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A blog of ideas, observations, and answers to help B2B technology
companies successfully brand, tell stories, and generate leads

Marketing Activity Is Not Marketing: 5 Steps to B2B Results Instead of Reaction

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

You're on dead feet on the conference exhibit floor after three long days. You're furiously giving away the last of your branded pens and stress balls, lest you get stuck hauling them home. As the crowds trickle out in the final hour, you collar a wayward attendee from the 5,000 people who showed up. She submits to a quick demo, you scan her badge, and she politely walks away.

So, are you marketing?

You and your team certainly did a lot of stuff to exhibit at this big industry conference.

Three people spent three days traveling and setting up and working the booth--that's almost 100 combined hours right there.

Your marketing team spent 120 hours coordinating and promoting up front (and $14,000 just to be there and drop a custom insert in the welcome bag).

They'll spend almost the same amount of time following up post-conference.

And for what? A couple of hundred contact scans and business cards? Mostly from hungover tchotchke hunters whose titles don't match your buyer profiles, all to be entered into your lead management system and never touched again? And your same talented B2B marketing folks will start it all over again for the next big conference in six weeks. 

So much effort. So few results.

And it isn't just conferences. "We need a one-pager!" demands sales, and a product marketer and designer have a 45-hour activity. "We should do a webinar!" and marketing and product management dutifully crafts, promotes, and hosts one for 30 attendees, only a few of whom fit your target profile.

"Let's do a TikTok!" "Let's make an explainer video like my last company did!" "Let's get our name out there!" "I got this email--this looks like something we should be doing!"

It's all marketing activity, but it's not all marketing.

The Test of Productive Marketing vs. Flailing Activity

Activity makes us feel good, like we're at least doing something.

A recent client was so emotionally committed to conference sponsorships and exhibits that it felt like a hoarder intervention to even suggest they assess and wean off of the events that delivered no value. It's just what they had always done, and with lagging sales, that activity served as a proxy for productivity.

When evaluating marketing value, step back to the two core things marketing does:

  1. Create positive awareness in the marketplace with strong brand, messaging, and content

  2. Generate qualified leads for sales and arm them to sell successfully

(People sometimes challenge me here. "What about content? Digital? Design? Social? SEO? New media?" All are just tools and tactics to achieve the two core marketing objectives.)

At any point in the chaos of your busy week, take a breath and ask yourself: Is what I'm doing advancing one or more of these three core marketing goals?

If not, why am I doing it?

If so, how much is it advancing those goals, and would other activities go further to help our team and company market successfully?

Back to the original example. You're at a major conference, one of the biggest in your industry. Five thousand people hustle from session to session, then crowd the exhibit floor for lunch, breaks, and evening receptions, bouncing among hundreds of vendors.

Are you creating positive awareness amid the noise?

Are the executive leaders you need in your pipeline cruising the floor and engaging in conversations that turn into qualified leads and launch your sales cycle?

Are you learning or producing anything that ensures your marketing and sales teams will engage and delight prospects and move sales forward?

If not, get out of there and don't go back next year!

And apply the same test to every content project, webinar, social media activity, website update, pay-per-click campaign, agency relationship, and everything else consuming your dollars and most importantly the time and talent of your people.

5 Steps to Move Marketing From Activity to Productivity

Marketing flailing wrecks budgets and diminishes success. What if you had a blueprint for shifting from noise to music in your marketing?

You do. Apply these five steps to your marketing operations:

  1. Get the Marketing Plan Off the Shelf: That plan took a lot of work! And it's good, with input from your entire team, clear objectives for awareness and lead generation, and signoff from the boss (and probably her boss). So why is it collecting dust? Marketing teams should guide every weekly meeting with that annual plan in hand. Ask "What did we do last week (or month) to advance the plan objectives? What will we do this week?" It's a regular gut check as to whether you're focused or flailing. Of course things change and good plans are fluid, which is another reason to regularly refer to and measure against your plan--and adjust as priorities shift. (Also, if your marketing plan is 15 pages, it's probably 13 pages too many.)

  2. Get Intimate With Your Audience: Don't worry, that's not what it might imply. But ask yourself--how well do you truly know your B2B buyers and influencers? Be honest in defining your true obtainable market--who needs what you're selling enough to write a check for it? And when was the last time you talked to your customers and ideal prospects? Surveys, focus groups, customer advisory boards, and interviews all tell you much more about what gives them stress and what helps them win in their jobs. It's always enlightening and will disrupt the conventional perceptions that tend to settle in with technology companies. Dig deep with ideal client profiles and in-depth buyer personas.

  3. Map Messaging and Content to Objectives: This follows your intimate understanding of your key audiences. Once you know what moves the people you're trying to reach--what makes them happy heroes in their jobs--then you're able to speak in their language, to their hearts and motivations. That lets your team lock in on the content tools (video, collateral, digital, social posts, articles, speaking sessions, podcasts, hosted events, issue briefs, and case studies) that engage and encourage positive action among your buyers and influencers. And it lets you filter out (with justification) the requests for content that will consume your team's time without producing results ("We need a one-pager!").

  4. Make Your Content Convert. Everything marketing does should progress from B2B engagement to conversion through every marketing and sales stage. Content must create interest and prompt conversion action. Social media channels and content must reach, inform and inspire the people you need to reach--don't feel obligated to establish social media just to be "out there." Are those webinars attracting and truly engaging the right people? Are you sending emails nobody reads or responds to? Pay-per-click and online ads getting clicks but no inquiries? Anything that's not assertively converting needs refinement or rethinking.

  5. Measure, Report, React. You must report and measure to know if your content marketing and conversion culture achieve your objectives. If you're well-automated, reporting and measuring success should be relatively easy. If you're resource strapped, take small steps. Choose one or two areas where you're investing time and effort and at least apply coarse measures--it might be some manual work and spreadsheets to start. You'll start to get a picture of how well your tactics are working and where there's room to improve. I've spent some tedious time manually linking campaign activity to engagement to conversion, but it was well worth validating successful programs run on a lean budget. And it builds the case for investing in the tools and services that will facilitate continued success and better measurement moving forward.

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