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September 25, 2018

Go-to-Market: It looks easy, doesn't it?

I once drove demand generation globally for four product programs. Each program had a marketing director who led a small team of marketers. They were responsible for product use cases: disaster recovery, applications, databases, and business intelligence. The marketing directors developed unique value propositions, messages, proof points, customer success stories, and target lists of buyers and influencers for their programs. They also provided direct support of sales activities, and served as industry pundits. And, they came to me to generate demand so their programs' value could be measured in leads, opportunities, and sales revenue.

It was chaos.

Reality? We had one product line underlying the four product programs, one sales team that was split by regions, and the buyers, or at least the decision makers, were almost always the same for every use case. Only the influencers varied. But of course, I had four marketing directors who all wanted separate campaigns because their entire program value chains – from campaigns to cash – had to be measured uniquely.

My saving grace was the stark reality of limited resources. I couldn't afford to build four discrete campaigns, so I built a single campaign aimed at sharing a succession of use cases with their common target buyers, supported by a nimbus of low-cost tactics to reach unique influencers. Leads were qualified by use case and tagged in CRM for pursuit.

My actions were not without controversy. To the marketing program directors, my approach meant a loss of control: diminished ability to control campaign outcomes. They perceived this as a threat to the existence of their programs. That's heavy stuff, and I was sympathetic. They were my colleagues after all. But we were campaigning to my customers, and they were even more important.

The result of my unified campaign approach was a set of conflicting internal priorities that ensured continual friction between me, the program directors, and the various execution and sales teams, as we all struggled to find the right balance.

Marketing isn't easy when perspectives and priorities differ about programs, organizations, brands, and customers. And I find that, often, organizational structures foster those differences.

Is your company’s structure more important than your brand? If you’re in a large enterprise, chances are the answer is yes, by default. So let's look at this conundrum from the customer's perspective.

In the center of this figure, the company’s brand floats above the business units, spreading light and warmth, albeit indirectly, upon target buyers. (B2B companies spend precious little on brand marketing, so aligning brand communications with campaigns is challenging.) The business units (BUs) identify their messages and target audiences and begin raining lead generation tactics down onto their buyers’ heads from within their fortress divisions. It seems simple and makes sense. But what if, in reality, those buyers aren't really discrete audiences?

What do your buyers perceive? If your spending is sufficient to drive any recognition and retention at all, they’ll perceive a random pelting of messages from one program or another with no coordination or common value proposition. The result? Confusion about the brand will reign – often dragging along its companion, buyer indifference.

The key relationship is that of buyer to brand – not to your organizational structure. But what happens when you can't fund a proper brand campaign? When – often the case in B2B – you're compelled to deliver revenue pipeline for a discrete product or solution? This leads us to two basic questions about how you go to market: questions that illustrate one dimension of the innate complexity of this profession called "marketing."

  1. Who holds most of your marketing funds? Product or solution groups? Regions? Verticals? Someone else? How does that group understand and prioritize customers? In practice, I've seen program teams with "seed money" for campaigns, while the bulk of funds rested with the regions and industries, who are often closer to the customer. It was enough to give the programs influence, but not control.
  2. Where are campaigns created? If they're designed and built by a centralized, shared services team, what influence do regional or vertical marketing teams have on the development of those campaigns? How much funding is available for customization, and where does it come from?

Understanding the answers to those two questions will help you understand the complexities of brand vs. program vs. buyer. But there's never a perfect balance, is there?

Nearly 100 years ago an entrepreneurial body builder who took the name Charles Atlas recognized that many people of his era wanted a better physique but could not afford costly equipment or gym access. So, Charles developed a regimen called "dynamic tension" in which one muscle is pitted against another for the purpose of strengthening the body.

Dynamic tension, as I apply it to the practice of B2B marketing, recognizes that alignment between organizational groups in the enterprise will never be steady state. The perfect balance of priorities between departments and stakeholders will never be achieved. My insight is that growth and development come through constant tension within the organization, but success is only achieved when all parties acknowledge that the customer is paramount.
Don't be a 97-pound weakling! Stand up for your customers.

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