. But if the marketing team becomes synonymous with the art department within your company, it cannot play revenue-generating role you need it to. Keep the two functions separate, and your business will soon be on the path to growth.

Lisa Shepherd is author of The Radical Sales Shift: 20 Lessons from 20 Leaders on How to Use Marketing to Grow Sales in B2B Companies and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She has been the youngest female CEO on the PROFIT Ranking of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution. This article is adapted from The Radical Sales Shift.


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