When It Comes to Marketing, You are Not Your Prospect

One of the issues I face as a B2B marketing services provider is the “personal preference” challenge. This manifests itself when my team and I put a great campaign together that we believe will achieve solid results. Then our client, who is usually the CEO or CMO, kills the campaign because he or she doesn’t like something about it, often saying something like: “I would never respond to this offer/click on this ad/respond to this email promotion/whatever.”

At this point, I want to remind the executive that he or she is not the prospect, so how they personally feel about the campaign should not be the primary factor on whether we should launch it. What does matter is how it is perceived by the target market, and to what degree they respond to our offer. In other words, results are way more important than personal preferences.

You don’t have to be a marketing services consultant to face the personal preference challenge. If you are an internal marketing manager that has to go through one or more levels of approval, you probably have to deal with your own version of this challenge. In fact, you may be asking yourself why the same people that hired you because of your expertise now question your every move.

Of course senior executives should have something to say about outbound communications, whether they are initiated by an internal team or a marketing services provider. They need to know that the communication puts their company in a positive light and reinforces the brand promise. But when it comes to issues like color, length, timing, typeface, frequency and where the commas go—they are usually better off allowing the marketing team to do its job and assume responsibility for the results. In a competitive business climate, results are what truly matters.

In a prior life, I worked with a CEO who had very strong opinions about written prospect communications. He preferred long emails that focused on product features—the “tell them everything there is to say” style. However, I knew from experience that a shorter email focused on the prospect’s pain points usually performed better. Therein was the dilemma: Do it his way and get anemic results, or do it my way and create conflict (and possible unemployment), regardless of results. So I took the middle path and suggested an A/B test of his email format against my own. My email generated almost double the response. From that point, he stayed out of our email promotions.

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By the way, there is a type of an executive at the other end of the spectrum—the person who seems to have almost no personal preferences. If you work for this type of individual you will have great latitude, which is a good thing, but may receive little or no feedback, which can be a not-so-good thing. You will also feel all the weight of achieving strong performance metrics.

One last point about the personal preference challenge: It is not only your boss or client that can be an impediment to B2B marketing success. You should keep in mind the famous Pogo cartoon: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” If you start confusing your prospect with yourself and impose your personal likes and preferences on your target audience, you will become your own worst enemy.

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