How to Digitalise Marketing and Increase Marketing Productivity
My clients, who are primarily CMOs of mid-sized B2B organisations with an international customer base, share two primary concerns. First, they are keen to digitalise marketing operations. Second, they aim to enhance their marketing productivity. In fact, these two objectives are interlinked – but not in the conventional sense.
How to Digitalise B2B Marketing for Improved Marketing Productivity?
It sounds like a no-brainer. The standard answer is “more technology”. Actually, the picture is much more complex. To be clear: I’m not talking about selling industrial consumables via an eShop (though that’s also a great business model). My clients design and build investment machinery – often as bespoke turnkey solutions. The business relationships span continents and decades. The repeat business cycle can be a dozen years; the sales cycle is measured in quarters; and the contract value is often several millions.
In this business model, marketing is the preparation for personal selling by professionals with deep industry and product knowledge. And although the ‘online’ component of B2B marketing is definitely necessary, it’s not sufficient to generate sales on its own. The offline components of marketing are still too important to be ignored. Trade Fairs continue to be a huge factor in industrial selling because they bring Buyer and Seller into face to face contact.
Better answers come from better questions
Even so, I still hear the question: “What’s the best online strategy?” Well … the problem here, is the way the question is phrased. Looking for the best online strategy will only create a structure that impacts about a quarter to one-third of the total marketing resource. That’s because Sales uses face-to-face teams to manage key accounts … so offline activities till represent the lion’s share of the marketing resources.
To be really useful, the scope of the question needs to be much wider: “What strategies enable CMOs to digitalise integrated marketing activities that include both online and offline elements?”
More specifically: “how to transition the practices and processes of offline marketing from analog to digital?”
Equally useful is: “how to connect the digitalised offline elements with the online elements to create a joined-up whole that serves business needs?”
But the really tough questions are: “how are we going to implement?” and “when are we going to deliver?”
Embracing Change in Marketing: Digitalisation and Marketing Productivity
Digitalisation isn’t the only factor that is changing the world we live and work in. In 2018 international business faced a variety of triggers and impacts. From global economic issues (tariffs on trade) to social questions (climate change or artificial intelligence). From international regulatory changes (EU Privacy law – GDPR) to regional political issues (like Brexit).
Business faced a different set of changes in the years before 2018; it will face another set of changes in 2019 and beyond. But whatever the nature of the change in any given year, the impact on marketing is remarkably consistent. Every year, CMOs face the challenge of – somehow – achieving greater marketing productivity or better quality results from constant (or even reduced) resources.
How to achieve more with less?
On the surface, that looks like a Marketing productivity issue. And the standard solution to productivity issues is to work faster or harder. But working faster or harder means using existing methods to generate more of the same result. Whether you achieve that result by using double the energy or by working twice as long, you end up needing more resources.
If those resources aren’t available, then the pressure in the marketing department rises. And it wasn’t so many years ago that I saw the pressure get so high that the team members took the last remaining option; they began to cut out elements of the work itself. They skimped on the planning before the project; they skimped on the reporting after the project.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
They wanted to get each project done and dusted and move on to the next. But the trend went to its absurd conclusion. All that was left was a huge “to-do” list with every item as “Top Priority”. Day-to-day business became an endless, hectic chase, driven almost entirely by calendar deadlines. No-one had time to consider whether a project served business objectives; whether it was a sensible use of resources; whether it was a genuine priority or was simply labelled ‘urgent’.
When that happens, the quality of marketing is at risk. Budget is ‘spent’, resources are ‘consumed’ and the CMO has a tough time explaining the ‘Return on Investment’ to the Board. In the majority of cases, the lack of ‘return’ indicates that there hasn’t been an ‘investment’.
The better solution for marketing productivity issues is to work smarter
In any situation where the long-term aim is to improve both quality and quantity, the most effective approach is to solve the quality issues first. Then find ways to increase the quantity. Doing it the other way around just generates a bigger quantity of low-quality results, which wastes effort.
If the CMOs goal is to improve the quality & quantity of markting results while inputs remain constant, what can be done? We discovered that there are four big levers they can pull:
- prioritise goals that are aligned to business objectives
- define what is a “successful result” and how to get it
- change the combination of resources that produce the result
- optimise the process and cut out any wastage.
Sounds great. But how to do it in practice?
Strategy for Enhancing Marketing Productivity through Digitalisation
B2B CMOs know that economic, political or social impacts on a market can happen in any week of the year. They know they need a strategy that co-ordinates both online and offline – in short addresses how to digitalise marketing. And also how to increase marketing productivity in the face of constant resources.
Many CMOs agree that annual strategy reviews are simply too far apart to provide a timely response to evolving market conditions or changing customer needs. The problem is that the annual strategy and budget rouns currently absorbs too much time already. Running the same exercise multiple times a year wiuld consume way too much effort, they sa, An they’re right. The real challenge is to re-design the process of actually doing strategy review and planning update.
What B2B CMOs need is a “Light” or “Quick Touch” method for creating, reviewing and updating strategy. One that can be done as a one-day exercise with Team Leaders on a quarterly basis. And that’s what has resulted from my work with clients in 2018: a dynamic approach to defining strategy. We call it “The Map” because it shows the background situation, where we are now and where we want to get to. It shows people, processes, data and systems. It provides us with a visual basis for discussing different routes to our goals.
“The Map” is simple enough to review and update on a quarterly basis. The purpose is to generate a list of goals that are aligned to long-term business objectives and prioritise them according to their value for the company, for the customer.
Ongoing marketing planning that includes the definition of success
That prioritised list of goals becomes a new way to think about the medium-term future. It has also proved to be a very effective way to discuss short-term resources; and how to apply them for long-term benefit.
A classic example: one client is present at 24 trade fairs a year. But instead of treating each as a project to be executed and forgotten, we treat all 24 as examples of ongoing processes. For example: regardless of venue or scale, all trade fairs need effective processes for ‘contact acquisition’, ‘contact nurturing’, ‘contact qualification’. Currently those processes may be a mish-mash of analog and semi-digital methods, but they all contribute to the marketing remit of “preparation for personal selling”.
We aim to address a process or infrastructure issue each quarter. In short, we invest a relatively small amount of budget on a targeted innovation each quarter and maximise the return by leveraging the roll-out or re-use.
Adopting Agile Practices for Greater Marketing Productivity and Successful Marketing Digitalisation
Creating a wish list (the ‘backlog’), then prioritising it by value and completing items one-by-one in a focussed manner is the essence of Kanban. Because it’s intuitive, it wasn’t long before the marketing team adopted Kanban boards as a way to focus effort for daily work. It’s flexible, too. When one member of the team called in sick for a week, their activities were swiftly re-distributed across the rest of the team in a stand-up meeting. It’s an effective way to absorb random impacts and maintain marketing productivity,
We took a look at Scrum, a project management method popular in software development, too. We wanted to see whether it was applicable to marketing but came to two conclusions: though the method as a whole didn’t suit the team, two aspects were really valuable. These are now being built into standard practices.
Assessing and Enhancing Marketing Productivity through Regular Reporting and Reviews
We decided that for any project, the “definition of success” needs to be defined up front during the planning stage. In practice, there may be several different ways to define it. Qualitative? Quantitative? From whose perspective – stakeholder, marketing or customer? The key is that this discussion takes place and is agreed with internal stakeholders.
With KPIs known in advance, activities become better focussed, which promotes marketing productivity. Success measurement is something staff look forward to. It becomes their opportunity to demonstrate the value that marketing generates for other teams in the company. It also means that there’s a ‘big picture’ context for reporting to senior management: improvements to processes, returns on time and effort invested.
Applying manufacturing methods to marketing
Although it may be unusual in marketing, this closed-loop method has been used for decades in production and manufacturing. Developed and popularised by W. Edwards Deming, the four stages of “Plan – Do – Check – Adjust” (PDCA) form the basis of quality control and quality management.
We’ve use PDCA together with the Kanban approach (originally from the Toyota Production System). This delivers a powerful combination of rigour and flexibility. Each time we come back to the planning stage we have a choice: we can upgrade an existing digital process or digitalise something that’s still analog. The decision is based on what’s best for the business.
The focus on agreeing KPIs with stakeholders and asking about alignment of proposed projects to business objectives keeps the long-term focus in place. By discussing the ‘value to the business’ with stakeholders there’s a better appreciation that a decision to use marketing resources has an opportunity cost.
Dedicating a part of the marketing resource to “innovation projects” enables us to take a long-term view. Shifting the focus from project to process means we invest resources instead of consuming them.
The Link Between Digitalisation and Marketing Productivity
In short, marketing digitalisation and marketing productivity are most definitely connected. Not in the sense of cause-and-effect. But in the sense that both issues can be successfully addressed via a common solution.
Dynamic strategy, flexible planning, agile implementation and focussed reporting create a virtuous circle of continuous improvement. When marketing applies those methods to its own processes and infrastructures, it helps the company achieve its long-term business objectives.
I wrote this article in early 2019 as a review of a busy year in B2B marketing consulting. Though some things have changed as a result of COVID, the majority of the insights here are still 100% relevant in the mid-2020s …
- How to digitalise marketing in B2B?
- The more marketing changes, the more it stays the same
- The Map: an over-arching strategy tool
- Reporting and reviewing results