It's time for marketing to get back to basics - and re-examine the role of tech!

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher December 7, 2022
It's not all about the tech!


What's the answer to creating better experiences and getting customers to buy from you? Throw a lot of technology at the problem? 

OK, clearly technology isn't the complete answer to marketing or sales challenges. But according to Orla Murphy, Managing Partner at SeeBlue Marketing, marketers invest in technology in the hope of solving a problem far too often. She argues that they are looking to tech to deliver an outcome, rather than having difficult conversations internally to address a misalignment that is happening across the company.

SeeBlue is a marketing agency in the UK that works with many tech companies on their Account-Based Marketing (ABM) programs. Murphy says that the firm is seeing that the success of an ABM strategy is heavily linked to sales and marketing working collaboratively at the outset and throughout the program. She admits that when there are internal silos or misalignment on accounts, it can feel like investing in technology will help sort things out. What you end up with, however, is a significant tech investment that takes 12-18 months to implement, and you are trying to justify the business case for that investment:

Getting it to work, getting it to try and solve a problem that it's not really going to solve. And then you can exacerbate the disconnect between marketing and sales because you actually haven't got that alignment and that clarity of focus and strategy from the outset with your two key internal stakeholder groups, which are your audience identification, your account selection, and alignment on how you're going to go to market.

Getting back to fundamentals

According to Murphy, regardless of size or stage, companies face similar challenges In addition to marketing and sales misalignment, there is also the pressure of accelerated revenue growth and results, which for some means the need to invest in a big tech stack.

But technology alone just isn't the answer. Companies are still missing the fundamentals of a clear, aligned strategy and a plan for how to deliver it. It's the fundamentals that I think are murky. What are they? In Murphy's view, there is a lot of knowledge and value in an organization, both quantitative and qualitative. The key is unlocking that data and making it actionable.

Murphy pitches that the fundamentals require bringing all the stakeholders together to review and discuss the data. Working together, these stakeholders can identify insights and create an actionable plan. Going deeper, the fundamentals mean looking closely at first-party data (data companies collect about the customer through sales, customer support, service, website traffic, marketing campaigns, etc.). Who are the best customers? Who is advocating for the company? By understanding existing customers, a company can find lookalike accounts. Examining the data also means looking at the biggest objections. What are the conversations or blockers? What worked and what didn't? She says: 

That's within our existing customer base, where they've implemented our solution, and they've realized benefits that we didn't even think of. That's all really valuable insight that you pull into your marketing strategy and your activation plan moving forward. So that's where you can use the data that you have; you don't need tech to do that. It's analyzing what you have, interpreting it, and talking and agreeing on actions off the back of that.

All of this data is spread across the company. By bringing teams together, including marketing, sales, product, and customer success, the entire team can not only review the data,  but discuss what it means and how to use it going forward.

Murphy believes that marketing needs to lead this discussion as the voice of the customer. But she added that it's critical that marketing doesn't work in a silo and present a nicely packaged and developed plan, imposing it on the rest of the company. Instead, there must be joint agreement from the outset of all priorities and agreement on what success looks like. If you do it this way, you will get buy-in.

And again, Murphy argues that marketing's role doesn't end with generating leads or demand; it follows the sales motion and customer service. When marketing is tied to revenue, it changes the conversation with leadership, connecting to the measures of success that they care about.

ABM is a strategy, not a technology. It may be a technology too - hi, Demandbase, 6sense, Terminus, Rollworks - but first and foremost, it is a strategy requiring a mindset change. Murphy says: 

Just again, flipping that mindset from a lead an as an individual. I'm looking first and foremost at organizations or companies. And then there are multiple people, individuals that sit within those organizations. And each of those individuals has their own personal and emotional drivers and professional drivers as well as what they're looking to achieve for the companies in which they work.

Marketing needs to focus on the customer experience, educating, informing, and enabling customers to self-service through that information. They also need to support the people who influence decision-makers. This is why content is so essential to marketing strategy today.

Re-thinking technology investments

Inflation is rising; economies around the world are struggling. When this happens, companies start re-thinking budgets and strategies. Murphy says her firm is currently seeing budgets holding steady,  in some cases reducing (and, in rare cases, increasing). The impact on marketing is clear, she suggests: 

  • Do more with the same or less.
  • Do it with fewer resources.
  • Rethink the martech stack to drive efficiencies and possibly claw back some budget.

Companies are examining their stack and finding they have invested in technologies that are not doing what they need them to do. Or they are looking at alternatives - more flexible, lighter-weight AI tech that can help deliver a better outcome.

Murphy believes companies can do a lot without big, expensive technology and that there is a lot of exciting new tech that supports personalized experiences at scale:

In many cases, there are probably quite a few CMOs who have never been in that role during a recession. But actually, I think what it does is it really does force a real critical evaluation of what I have, what is it doing for me, and where I need to make difficult decisions. I think they will look to tech first before people, and that will be the right decision.

My take

According to Forrester:

 With 52% of marketing leaders spending between six percent and 15% of their overall marketing budget on ABM, underperforming ABM initiatives are going to be under the microscope when recession bites.

This feels like a small percentage for ABM budgets to me. As Sangram Vajre said, B2B is ABM; working with accounts is fundamental to how we sell in B2B. But I also acknowledge that ABM isn't the only way for B2B companies to go to market, so I'm not advocating for a 100% marketing budget.

However, I believe that B2B is an account play regardless of the go-to-market strategy. And it requires understanding how to market to multiple roles within an account and how to connect and analyze the right data to figure that out. So, even if you select a product-led growth (PLG) go-to-market approach, there is still a strong element of “accounts” that you can't ignore.

And Murphy is correct; the entire company needs to come together to analyze the data and discuss what the data means to determine the best path(s) forward. There's a role for technology to play in making that happen (I'm thinking customer data platforms here), but it's an enabler to making the data visible in the right way.

But I also think companies have to be careful with their martech stack. A number of small solutions that don’t work well together aren't better than one or two larger ones that integrate well. It is a matter of what technology is needed to support the action plan (GTM approach) and how it connects to ensure the data is shared and accessible. For me, tech is part of the fundamentals; it's just not the driver.

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