Many prospects have expressed that unfocused B2B marketing communications are noxious―clogging the air, littering the landscape, and substituting quantity for quality and volume and weight for insight. Surely, if our message is everywhere, and if we speak loudly, our prospects will flock to our door. Sure―ask the people of Mexico City or Beijing, “How’s that breathing thing coming along?” Ask them about the view.

I think B2B marketing is doing way too much talking.

We’re Not Listening

A great deal of B2B marketing is rooted in what automation can do. It seems to be on the step just above enablement. The automation is so incredible and so efficient at getting out the message that it must be effective. It’s marketing success in a box, and it’s easy to focus on technology as the righteous road. If we use the technology well, we will succeed. I think this easily brushes aside the reality that it’s a lot messier and murkier out there.

Companies articulate and struggle to solve the problem at-hand through the fog of culture and an ever-changing array of requirements and contributors to the process. Their consideration journey is serpentine and idiosyncratic. B2B is, and always was, about people. We can’t really learn more about the people if we are talking.

Your Product or Service Is Completely Beside the Point

I may not have all the answers, but I know that many buy decisions are not based on attributes, the features and benefits of your product or service. Those appear to be table stakes. Preference and commitment are the drivers, and they are based on taking ownership of the problem and helping the prospect to solve it in their way. Borrow their glasses to see. Walk in their shoes to understand. Put their hat on your head. Listen to what they say and how they say it.

If B2B marketing is coming up short on its potential, and I believe it is, it’s because automation has us stuck in broadcast mode.

A Cool Breeze Blows Away the B2B Marketing Smog

Companies have learned some of the most amazing things when they begin the process of structured conversations and active listening.

  • One company learned through prospect persona research that the words and phrases they were using were communicating the absolute wrong (and opposite) message.
  • Executive decision makers told another company that the product wasn’t a fit as promoted, but it would fit in a different application (not anticipated, or even previously known).

Structured and active listening must become a process and not an event. It’s about not conducting research every fifth year―unless profits are high or money is tight. It’s about doing it every day.

Cleaning the Air

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve seen enough to know that this is the righteous path. Consider this:

  • The decision making process is getting longer and more complex, and more of it takes place prior to engagement. I think a contributing factor is that B2B marketing is not delivering sufficient value.
  • Does the number 3,874 ring a bell? It’s ChiefMarTec’s tally of the number of marketing technology vendors, which feels like we’re tipping into hyperbole. Perhaps we should give each qualified prospect a seat and suggest they design the communication stream that fits them best. It’s a reasonable guess that we’ve got all the automation we need right now, and that improvement will only come with upgrading the garbage that goes in.
  • In a research interview on behalf of a technology client, I asked a CEO the most important benefit he got from my client. He said, “my salesman.” I’m certain that you can’t achieve that without listening.

The absolute answer is a moving target. There is no silver bullet, no one size fits all.

The B2B marketplace is in a constant state of flux and moving forward requires agility. Success lurks in our commitment to listening and learning and adapting to our prospect. There are brave marketers out there who continue to test this agility and push the envelope. Let’s begin a dialog and share experiences.

The B2B process is personal, and B2B marketing success is about listening to those persons. We can’t lose sight.