Over the last decade new and welcomed strategies have revolutionized B2B marketing and sales. Technology innovations have largely driven this evolution.
For example, marketing automation systems paved the way for inbound marketing strategies and the importance of content, thought leadership, social media, etc.
Similarly, innovations in audience data (e.g., predictive analytics, firmographics, technographics, intent data) drove the broad adoption of account-based marketing and sales initiatives — despite forms of account-based marketing being around for decades. ABM is now incredibly sophisticated and dynamic due to the nature of these new data sets.
New Marketing Strategies Demand New Marketing Processes
These new strategies have had great results, leading businesses to be much more scientific in the ways they focus their resources and communicate their messages. Unfortunately, the dynamic nature of the data sets now dictating go-to-market (GTM) strategies makes it much more difficult to execute these same strategies. In other words, there’s a disconnect between strategy and execution, ideas and actions.
More than just aligning teams from a strategic level (e.g., the old marketing-sales alignment issue), GTM teams must also align themselves on the procedural level. For example, when new data dictates a change in targeted accounts, not only must this change be quickly and clearly communicated to those tasked with engaging the accounts (regardless of department or role), but they must also fully understand the processes required to implement the revised strategy. This can require tweaks throughout the entire buyer’s journey, like changing targeting parameters for media buys, updating messaging for and/or assigning content assets to specific accounts, rerouting leads or accounts to better fitting follow-up channels, and much more. This is an enormous struggle for most B2B organizations.
B2B organizations must focus on developing tactical processes that support the execution of evolving, highly dynamic strategies — rather than trying to “duct tape” existing processes to new strategies.
Technology is an important ingredient, but it’s not everything. It’s far more important and effective to map out these new or revised processes and then discover where technology may have the most impact (whether for precision or efficiency).
Related Article: Determine Where You Can Win: 4 Steps to Master Go-to-Market
Intent Data as a Microcosm of an Industry Problem
I'll use intent data as an example because it's what my company focuses on and where I feel I have the most expertise. However, the strategy-execution gap goes far beyond intent data and the strategies, tech, people and processes it affects.
Intent data has significantly influenced B2B marketing and sales strategies over the past few years. It’s increasingly helping B2B organizations better understand their market so they can focus their time, effort, and resources where and how they’ll have the most impact.
Specifically, intent data analyzes businesses’ online behaviors (in a variety of ways) to identify:
- Which target accounts are in-market to buy — so you can more effectively allocate resources.
- What those accounts’ challenges, concerns and interests are — so you can select the right messages and tactics to use with them.
- Where the buying groups of those accounts are located — to ensure messages get in front of target-account decision makers.
- Which stage of the buying cycle each account is in — so you can further customize the selection of messages and tactics based on buying-stage needs.
This is all incredibly helpful information. And the more sources of intent data used to inform strategies, the more accurately informed your strategy will be. More intent signals ensure greater coverage of online research activities and buying behaviors while also allowing you to verify signals derived from different sources.
The problem is that many B2B organizations struggle to:
- Quickly gather intent signals from multiple sources.
- Update their planned tactics based on fresh intent signals (often updated weekly).
- Distribute intent-driven insights to the teams and/or individuals in charge of acting on them.
This is a clear example of the disconnect between strategy and execution. Further, the importance of the strategy-execution gap specific to intent data is highlighted in a recent survey my firm, Intentsify and Ascend2 conducted that found the No. 1 challenge B2B marketing teams face with intent data is “Creating a strategy for [its] use” (43% of respondents). Moreover, “Acting on intent signals/insights” was also identified as a top challenge (28% of respondents).
Dawn Colossi, CMO at SoftwareAG, explains the industry problem in this way:
The lack of planning and alignment introduces the first challenge for using intent data effectively. For example, while marketing has been trying to respond to intent data, sales hasn’t really changed the way they plan how they are going to make their number. Sales believes they have a prescriptive way that works, either using their named account list or account planning in their territory. And when marketing comes along and passes them an account “not on their list,” it often gets dropped somewhere in the funnel. This is clearly a problem of process. I believe what has to happen, in this specific case, is sales needs to deliver their named account list or target accounts to marketing, which in turn then needs to run that against their intent data to give a read back on which accounts seem to be in market and which aren’t. This allows alignment between sales and marketing on who they are both trying to get to and how they are going to focus efforts to be successful.
A repeatable, even automated, process should be in place to take full advantage of intent data: bringing accounts into your targeting strategies across the tactics you are running in the right campaign, at the right stage in the buyer’s journey.
While many B2B organizations are using intent data to inform their strategies, they’re struggling to enact those strategies fully and effectively. Consequently, their intent-driven strategies aren’t performing as well as they should.
Related Article: Intent Data and the Gap Between Sales and Marketing
Don’t Forget About Your Processes
I almost always end my articles with actionable ideas. But in this case, I think I’d be doing you, the reader, a disservice by listing out actions to take. That’s because I’m still working through this issue — trying to better understand all the causes, implications and potential solutions to the strategy-execution disconnect.
Instead, I think the best thing I can do is to advise marketing leaders to focus more on processes. It seems to me that marketers (and I’m definitely including myself here) keep adding to the pile of new trends, strategies, tech, data, etc. without removing or revising the things (often processes) that they were meant to replace or improve. Consequently, many of those investments that were largely meant to create efficiency and/or greater effectiveness aren’t paying off as we’d hoped. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe because tech, innovative strategies, and people are just more interesting topics to focus on, while improving processes is just too tedious and boring.
But until B2B marketing, sales and even customer success teams turn their attention to ensuring our processes can adequately handle the increasingly dynamic nature of our strategies, we’ll likely fall short in our efforts to effectively communicate values to the market, support the needs of prospects, customers, and employees, generate the most return on technology and media investments, and grow our businesses. This is a challenge that organizations must prioritize and initiate plans to rectify.