I read this 2018 book during lock down. It is one of the rare books on marketing strategy written by someone who is familiar with the professional services sector. The author, Heidi Taylor, worked in IT, telecoms and professional services. She is a former Chartered Institute of Marketing’s (CIM) Marketer of the Year and a Professional Services Category winner in its Marketing Excellence Awards. So, here’s a book review: B2B Marketing strategy – Differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement By Heidi Taylor.
Rather than being an academic tome – this book is down-to-earth and pragmatic. It provides a solid introduction (and reminder) of the most valuable marketing basics. The author fights to stop the obsession with shiny new marketing tactics and get back to basics such as knowing your customer, being clear on your purpose and goals and developing strategies to meet them.
I like that the author has no issues with stating her preferences and dislikes about different approaches. It’s a quick read at 200 pages. And it’s well-researched and quotes many contemporary experts and research papers.
I don’t’ agree with everything she says – but there’s a lot of straight-talking common sense in the pages of this book. Her 3D approach to strategy is delightful in its simplicity and elegance. It’s studded with statistics – so her approach is evidence based.
I would have liked to see more B2B case studies even though she shows what B2B marketers can learn from consumer case studies. There’s a recurring theme about the difference between customer engagement and customer experience. And throughout the book she dismisses some marketing fallacies (e.g. digital has changed marketing’s foundations, the marketing plan is the marketing strategy, marketing serves to feed sales etc).
Part One – Think Different
She observes “The best organisations are driven by marketing, not sales”. Then quotes CMO Council data that found as much as 40% of salespeople’s time is spent creating their own messaging and material to use with the customers. I know we don’t have salespeople in the professions (as the fee-earners take that role) but this sounds awfully familiar.
She considers the various changes in markets, technology, customer journeys and marketing and argues that today it is our customers who are in control. She reflects that whereas, in the past, marketing’s role was to fill the top of the sales funnel by creating awareness and driving interest – today’s B2B customers no longer buy this way.
She illustrates this point with diagrams showing marketing’s increased influence on the engagement continuum (into consideration and evaluation) – even having an impact before the customers even start their buying journey. In effect, marketing is eating sales! She comments on 2015 McKinsey Quarterly article where many firms are moving to a “journey-based sales strategy”.
“McKinsey’s perspective and recommendations reinforce the notion that we simply must stop talking about what we sell and start thinking about what really matters to our clients”.
Hear! Hear! Isn’t that the overall purpose of marketing anyway – to put the client at the centre?
She then goes on to explain the difference between a client (who uses) and a customer (who buys). “We must realise that our ‘clients’ are customers who continue to ‘buy’ from us long after the sale has been made and the contract has been signed”.
As a psychologist, I was delighted that at this point she looks at emotions (Robert Plutchik’s diagram). Particularly with regards to their role in drivers for progression, recognition and prevention. She then considers the rise of social media and how “our customers now expect us to engage with them on their terms, not ours”.
She refers to the change management book ”Who moved my cheese?” before considering how B2B marketers are responding to change. She concludes that marketing has not changed – brand, strategy and customers remain the foundation for all marketing activity.
All that glitters: B2B marketing’s obsession with the latest tools and tactics
I’m right behind the author when she says “we are still placing too much emphasis on what marketing does – the tasks and outputs – instead of what our customers and businesses want and need”. She mentions the 1960 Theodore Levitt paper on “marketing myopia” – stressing the need to answer the question ‘what business are we in?”. She mentions a 2010 paper on “the new marketing myopia” which suggests we have gone too far with our focus on customers – and failing to see the broader societal context that influences decision-making.
There’s an analysis of the difference between ‘traditional’ and ‘digital’ marketing. And quotes from Mark Ritson who argued that the divide between them is artificial and unhelpful and has stopped marketers looking at he big picture.
She quotes great statistics and summarises: “face-to-face and e-mail – the first a ‘traditional’ tactic and the second a traditional tactic (direct mail) via a digital channel – remain the most effective and most used tools for B2B marketers”. She goes on to quote neuroscience research showing traditional tactics were more effective than their digital equivalents.
She then tackles the myth of shrinking attention spans. Suggesting instead that there is just so much less that actually compels our attention. We need better long form content. She then talks about the power of words and how we tell our stories.
She says that marketers are like magpies – drawn to the brightest and shiniest new things. Reminding us of marketing’s almost complete focus on tools and channels. How discussions are always about tactics instead of strategy. She argues that content marketing is failing us – because marketing is impossible without content (“Content is what we use to engage with our customers”).
She says that digital and social media marketing allow us to measure – and justify – B2B marketing activity. But that it is just a tool for engagement – and deliver better quality leads to our sales teams. She repeats Mark Ritson’s comment from 2016 “You can’t be a good marketer if you’ve started with a tool. Start with the customer and the strategy and then choose the tools”.
She then has a bit of a go at big data and analytics. Challenging whether we use data to provide actual insight or to validate what we already think. And the assumption that past behaviour forecasts future behaviour. She snipes at personas and urges us to speak to our salespeople and actual customers ourselves. She argues for personal marketing rather than personalisation, And that customer experience (CX) is the new customer centricity. Quoting HBR (2010): “customer experience is the sum totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just as a snapshot in time but throughout the entire arc of being a customer”.
Thinking different about B2B marketing
There’s a case study of Apple’s “Think different” campaign combining brand, strategy and customers.
She says we must think different before we do different and offers five habits to nurture (1. Schedule thinking time 2. Think big 3. Listen well 4. Take responsibility and 5. Be accountable).
She ends with five questions and five actions to challenge your assumptions and work with your business.
Part Two – Do different
Getting back to marketing basics
I’m delighted that here she tackles the differences between a strategy (an approach taken to achieve a long term goal) and a plan (the detailed set of short-term activities that encompass specific objectives and tactics that support the strategy).
She outlines the four fundamentals of B2B marketing success: brand, strategy, customers and measurement. And she is ruthless in her criticism of some marketers: “it’s not our business that needs to understand marketing, it’s marketing that needs to understand the business”.
She talks about the need to articulate an organisation’s brand and purpose. And suggests, like Simon Sinek that you “Start with why?”. The difference between doing a job and understanding why it matters. Purpose supports differentiation and customer motivation.
There are some simple diagrams explaining the difference between purpose, mission, vision and goals. And research that shows those brands with a higher purpose increase their marketing KPIs by up to 137% compared to brands with less meaning.
She suggests three reasons for the continuing confusion between strategy and plans:
- What is the role of marketing leadership?
- Are we training our people how to think?
- Who are we listening to?
I liked her simple exercise for your team meeting to avoid “random acts of marketing”:
- What is your marketing purpose?
- What is your marketing goal?
- How are you going to achieve that goal?
She argues that we need to know our customers better: Customer engagement is “about deeply connecting with our customers as people, as individuals, not in a single instance, but over time. And make no mistake, relationships are critical in B2B”.
She bravely tackles those who obsess about ROI: “But return on investment (ROI) in the B2B world is not as straightforward as that. The sales cycle in B2B is often a lengthy one, and there are many complex interactions that happen at all levels throughout the organisation before the sale is finally closed”. I explore this issue further in this article from October 2013: ROI in professional service firm marketing (kimtasso.com)
She argues we should be measuring marketing outcomes instead – in terms of overall business contribution: Relationships, One Business and Impact. And I wholly endorse her recommendation to have zero-based budgeting (ZBB).
An introduction to 3D marketing
Page 72 is where she starts to outline her 3D marketing system for strategy and planning.
Marketing is responsible for achieving three main outcomes:
- Differentiating our business from competitors in the hearts and minds of our customers
- Developing a marketing strategy that is aligned to and supports the business strategy
- Delivering that strategy through an integrated set of plans that align tactics and channels to achieve marketing and organisational goals
She then outlines her beautifully simple and elegant four step framework to strategy:
- Articulate our goal
- What is/are the marketing outcomes we want to achieve?
- What do we as marketers and the marketing function want to be famous for?
- Over what period of time?
- Articulate our why
- Why do we exist?
- What do we stand for and Who do we want to be?
- Why does this matter? (or what is our impact on our customers and our business?)
- Articulate our where
- What markets are we in and what is our positioning within each?
- Where do we grow (and have we segmented the market)?
- Where will we focus our marketing investment (which segment or segments will we select or prioritise)?
- Articulate our how
- How will we go to market? (what is our value proposition?)
- What resources, capabilities and support systems do we need?
- How do we align and integrate across our business?
Personally, I’d like a little more focus here on the client needs but maybe I’m being picky.
Then she provides examples (B2B brand to B2B marketing and B2B business to B2B marketing) on pulling it together in the strategic narrative.
Then she explores the marketing plan and its go-to-market ecosystem:
- Who (our target customer)
- Differentiation, engagement and influence
- What (overall marketing activity)
- Programmes and campaigns
- When (period of time)
- Consistency and sustainability
She then offers an eight-step marketing planning framework (I explore many others in this June 2017 article Marketing planning in a nutshell – simple and complex plans (kimtasso.com) )
- Purpose and objectives
- Business and market context
- Target audiences
- Programme/campaign tactics and channels
- Measure and evaluate
- Think different, do different
Recognising a common problem in professional services (the lack of a clear business plan) she explains that the process will help the business answer the questions as well.
Doing different for B2B marketing
Surprisingly for a B2B book, there’s a case study of Unilever and its four strategic principles.
“Customer engagement is all about the ongoing interactions our customer have with our organization, while customer experience is all about the accumulated perceptions of those interactions”.
She offers five habits to do different:
- Don’t make assumptions
- Cultivate curiosity (see a short video on curiosity https://youtu.be/0enR6TjB9W4)
- Apply the domino effect
- Create an ongoing dialogue with the business
- Be patient
There are five more of her challenging questions and actions. And then a case study on Coca-Cola content.
Part Three – Be different
What is the purpose of marketing?
She defines lead generation as “the marketing activity that stimulates and captures interest in a product or service in order to develop and fill the sales pipeline”. And then explains that marketing has a threefold purpose:
- Build, maintain and protect the brand
- Customer engagement
- Drive demand
She then talks about the 4Ps of the marketing mix – and the 7Ps of the services marketing mix and the 4Cs of the customer-focused marketing mix. Before reinterpreting the 4Ps for B2B marketing to come up with:
- Purpose (instead of price or cost)
- People (instead of product or customers)
- Points of view (instead of promotion or communication)
- Presence (instead of place or convenience)
She then uses dance (ballet) as a metaphor – the technique underpins the story. “Learn the technique and learn it well, once we learn the basics we can move on to attempt the special, the breath-taking, the singular that will make an impact different from any other”.
She then offers the 4Cs for marketing communications:
She talks about the dearth of creativity in B2B before providing case studies from Schneider Electric, IBM and Berwin Leighton Paisner (the “haunted” video and event series).
What makes a great B2B marketer?
She starts with a controversial statement “The majority of up and coming marketers today simply do not have the proper grounding in the marketing discipline; and they don’t believe they need it” and continues “They simply don’t possess the rigour, knowledge or wider thinking that is critical to understanding what drives and grows a business”.
She argues the four essential qualities of great marketers are:
- Curiosity – This is one of the four human competencies that Greg Orme believes will protect us from automation and one of four I mentioned in my August 2020 interview with Cambridge Marketing College
- Thinking that goes beyond marketing – I concur with this. Marketers need to be strategic and commercial. I wrote about T-shaped people and recruitment consultancy Totum argued for broader skills in an interview about careers in September 2020
- Willingness to challenge
- Customer perspective
She lists the seven behaviours of the most successful marketers (which she mentions are an expansion of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of High Effective People) as:
- Have a strategy
- Take the time to plan and then execute brilliantly
- Start by listening (for a short video on active listening)
- Take risks
- Be curious and learn from everyone (for a short video on curiosity)
She talks about time management and mentions the urgent vs important matrix. And then embarks on the qualification debate quoting Mark Ritson “Maybe it’s just me but shouldn’t an expert in marketing be trained in marketing?”. Then she offers three reasons that marketers should get an MBA and argues that to keep our knowledge up to date we should get out to some of the thousands of marketing conferences and build our networks outside our own organisation.
The leadership dilemma in B2B marketing
“B2B marketers will not have a seat at the top table if they do not come out of their marketing silos to understand and tackle the wider business issues, many of which marketing is uniquely positioned to address”.
She lists five requirements for great marketing leadership:
- Strategic direction
- Performance management
- Capability development
- Stakeholder engagement
The three A’s for marketing leaders are described as authenticity, agility and affinity. And she argues that leaders create “next practice” and not just “best practice”. She suggests that what CEOs want from marketing is:
- Marketing to be innovators, creating differentiation for their brand and delivering on brand promise
- Better alignment between marketing, sales and IT and the overall business strategy
- Drive intimacy with customers
In contrast, she quotes a 2016 report by CMO Council and Deloitte that found while two-thirds of marketing leaders claimed that they wanted to focus on business strategy and innovative new approaches, the reality was that they were spending the bulk of their time reviewing marketing plans and budgets and attending meetings. Sound familiar?
She points to the different skill sets needed to lead a team to those that made them a success in the fist place. She mentions “The 12 Powers of a marketing leader” (2017, Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise) that found the primary driver of success for marketers was their leadership skills.
There’s an interesting section on leading and structuring marketing teams – emphasising the need to align it with the business and have clarity on what marketing does and doesn’t do and considering where it physically sits in the business.
Customer engagement for the social era
Bear in mind the book was written pre-Covid. It contains six rules for social engagement:
- Start by listening
- Stop pushing, please
- The “So what?” factor
- Be responsive
- Just do it and keep on doing it!
- Quality not quantity
She then talks about taking a big idea to market with guidance on how to create a big idea (make it human, become a social business, captivate with wider business upfront, take some risks and what comes next).
Being different in B2B marketing
This is a case study of Volvo’s Live Test featuring a video of Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two trucks. To finish, there are five habits to nurture, five questions and five actions to take.
The conclusion covers purpose-driven marketing, ideas are forever and “think different, do different, be different”.