How To Talk to Management About New Approaches to B2B Marketing

Posted by Douglas Burdett

A big challenge for B2B marketers is getting management to understand and approve new marketing methods. One successful approach is to educate with questions.


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In the 1947 film, “The Hucksters,” Clark Gable plays a Madison Avenue ad executive with a tyrannical client, the president of the Beautee Soap company. In the movie, the client browbeats his employees and vendors and rejects new ideas; even those that might help sell more soap.

In this clip from the film, the president of the Beautee Soap company boasts that the secret to selling more soap is to make your advertising “irritate, irritate, irritate” until consumers surrender and purchase your product.

Of course, this approach is now a caricature of the “old” or “traditional” way of marketing.

With all the change occurring in the B2B marketing world, marketing professionals are constantly challenged to learn new skills and keep up with the latest trends.

But to many B2B marketers, the even bigger challenge can be getting their management to understand and adopt more of the “new” marketing strategies and tactics such as inbound marketing.

Many C-Suite executives may have come up through sales, accounting, operations or some other career path, and may be less familiar with marketing.

And even for those C-Suiters who have a marketing background, the rules of marketing have changed dramatically since they first started out. They may be more comfortable with paid advertising, direct mail, cold calling and trade shows.

The now commonplace aspects of B2B marketing like buyer personas, content marketing, social media and marketing automation software can seem pretty foreign to them, if not frightening.

As a result, many B2B marketers now find themselves spending a lot of time and effort being a marketing change agent. Their leadership and teaching skills are just as important as their marketing expertise.

When I give talks to businesses or executive groups about the changing nature of marketing and how to succeed at it, I start by describing the changes in how people buy now. I include slides that contain facts and figures to illustrate my point. Here are two slides that I sometimes use (courtesy of HubSpot):

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But it’s not until after I ask a series of questions of the audience that I begin to see a lot of nodding heads (and a few invisible light bulbs appearing over those heads).

One of the first questions I ask is if they’ve ever not answered a call because the Caller ID indicated that it was a sales call. Every hand goes up.

I then go on to ask about how many newspaper subscribers are in the audience. How many use yellow pages? How many are on the Do Not Call list? How many have satellite radio? Who has a digital video recorder and skips through TV commercials? Do you ever throw away direct mail without opening it? And so on.

B2B marketers who want to help lead the change in their organization toward new, more effective marketing should educate with questions.

By asking questions about your management’s own buying and media usage habits, you can get them to personalize and then understand how marketing has changed. And why your company’s marketing needs to evolve.

For instance, ask questions like:

  • Do you respond to direct mail offers?

  • Do you screen your phone calls?

  • Have you ever unsubscribed from an unsolicited email?

  • When you research a product, do you do Internet research? Do you ask friends for advice? Or do you get your information from the Yellow Pages or the local newspaper?

If people are being honest, they will tell you that they use search engines and social media to get information.

If you get an honest answer and the person you’re speaking with hasn’t already connected the dots, probe for why your company remains so reliant on marketing tactics that aren’t even effective with their own executives.

By getting your management to “self discover” why your company needs to use more “new” marketing and less “old” marketing, you will be an effective marketing change agent.

What challenges do you face in getting your management to understand and approve new approaches to marketing? Please join the conversation below.

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