Investing in B2B Marketing? Invest in (the Right) People


In a recent article in MarTech Today, TechTarget CEO John Steinert laid out his thoughts on why people are essential to B2B marketing success. He stated, “If you believe, with respect to your marketing performance, that the people on your teams are essentially interchangeable, then maybe your performance status quo will do. On the other hand, if you suspect, as I do, that people remain key to disproportionate success, then your management probably needs to put people higher on its list of priorities.”

Steinert goes on to call people the most powerful differentiator between those who struggle and those who repeatedly succeed. It’s an interesting perspective when you consider how vocal the tech advocates in marketing have become – including those in B2B marketing. From all the fodder, it’s not hard to form the opinion that technology is commoditizing business marketing, and this can lead to the idea that people are somewhat interchangeable, as Steinert alluded.

There’s no shortage of tech offerings for marketers to choose from. In fact, the most recent Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic listed 6,829 different marketing technology solutions from 6,242 unique vendors. (Just try to look at that graphic without growing cross-eyed, I dare you.)

Despite all this evolution in tech stacks, Steinert maintains that B2B is still struggling with marketing, and offers four underlying reasons, summarized here:

B2B is fundamentally different
No marketer worth his weight in anything fails to understand the inherent differences between B2B and B2C marketing. Yet, Steinert contends much about marketing management still lacks a very B2B identity. He also reiterates here his belief that people are the fundamental drivers of progress in B2B marketing.

B2B marketing isn’t ‘one’ thing
Here Steinert references a training framework from the Pragmatic Institute, which breaks B2B marketing into 37 different areas of expertise. Because marketing is a complex set of connected processes, having a coherent integration of the right mix of these capabilities is vital to succeed.

B2B excellence takes time
Given the nuanced and sometimes technical nature of business sales, it takes time for content creators to gain a complete and useful understanding of your company’s differentiators. Consistent turnover and cycling of unfamiliar staff inhibits this comprehension and expertise, and Steinert accuses companies of devaluing continuity.

We treat marketing as a cost center
Surmising that it’s part of the reason so many marketers don’t stay in one place very long, Steinert says too many businesses still treat marketing as a cost center that is too easily cut with little expectation for downside. So, it isn’t surprising that the best young marketing minds are constantly looking out for better personal situations, perpetuating the cycle of marketing turnover.

Steinert lays out all that to assert this: “Since delivering B2B marketing improvement requires a concerted focus on both highly specialized individual skills and remarkable team cohesion, organizations that are unable to invest their energies accordingly — like those who continue to look for quick fixes to difficult challenges — will simply never achieve the impact many of today’s teams are consistently delivering. More and more, I’m seeing that success is about the people and their teams.”

While Steinert lays out a case for investing deeply in people and personnel, a reality exists for many companies that precludes them from doing so. Though it may ring true in theory and practice that a significant investment in the human aspect of marketing will bring return, your business may not afford the luxury of such investment. How, then, do you avoid the trap of “looking for quick fixes to difficult challenges?”

Steinert himself in the article acknowledges the common necessity of using “temporary assistance and semi-permanent third-party teams.” As B2B marketing grows ever more technical, it can become a convoluted chain of suppliers, vendors and agencies. This is where businesses without the big marketing budget must be pragmatic in who they work with.

Plenty of vendors can offer you a solution (almost 7,000 of them, remember?) However, if what Steinert avows is true, that people are the ultimate differentiator, business need to investigate beyond the tech solution and into the people and expertise of the companies they partner with.

Furthermore, because B2B is fundamentally different and because of its nuances, the partners you contract should be B2B people – not just experienced in the technical capabilities of a solution – but how to apply it specifically in a business-to-business environment.

Artificial intelligence is a hot term in marketing circles today, but people are still – and always will be – essential to the success of B2B marketing. No technology is going to rewrite your business sales on its own. Invest in technology, but invest in the people that can maximize use of that technology – whether they are staffers or partner vendors – and give them the opportunity to see it through.

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