In the Boardrooms of many B2B businesses, marketers are experiencing an existential crisis. Their failure to justify the commercial value of their work has led to the discipline becoming a second-tier player – a ‘need to have’, just about, but certainly not a key driver of business success.

What’s more, automation is now driving another huge nail into the credibility coffin. Why bother employing people to run marketing, goes an increasingly common narrative, when we can get the machines to do it, quicker and cheaper?

In order to acquire the ongoing licence for effective strategy and execution, it’s more important than ever that marketers make a compelling case at Board level.

Here are four common mistakes we observe that marketers make when ‘taking the battle to the Board’, and what to do about them.

1. Failing to track share of voice.

Key questions: Do you understand how your share of voice is tracking, relative to competitors, in every market in which you operate? Do you have insight into the key drivers of this share, and how well you are executing against them? Do you actively look for correlations between share of voice and other engagement metrics, and relationship of all these metrics to business performance?

Why it matters: Share of voice is a fundamental marketing consideration. It predicts the levels of awareness and consideration that your brand has, and the credibility with which it is likely to be regarded in the marketplace. Don’t get me wrong: no one likes relentless shouting. But whispering to yourself in the corner at a noisy party is unlikely to win you any new friends, either. Boards need to understand that there is a relationship between brand visibility and business profitability.

What to do about it: Simply, commission someone to map share of voice – preferably a business whose domain knowledge allows for some qualitative analysis to complement the quantitative. This will help you explain not only how your SoV is tracking, but also why (see point 4).

2. Misunderstanding the path to purchase.

Key questions: Do you really understand how your customers go about collecting data on businesses like yours at different points in the buying process? Do you know how your category stands apart from others in terms of how buying decisions get made? Do your Board discussions orbit around old-fashioned ideas of a linear funnel, or as a slave to the over-simplified McKinsey loop?

Why it matters: Evidence from our sister company CCgroup points to the fact that what information buyers want, and how they search for it, varies wildly according to two different criteria. The first is which category a business is in – buyers in enterprise tech, for example, value search far more than buyers in broadcast tech. The second is the position in the buying journey – financial services clients who are shortlisting vendors are far more likely to consult industry analysts than clients who are browsing for general information.

What to do about it: Go back to first principles. Challenge the received wisdom in your business by spending time understanding all the different potential paths to purchase that undoubtedly exist. Collect and analyse metadata that explains not only where people visit, but when and for how long, and investigate the impact of this on sales outcomes. Whatever you do, don’t rely on anecdotal evidence of success – the majority of people who read and react to content don’t bother commenting on it, even when they find it useful or entertaining. Silence can be golden, and your Board needs to understand this.

3. Too much focus what’s happening; not enough on why and how to change it

Key questions: Do you spend all your time tracking what’s happening in the marketplace, but very little of it trying to understand why? Do you believe that the answer is always somewhere in the data? Is all your internal discourse about how best to optimise what you’re doing rather than taking a lateral leap somewhere new?

Why it matters: The breadth and depth of data available in today’s business world is incredibly useful to marketers. But, by definition, data is only as useful as the decisions that are made on the back of it. And too few marketers are making the case at Board level that the focus should be not just on collecting data, but on identifying how the data collected can be best used as a springboard for hypothesis generation and original thinking.

What to do about it: Schedule time with your team to discuss in an open, creatively-led, way, why you believe that your target audience is behaving the way that it is – good and bad. Identify key objectives for your next round of activity. Assume that none of the tools, campaigns and platforms that you are currently using is available to you. Now list all the fresh ideas that you have got. Test, learn and implement them in a localized, risk-managed way. Then take the insights to your Board.

4. No proper plan/do/review cycle

Key questions: Is ‘test and learn’ properly understood language at Board level? Do you plan and do without fail, but only review when things go badly wrong? Does everyone talk about the ‘courage to fail’, then run for the hills when failure actually occurs?

Why it matters: Like any major management approach, marketing relies on formal plan/do/review cycles – with multiple circles often working at once. (For example, you might do quarterly at the same time as full year planning, or have different campaigns in market in overlapping periods.) But many marketers are so busy dealing with business as usual that they forget to place equal importance on each part of the process. Real planning is neglected in favour of optimisation (see point 3). Reviewing isn’t done with any rigour or a genuine spirit of enquiry. As a result, fewer strategic breakthroughs are made than should be the case – and marketing’s ability to fundamentally drive a business can be significantly compromised.

What to do about it: Write a ‘plan, do and review’ playbook for your team. Make embedding this a key priority. Ensure that the insights you report at Board level are given an equal weighting to the results – this will establish a sense of momentum in your work and promote collaborative discussion about how marketing can be improved.

Richard Fogg

Richard Fogg

Richard Fogg is CEO of Aperture, a consulting and advisory firm for B2B organisations seeking to transform sales and marketing performance. The firm offers two things. The first is disruptive insights into buyers and markets. The second is practical advice about how to turn those insights into action.
Richard Fogg