red door with number four on it
PHOTO: Chase Moyer

The topic of “how to fix marketing” has been discussed at such length for so long that it follows not a rutted road but a canyon. The same ground is repeatedly reconsidered from multiple angles.

The discussion today centers on how to optimize marketing ROI. But that isn’t the real issue.

The real issue is the credibility of forward-looking statements made about marketing-generated pipeline forecasts. What investors and boards of directors want is for marketing departments to provide reasonably accurate forecasts of revenue that will be generated by marketing activities. The operative word is “reasonably.” Granted, there is a similar longstanding issue with sales departments, but we’re not talking about that. And yes, marketing doesn't control booking the business. From my discussions with board members and CEOs and other C-suite executives, the real rub is on the credibility of marketing’s forecasts.

Boards don’t care about the myriad marketing metrics that commonly appear in those forecasts. They don’t understand them, and that level of operational data doesn’t support their governance responsibilities. Don’t expect investors to be any better at connecting the dots into a bigger forward-looking financial picture. ROI has become the default language used to talk about marketing, but ironically ROI means different things to different stakeholders.

Chief marketing officers and vice presidents of marketing need to bring two things to the table: marketing-generated pipeline forecasts for the next three quarters and comparisons of actual results and forecasts for the past two years. Where the variance is greater than 10 percent, marketing executives should partner with sales and customer success professionals to explain why.

However, when it comes to marketing’s ability to deliver the desired pipeline forecasts, things get challenging. In our conversations with B2B C-suite executives, we have identified four factors that are shaping marketing’s future: a marketing skills gap, marketing's eroding charter, a shift away from the notion that the entire purchasing process can be digital and a rethinking of the marketing technology stack. 

Let’s look at each of those four factors in turn.

Related Article: The Digital Marketing Maelstrom Is Pushing the Discipline Forward

The Marketing Skills Gap

The first problem is that the rise of the use of technology in marketing has led to a significant marketing skills gap. The data-driven marketing pendulum has swung too far. Managers and directors are getting stuck in analysis paralysis and fear making a wrong decision.

An example is in account-based marketing (ABM), where the common approach is to develop fine-grained data matrices of personas, messages, channels, offers, etc. before testing. That process takes so long that customer behavior changes before the results are ready.

Individual marketing professionals aren’t at fault. There is a general lack of experience at the leadership level on how to balance the need for data analysis with the need to engage in a rapid testing process that involves failing fast and pursuing ongoing refinement.

Most teams are so focused on calculating multiyear ROI before taking action that they miss the real objective of determining the best investments to drive Y forecastable revenue with X level of confidence. 

Related Article: The Marketing Technology Explosion: A Blessing or a Curse?

Marketing’s Eroding Charter

The second factor involves the fact that CMOs and marketing VPs find themselves in defensive mode in the face of pressure from CFOs, CIOs and sales leaders.

CFOs want to help relieve the frustration around marketing ROI by exerting more control over marketing processes and data analysis. CIOs believe that they have the data and technology to expand their roles to include digital transformation and customer experience initiatives. And sales executives are seeking an increasing and predictable volume of “closeable” leads to meet quotas and compensate for their own internal issues.

The increasing pressure leaves marketing leaders constantly fighting fires, with little time to build team competencies, develop new strategies, shift to agile and take ownership of the entire customer experience. That puts marketing at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to taking steps to drive growth. In addition, it erodes internal alignment and further hinders the organization’s ability to deliver credible pipeline forecasting.

A Shift From All Things Digital

Another problem is that digital transformations to more effectively engage with prospects and customers have not yielded the expected fruit.

Social selling never really worked. And while it is true that B2B buying teams generally complete 70 percent of the purchase journey in the digital realm, most of them want the remaining 30 percent to have a human touch. We often hear end customers and prospects say they want personal relationships with the same team members for the life of their relationships with vendors — and that is true across all industries, whether it be SaaS software, discrete manufacturing, distribution or something else.

Buyers expect more than smarter personalization and automation. They appreciate the judicious use of technology where it adds value (in their eyes), but they expect vendors to know when people should take an active role in building meaningful, value-based relationships.

Savvy marketers are rapidly pivoting to identify which interactions customers want to be digital and which they want to be high-touch. They are going back to journey maps to clarify the expected interaction type for key micro-moments. That changes how they plan campaigns and how marketing and sales work together.

Related Article: Why Authentic Marketing Is Really Your Only Option

Rethinking the MarTech Stack

The final factor shaping marketing’s future is the fact that marketing executives are streamlining their technology stacks to reduce costs, complexity and the need for specialized talent.

Marketers have an abundance of shelfware, mostly point solutions that either don’t play well with the rest of their technology ecosystems or are becoming redundant because vendors are offering the same functionality in their core systems. On top of that, marketing departments don’t even use an average of about 50 percent of the features of marketing technology systems.

Marketers seem to be increasingly happy to work with less functionality in exchange for better integration, data integrity and reporting.

Talk With the CEO, and Fill the Skills Gap

Marketing departments are being judged based on forecastable revenue pipelines. The four factors discussed here will shape how they go about achieving that objective.

Our advice is that marketers should first begin face-to-face discussions with their CEOs and board members about what they need to know in order to measure marketing’s contribution, however they define that.

Marketing is, for all intents and purposes, a black box to them; all they see are the more visible results of public relations campaigns, social media activity, website content and events. They don’t see all of the science, psychology, data and technology that goes into delivering those results.

Second, marketing leaders whose departments are experiencing skills gaps in areas such as demand generation, content marketing and customer experience should fill those gaps with short-term, metrics-driven external professionals. It’s not about putting extra “arms and legs” into empty roles; it’s about bringing in super-experienced wizards who can become your secret weapons.

If you recruit the right people, they may be able to fix what’s not working, help your team members learn new skills through cross-training, develop metrics and help you build an agile organization. If you find people who are focused on improving key performance indicators within short time frames, you may end up with more time to focus on strategy and optimizing revenue drivers because you no longer have to waste time putting out fires.