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What the B2B CEO really thinks of marketing

What the B2B CEO thinks about marketing

The role of marketing in B2B companies is often debated. For every story of marketing’s contribution to growth, there are probably another two or three of marketing fighting tooth and nail for budget, resources and, not least, mindshare from the B2B CEO.

After years of being part of this debate, I decided to find out what the B2B CEO and executive management really think about marketing. Over the last several months, I’ve conducted extensive research into understanding their opinions.

There is a growing amount of research into marketing’s contribution to performance at B2B companies. But while the academic research is fragmented, really only touching the surface, the practitioner research often seems to be a celebration of marketing and, indeed, quite removed from reality.

Like it or not, reality is the CEO. No matter how good the B2B marketing department thinks it is, it won’t get far without his or her blessing.

Research strategy

I conducted a formal qualitative study based on confidential in-depth interviews. This involved interviewing CEOs and CMOs, as I wanted to get the perspectives from both sides of the table.

The companies in the study were from various industry sectors, including manufacturing, engineering, services, IT, financial, pharmaceutical and maritime. They ranged from 50 to 8000 employees, operating in international markets.

Working with almost 25 hours of qualitative data obtained from the interviews, I reduced it into several themes, using a template analysis approach.

Three B2B CEO orientations

Analysing the data, I came to several conclusions of relevance to CEOs and CMOs. I will not attempt to discuss the entire study here. I will briefly discuss an important conclusion, namely that the study revealed three types of CEO, seen from their attitudes towards marketing.

There appear to be two broad views of marketing: marketing as a function of sales and marketing as a strategy driver.

CEOs with a sales mindset tend to have two different marketing objectives: to enable sales or to support sales. In both these cases, the strategic marketing approach is an opposing view, whereas CEOs with a strategic marketing mindset have an all-encompassing view. They tend to see the sales view as complementary; they expect marketing to drive corporate strategy as well as drive and support sales.

This is illustrated in the figure below.

B2B CEO orientations

B2B CEOs show a tendency towards three different marketing orientations

Marketer CEOs

‘Marketer CEOs’ believe marketing should be a strategic capability. They expect marketing to contribute to business performance by developing a marketing strategy aligned with, and designed to drive, the company’s strategic goals.

Marketer CEOs usually appoint a CMO as part of the executive management team. Marketing is discussed regularly within the executive management team and the CMO is expected to contribute at a strategic level across different business areas.

They are typically more open to increasing allocation of marketing resources, thus providing greater opportunity for marketing in the organisation. They understand that marketing competencies need to be improved if marketing is to contribute to performance.

The Marketer CEO’s approach allows for a longer-term view of performance. They tend to have a natural inclination towards a marketing mindset, and they appreciate the challenges of bridging the gap between the complexities of marketing today with the company’s strategic goals.

They do not necessarily measure marketing on short-term measures such as sales, because they see this as very difficult and time-consuming, but believe that marketing helps build superior value and drives customer acquisition and retention over the long term.

(Read more about the characteristics of a Marketer CEO.)

Sales-focused CEOs

CEOs focused on sales can be divided into two types: those that believe marketing plays an important part in driving sales and those who are skeptical of this ability. Neither see marketing as a strategic capability; it is broadly speaking an expendable function, provided the sales organisation is strong.

For the ‘skeptics’, who are referred to more positively as ‘Sales-supporter CEOs’ in the figure, the sales department drives sales. Marketing is essentially part of the sales department, contributing with traditional sales-support roles, such as managing the website and producing sales material. A typical marketing role in this B2B company would be a marketing assistant.

The other type of sales-focused CEO believes that marketing is a sales enabler.

For them, marketing does not contribute to company strategy, but typically drives sales activities based on well-developed marketing plans. Marketing delivers to the strategic agenda, typically working closely with sales.

‘Sales-enabler CEOs’ are satisfied with marketing’s performance when they see a connection between marketing activities and the sales outcome.

These CEOs do not need a marketing strategist to drive strategy. This could imply that they are unaware of the potential value a strategic marketer can add or that they do not see the market as being overly complex as to need strategic marketing.

Knowing the difference

Just as it can be useful to understand different personality types, marketers should understand the different marketing orientations they might meet, especially of those who control the purse strings!

Appreciating these different orientations should help marketers better understand their position in the company and how they can contribute most effectively. It will help close the gap between the CEO’s expectations and those of marketing.

For the strategically focused B2B CEO, it can help them realize the opportunities for improving performance by considering the full potential of the marketing function’s capabilities. It can also help them to make the transition from one approach to another, if they believe that is going to improve company performance.

I’ll be sharing more of my findings here, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, what kind of CEO runs your B2B company? I’d be interested to know.

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David Hoskin

I've helped B2B companies create and implement international marketing and communications strategies since 1999. I've been fortunate enough to work with some great companies and highly talented individuals during the years. But the game's changing fast. Although my aim is always to create pragmatic solutions that produce measurable results, there are always new challenges to overcome. I studied engineering and music and I have an Executive MBA (with Distinction) from Henley Business School, University of Reading (UK). Today, I'm a partner at B2B marketing agency cylindr and BBN International. Here on Integrated B2B, I want to share my personal opinions and perspectives on the changing face of B2B marketing. I hope you join in the conversation, too.

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