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Book excerpt: The best advice every B2B marketer should follow

Last updated on July 15th, 2015 at 03:33 pm

Check out the second excerpt B2Bnn is publishing of The Radical Sales Shift by Lisa Shepherd. In this section, thanks to interviews Lisa conducted with B2B marketers, learn how B2B marketers can support their initiatives with help from high-level executives.

“Get support from the top.” It was the most common piece of advice the marketing leaders offered. Many of them said something like, “If there’s only one thing I’d advise, it’s this,” or “If I could do one thing differently in my career, this is it.”

In addition, this lesson is also the first activity that marketing leaders undertake when they’re evaluating a new role or assignment. Without this factor in place, they feel there isn’t likelihood of success. And the final reason this is the first lesson is because it’s not just important for marketers, it’s essential for non-marketing leaders in any B2B company to understand.

Here’s the lesson: in order for marketing to succeed, there needs to be support from the top of the organization. The ultimate leader in the business needs to be committed to what marketing can achieve for the company, and be committed to achieving those results – including getting over the challenges along the way (because there will be challenges). And this support needs to be real, not just lip service.

You may be thinking, “Yeah, of course there needs to be support from the top.” Most people who’ve been in business for a while know that it’s important to have support from the top no matter what the initiative is – it could just as easily be an operations, HR or IT program.

But there seems to be a gap when it comes to marketing. Maybe it’s because marketing is a new function for many B2B companies, so relatively few executives have a yard stick for what to expect. Whatever the reason, the experience of many B2B companies is that it can be easy to want to put marketing to work, but hard to stick with it when the going gets tough. And that leads to a poor outcome for everyone.

Here are four tools for securing and bolstering commitment for marketing at the top of any organization. If you’re a marketing leader looking at an opportunity with a new company and you aren’t sure if the leadership is committed, use these four tools to figure it out. If you’re the CEO, think about these four areas and how you respond to them – you’ll be able to gauge your real support for marketing based on your answers.

  1. Set a Marketing Budget

One of the primary ways to confirm the commitment of a company to marketing is to establish a marketing budget for the first year. This allows the head marketer to set expectations among the company’s executive team, and gauge whether there’s enough budget to achieve what the company says it wants to accomplish with marketing.

If that commitment isn’t there, experienced B2B marketers often won’t accept a position with a company or take on a new project, since they know there’s a high risk of failure.

Nothing gets a CEO’s attention like a budget request. A committed budget for the first year is necessary for marketing to get off the ground and have enough runway to gain traction. How much budget is appropriate? That depends on many factors. But a commitment to a full year of marketing budget is a must for success in B2B marketing.

And since marketing’s full benefits in B2B take more than a year to achieve, consider setting a framework for calculating the year two marketing budget as part of the initial request. (This is good to aim for, although it is often difficult to do when there is no data or track record on what results marketing can achieve).

Either way, it’s critical to set and commit to a full year budget in order for B2B marketing to get off the ground.

  1. Insist on leadership time for marketing

Commitment isn’t just about money. While the budget is an essential starting point, it’s only half the battle. The other critical resource is time. One way for marketing leaders to confirm they’ll get the time they need with the business leaders is to require a meeting every week with the CEO (or other champion) for the first three or four months of marketing.

Marketing leaders and CEOs should meet every week in the first few months of implementing a marketing plan.

This is a smart way to ensure senior executives commit to making marketing work. It also demonstrates that the head of the business and the head of marketing are on the same page and can course-correct early when recalibration is needed.

Making this kind of commitment clearly illustrates that the business leader is involved in making marketing successful. I’ve seen many marketing programs go off track and ultimately fail if the CEO didn’t spend time with the marketing leader.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

  1. Have marketing on the executive committee

The support of the CEO is vital for marketing success, but on its own it isn’t always enough, especially in larger businesses where there are other senior leaders (C-suite and SVP/VP roles). In these cases, the support from the CEO needs to be accompanied by support from other senior executives.

If there is an executive committee responsible for major business decisions and strategy, it’s important that the head of marketing be on that committee and have a voice during strategic planning and decision making. Without that, the marketer will be seen as just a function head without any real credibility or influence among those who drive the business.

  1. Have the CEO “own” major marketing initiatives internally

The last tool to help secure support for marketing from the top is to have the business leader take responsibility for championing marketing internally. Employees within the company, from senior to junior, need to see that the head of the company is behind marketing and is personally involved.

There are many ways that business leaders can demonstrate this. The CEO can present the marketing plan to the company at a company-wide meeting (a town hall) or through a company newsletter or conference call, or can be the speaker in the company’s first webinar. Whatever the tactic, the business leader needs to be an internal champion of marketing to show the whole company that marketing is a strategic function and has the attention and commitment of the leadership.

The lesson in practice

The marketing leaders I interviewed had both success stories and disappointments when it came to having support from the top.

Take Dave Zavitz’s experience. Dave joined Canada Cartage as SVP of sales and marketing in late 2012. He had previously run a growth consultancy for mid- market companies, where he had advised Canada Cartage, working directly with the company’s president. After several months as an advisor, Dave was asked to join Canada Cartage full time. Because of his previous working relationship with Canada Cartage’s president, Jeff Lindsay, Dave was able to gauge his level of commitment to marketing. Dave knew that Jeff understood marketing’s value, and when Dave asked for commitment to a first year marketing budget, Jeff made it. Jeff also participated in all the initial marketing planning workshops alongside the company’s senior executive team – clear commitment of their time and attention.

And on the other hand, there are disappointments when support at the top isn’t there. As a cautionary tale, one marketing leader shared his experience as head of marketing for a large company (several billion in revenue) in a mature industry.

He had been brought in to help the organization become the dominant brand in the industry. When he was interviewing for the role with the company, he had some concerns that the CEO didn’t truly understand what value marketing could bring to the business. Acting on those concerns, he put several of the four tools to use – he confirmed a first year budget and had the CEO own several important initiatives internally. He thought this was enough to ensure that there was true support rather than pretense for marketing. He wasn’t able to secure a place on the executive committee though, and that ended up being the issue.

In his first few months with the company he interviewed other senior executives and learned that one of the two SVPs was categorically opposed to marketing. In fact, at their first meeting the SVP stated he would not support marketing in any way. And he was true to his word.

The marketing head navigated the turbulent waters for a couple of years. He was successful in streamlining the company’s product lines, launching a brand overhaul, and updating the company’s digital and physical presence. But ultimately the lack of real support for marketing at the senior level prevailed and the marketer was out of a job within two years, replaced by product managers at a divisional level, in roles that were at best tactical marketing, certainly not strategic. In our conversations, the marketing leader expressed no surprise that this had happened and chalked it up to a lack of support at the top. It’s a mistake he won’t make in future.

Nikki Gore, the vice president of marketing at Infobright, shared a good tip on how she evaluates whether there’s commitment from business leaders to a strategic marketing leader (as opposed to a marketing “order taker”). She’s had conversations in her career with business leaders in which they’ve stated categorically, “We already know what our problem is – we just need someone to come in and fix it.” She considers this a hazard flag. Unless the B2B company has had a high-performing marketer in the past, it’s unlikely they know exactly what to expect from marketing and how to make it happen.

Putting the lesson into use – a caveat

As I mentioned earlier, the caveat for putting this lesson to use is that relatively few B2B executives have had experience with marketing. As a result, they have limited experience in what level of commitment is appropriate and what benefits strategic marketing will deliver for the company.

When I asked the marketing leaders about how their company leaders had acquired a strong belief in marketing and an ability to make a commitment to it, many of them said that they’d had positive exposure to marketing in previous roles. Either they had been in B2C companies and entered B2B, bringing with them an understanding of the value of marketing, or they had previously worked in B2B companies with successful marketing functions.

This can make support for marketing at the top a chicken-and-egg scenario: the executives have never experienced effective marketing, so they can’t make a significant commitment to it. And if they don’t make a significant commitment to it, it can mean they won’t be successful in marketing.

But there’s good news on the horizon.

First, I see more and more B2B company executives making a commitment to marketing based on the encouragement of their boards of directors and advisors, or through observing the success of competitors’ marketing, or by witnessing other mid-market B2B companies’ growth through effective marketing.

And second, I see a greater number of experienced B2B marketers (although still not enough) who know how to put a plan in place that will deliver incremental wins and grow the success of marketing quarter by quarter. These two factors means that while strategic marketing is still a new function for many B2B companies, there is a growing willingness to commit to it.

Did you read the first excerpt we ran of The Radical Sales Shift? Check it out here.


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Lisa Shepherd
Lisa Shepherd
Lisa Shepherd is the author of two books on B2B marketing (The Radical Sales Shift and Market Smart). She is founder of The Mezzanine Group , a B2B marketing company based in Toronto that has worked with over 200 B2B companies in the last decade. Lisa is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution and was the youngest female CEO to appear on the Profit 100.


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