The 3 critical audiences for every B2B marketer

 The 3 critical audiences for every B2B marketer

In B2B marketing, we’re used to segmenting our audiences. Often this will be by vertical or stage of the sales cycle or geography. Chances are, however, that the only audience that really gets considered most of the time is customers/prospects. After all, they're the ones spending the money. Stands to reason that they’re the ones we need to influence.

The problem is, by only focusing on customers, you could be harming your results. Because, in a B2B environment, you need to look at both external and internal audiences to be successful. More than this, you need to consider the overlap between them.

Fundamentally, there are three groups you should consider:

  1. Customers and prospects
  2. Your sales team and channel partners
  3. The C-suite (specifically the CEO and CFO)

While everyone talks about sales and marketing (mis)alignment, it’s actually at the intersection of these three groups that you should place most of your focus.

3 audiences diagram 1.jpg

In Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise’s excellent new book, The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, they talk about operating in ‘the V-Zone’. This is the intersection of 'customer needs' and 'company needs' where true value is created. They see this as a critical component for how today’s marketing leaders can increase their effectiveness and influence within an organisation. It’s where the big strategic issues can be found (keeping marketing leaders out of the weeds of the never-ending tactical options that take up too much focus in many marketing departments). 

I would argue that this offers two parts of the picture but lacks an activation element (which in B2B is sales). In its defence, the 12 Powers approach is totally focused on marketing leadership and how it links to business strategy, so sales would probably be seen as one of the tactical outputs. The book is also not specifically focused on B2B where sales has a different quality (than FMCG/retail). It’s a great book though, you should buy it.

So what does this intersection look like? Let’s look at each part of the equation individually before bringing them together.

Getting under the skin of customers and prospects

Understanding customer needs should be home turf for most marketers. However, many struggle to invest the required budget to discover something that is unlikely to deliver payback in the next quarter. As a result, they tend to use general assumptions or, worse, make-believe personas in the place of real insight.

We’d argue that this kind of research is always money well spent as it will deliver a dividend across everything you do thereafter — from how you target customers, to what you say to them, to what you say about them within the business. What’s more, it doesn’t have to be as difficult or time-consuming as many think (contact us to learn how).

Importantly, this is about understanding what customers really need not what we wish they needed (wishing doesn’t make it so). More than this, it’s about recognising the needs that we can ultimately help address. It’s sounds obvious but too many content marketing approaches get distracted with things that customers may find interesting but which don’t lead back to any kind of revenue impact for the business.

Understanding the CEO’s strategic objectives

In many ways, getting a grip on the company’s objectives shouldn't be a problem. After all, marketing sits within the business. But the reality is often more opaque. In our recent Revenue Rift report, the #1 barrier to marketing hitting its pipeline and revenue targets was ‘Lack of clarity from management’.

Now, of course, this is a two-way street. Senior management should be clearly communicating where the business is headed. However, marketing is also responsible for extracting the information and interpreting it within a marketing context.

All too often, marketing will simply look at a small part of the overall business objectives (eg the sales targets — of which a proportion falls under marketing’s remit). This will significantly limit marketing’s value to the business. 

The core objectives will differ from company to company, but a number of usual suspects are likely to appear:

  • Growth — of course, though in recent years there has been a shift from simply looking at this from a new-name-new-business perspective to one that places greater emphasis on generating more value from existing customers
  • Talent — both attracting new, highly skilled employees to the business and retaining your existing best people 
  • Trust — in a world where trust is a fast-diminishing commodity, CEOs are increasingly worried that lack of trust could negatively impact the business (whether this is a lack of trust from customers or shareholders)
  • Digital — how the business will compete in an ever-more digitally enabled age, where new competitors can quickly appear with innovative business models unencumbered by legacy structures
  • Innovation — uncovering new thinking and new approaches (digital and otherwise) to keep the business ahead of the competition (or capitalise on new and emerging customer needs)

While marketing tends to place most of its focus on just the first of these, it has the opportunity to deliver significant impact across all five. In doing so, it can move from a tactical operation that’s the first to have its budget cut to one that's core to what really matters to those that hold the purse strings.

Becoming a force multiplier for sales

Here we do come to the issue of marketing and sales alignment (this came in as the #3 barrier to success in the Revenue Rift report). Without sales and marketing being on the same page, both departments will fail to reach their full potential.

Importantly, this is not about marketing simply serving the sales function with ‘leads’. Nor is it about sales simply actioning those leads fed to it by marketing. It must be a meaningful collaboration that delivers a multiplier effect to the business as a whole.

There are a number of aspects to this:

  • Having a shared language about what success looks like — What are the overarching objectives? What are the timescales? What are the barriers? Who is responsible for what?
  • Agreeing who we’re targeting — What is a ‘lead’? Are we going broad or deep? When should a lead move to sales? When should it move back? Is it about leads at all or should we be more  focused on sales and revenue?
  • Identifying where to place our efforts — Do we primarily need more leads or do we need to convert more of what we have? Should we focus on existing markets or open up to new ones? Where are the points of friction in a sale? Can these be either eliminated or minimised?
  • Creating the right kind of content and communications — Are we creating the right kind of stuff (that sales will actually use)? Are we delivering the right kind of messages at the right time? Are we clearly focused on moving prospects through the sales cycle?
  • Knowing what’s working (and what’s not) — What are we measuring? Is that meaningful for the business? Do we have both lagging and leading indicators of success? Is everyone clear on the results? 

Success really does have a significant impact. MarketingProfs research has shown that businesses that tightly align their sales and marketing functions get 36% higher customer retention rates and 38% higher sales win rates. Not too shabby.

Bringing it all together

While succeeding with any of the three key audiences will deliver benefits, finding the sweet spot in the middle will pay exponentially higher dividends.

This is why in our own strategy workshops we aim to have input from all three groups. This means carving out some time in our internal audiences’ diaries (or at least getting an interview call with the CEO or CFO or both) as well as carrying out some customer research (even if that's simply conducting a limited number of phone interviews).

Ultimately, we’re looking to focus on a core group of real-world customer needs (three is ideal, no more than five), the core strategic objectives for the business as a whole, and the addressable points of leverage for sales. But what if we were just to focus on two of the audiences?

3 audiences diagram 2.jpg

If we go with real-world customer needs + strategic company objectives we’re likely to be in the area of long-term value creation (the V-Zone in The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader). This is a good thing. It means marketing can play to its strengths in customer knowledge and sync with senior management in terms of what really matters to the business. It is, however, a long term play. The result will be a strong brand that resonates with customers and supports the business’s vision but it will take time.

If we go with combining points of sales leverage + strategic company objectives it'll probably result in the kind of traditional push marketing you get in heavily sales-led organisations. You see this in businesses that are highly product focused and which believe that people would buy their products if only they knew about them. Sometimes they’re right. More often they’re not.

Finally, if we go with points of sales leverage + real-world customer needs we’re likely to see a reasonably effective demand generation programme. This will have the benefits of marrying what customers are looking for with what we’ve got to sell. It will deliver results faster but runs the risk of underachieving against the objectives that really matter to senior management.

The optimum result will be to focus dead centre. This will bring together what matters to both customers and the business with a way to deliver against it in a timely manner. This means taking a multi-perspective view of the challenge. It will almost certainly mean creating an integrated approach to the resulting activity. But it will be a solution that delivers the kind of success that really counts in B2B today.

The Minimum Viable MarTech Stack

MarTech Avalanche.jpg

Today, you could be forgiven for believing that B2B marketing is primarily about deploying new and ever-more specialised technology rather than any notion of finding and profitably serving customers. 

One look at the, now frankly useless, Marketing Technology Landscape supergraphic tells us that MarTech is a massively expanding market (or else that marketers and agencies are suckers for bright shiny new things and/or supposed magic bullets). The latest version assaults the eyes with over 6,000 logos. (Stare at it too long and you’ll begin to see subliminal images that’ll haunt your nightmares.)

While 'the big red leads button’ is yet to materialise and a definite pong of snake oil hangs in the air, the reality is that it is difficult to successfully do B2B marketing today without at least a baseline of technology (the oft mentioned MarTech Stack). Sure, you can work around a lot of it, but it’s just easier and more measurable if you don’t.

Of course, major tech brands and those already drinking the MarTech Kool-Aid have already amassed an impressive array of different products and services. So much so that many even compete in the annual Stackies to show off their solutions (and raise money for a good cause).

 Microsoft's and Cisco's MarTech Stacks in all their glory

Microsoft's and Cisco's MarTech Stacks in all their glory

But, for many B2B marketers, the cost and complexity of rivalling these systems is simply a non-starter. With limited teams, skills and budget, they need to make smarter choices. But with so much complexity, it can be difficult to even know where to start.

And that’s where this article comes in.

We’re going to assume you have some basic technology in place (eg for writing stuff, for creating basic content, accounts for your chosen social media etc). Here, we’re going to focus on what we believe is the bare minimum you need — the Minimum Viable Stack (MVS) — for marketing your brand and products. 

We’ll split it by the key tasks you’re likely to need to do on a weekly basis.

A place to send people to

You already have a website of course, but making sure it is responsive and easy to update is key. You should be able to do this yourself without being held hostage by your web design agency. 

There’s a fair chance that WordPress will be fine for what you need though, for more power under the hood, Drupal offers a step up. Do not be tempted to host your site yourself, use a commercial hosting provider (if it is WordPress, use WP Engine). 

Somewhere to store your content

Make sure you have a way to house pretty much any kind of content on your site. In some cases this will simply mean embedding content from elsewhere (eg video on YouTube, Vimeo or Wistia). Other times it’ll be about hosting files for download (the ever-present PDF). Additionally, you should be able to pin key pieces of content so that they stay at the top of the page until you decide to replace them. 

You will also want to be able to easily put up dedicated landing pages and be able to gate some content behind a form. You may be able to do this within your core site, if not, use Unbounce or your marketing automation system (more on that later).

If you decide you want to get more serious about how you host and serve content, use Uberflip.

Somewhere to hold data

If you’re in B2B, you probably already have a CRM in place. Chances are it’s Salesforce. If you don’t have one, or if what you’ve got is a bit crappy, replace it. Go for either Salesforce or Pipedrive. If you really have no money, HubSpot’s CRM is free.

Importantly, make sure that anything else in your stack plays nice with your CRM. Life's too short for messing about with manually moving data between systems.

On a more general point around integration, if you’re having problems, you may well be able to solve them using Zapier

A way to automate email campaigns

Regardless of whether GDPR has decimated your database, you’re going to want to be able to send good looking, personalised emails, structure them into campaigns to nurture prospects over time, and track how everything is performing. You’ll probably also want to embed forms on your site that mean you can easily add people to lists and allow them to download more valuable content (again, arguments over GDPR notwithstanding).

This is where marketing automation comes in. You could go the Marketo route if you have more time, money and ambition. Way cheaper but much less powerful is something like MailChimp (which is getting better on automation). However, as we’re talking about minimum viable options, go for Active Campaign (it’s super easy to use and also has a built-in CRM).

A tool to help you rank higher in search

You may think you know what people in your industry search for but you’re probably wrong. Or, at least, not as right as you’d like to be. Having an SEO tool to see how you’re performing, spot new opportunities and do all the fiddly research you don’t have time for is now pretty much a must have. Choose Moz.

A way to distribute content

Beyond your own database and inbound website traffic, you’re going to want to expand your reach. You’ll want to do paid search activity through Google (in its various forms) and run both ads and InMail campaigns on LinkedIn. You may also already have retargeting/remarketing in place, again probably through Google. 

Beyond this, if your allowable cost of sale is high enough, you can also look at paid syndication. Use NetLine.

And for social, if you’re that way inclined, Buffer and HootSuite will be your go-to options.

Tools to judge if it's working

I’m guessing you probably already use Google Analytics to see how your site is performing (and maybe to track conversions from paid activity). In addition, many of the tools above have some form of analytics built in. You could also go for something more dedicated such as Kissmetrics

If you’re serious about tracking what you do all the way through to revenue, go for Bizible.

Expand from here (maybe)

Once you have your Minimum Viable Stack in place, you can expand out into more specialised solutions. But, before you do, make sure you really examine whether you need to. While many services are not break-the-bank expensive, all carry a cost in time and complexity. Are you sure it’s really worth it?

Ultimately, MarTech is a tool. It should make you a more effective B2B marketer. It is not a replacement for the discipline of marketing as a whole — there is not an app for that.

We expect many people to disagree with our choices here. There is almost certainly something we’ve missed. And, of course, your mileage may vary. But if you’re struggling, hopefully this has been useful.

Good luck.

(If you disagree or think there is a must-have solution to add to the MVS, let us know at




 Making B2B channel marketing work harder

While recent years have seen a shift towards direct selling in B2B, for many businesses the channel remains critical to success. Yet it’s all too common to hear both sides complain about the support they receive. 

B2B marketers complain that they’re simply handing across MDF cash with, as far as they can tell, little to show for it. The channel complains that vendors are not providing the right kind of support and materials to help them sell effectively (or that they simply see them as a pipeline target).

It’s less than ideal.

Next week, we’re involved in a breakfast session of senior B2B marketers exploring the whole issue of channel marketing. It’ll be fascinating hearing others’ experiences and challenges. But leading up to the session, we wanted to offer our perspective having worked with a number of vendors on their channel programmes over the years.

So here are our 5 top tips for more effective B2B channel marketing.

1: Get your focus and balance right

In any channel marketing programme, there are three core areas of focus:

  1. Selling to the channel
  2. Selling through the channel
  3. Selling the channel partner

Typically, however, vendors focus on just one or two of these. 

So they will spend lots of time and effort giving the partner a ton of information and training about their products and leave them to it.

Or they will deliver lots of end-user-based material for the channel sales team (often bottom of the funnel focused) and restrict higher value content to their own efforts.

Or, less commonly, they’ll put most of their efforts into visibly collaborating with the channel partner (often at events) to help grow the partner’s brand and reputation.

The answer is to get a balance of all three.

2. Get serious or go home

A lot of channel marketing activity suffers from being too ad hoc, too reactive. This is something most vendors would try to avoid in their own businesses, so why should it be any different for the channel?

Having a clear plan of activity, working to a common strategy, and establishing an agreed vision of success (with metrics) will keep everyone on track. What’s more, it shows the channel partner that you're serious about the relationship.

This should never be a one-way fait accompli. Too many vendors bestow their programmes on the channel as some kind of gift from above. In this, they forget that other vendors are almost certainly doing the same and that most channel partners are not in an exclusive relationship (quite the opposite).

In the same way that not enough businesses do meaningful research into their end customers, the same tends to apply to the channel. Taking time to talk with partners, understanding their specific businesses and challenges, will pay massive dividends over the long term. 

These should all be seen as basic hygiene factors for a successful programme.

3: All partners are not created equal

A small VAR is very different from a big VAR. System integrators are different again, as are distributors. A one-size-fits-all approach will tend to be a poor fit for everyone.

You may of course already have gold/silver/bronze-style tiers for partners, each with a commitment and programme attached. If not, consider creating one.

If this is not possible, look to segment your partners the same way you (hopefully) segment your customers. Look at all the elements such as geographic focus, average deal size, vertical sector specialism, level of exclusivity etc to build up personas for your different partners. 

Then, start to look at the kind of support and activity each may require.

For example, a large VAR focused on high-touch enterprise sales is likely to benefit from a more collaborative ABM-style approach or RFI support. Whereas an SME-focused operation may require more in the way of telemarketing scripts, demo materials and objection-handling guidance. 

4. Not just datasheets and PowerPoint

There is, of course, a wide range of content and activity you can provide and co-create. All the usual suspects will be there from the obligatory datasheets and PowerPoint through to the event-in-a-box and other swag that is often part of these programmes.

As we’ve mentioned, every partner is different. But remember, every partner also gets this kind of material from other vendors. So what will make yours stand out (and get used)?

While we’re not going to be prescriptive on content, here are 4 areas to consider:

  1. Think beyond product-related customer-focused content—make sure you go beyond the usual ‘what customers need to buy’ material and look at content focused on ‘how customers can solve their key issues’ and ‘why this is important and urgent for their businesses’
  2. Help your channel partners adopt challenger selling—the benefits of the Challenger Sale are well documented but rely on the seller understanding their customer’s business to a greater degree than ever before. You can help partners do this with content that places your solution(s) in a deeper business context
  3. Widen their horizons (and opportunities)—deliver content that shows how your products work within a wider solution that will help partners better serve their customers and convert higher value sales
  4. Create great playbooks—help partner sales people quickly understand the issues businesses face and how your solution meets those challenges in a way other approaches and competitors simply cant. Arm them ways to identify relevant pain points and give them answers to common objections. Go further and give them the tools to stand their ground in the face of unreasonable procurement demands. Importantly, make this playbook a quick and easy read

5. Close the loop

So you’ve run a channel marketing programme, did it work?

Too many programmes fail due to woolly or absent evidence of success. All too often, this comes down to a reticence about sharing data. But without this, how will you ever justify your investment? It’s critical that you agree in advance what will be measured, who will measure it and when the data will be delivered.

There are an almost endless number of metrics you could focus on. Your chosen ones will reflect your business priorities. However, we’d suggest the following 6 for starters:

  1. Uptake rates—it’s basic but fundamental: was the content and material used? When you consider that a worryingly high volume of marketing-created sales content is never used by in-house teams, why should this be different in the channel? This is where some form of digital asset management (DAM) system will help as it’ll show you who downloaded what and when
  2. Partner-generated revenue—did sales increase? Did they do so above market norms?
  3. Conversion rates—did the channel partner convert more leads into sales than they otherwise would have done? How do these compare to historic figures across your channel partners?
  4. Sales velocity—did the partner shorten their sales cycle? Were you successful in helping them close more deals faster?
  5. Satisfaction—on a purely subjective level, were they happy with the programme? Is their relationship with you stronger as a result? Do they have active suggestions for what else you can do together?
  6. ROI—from a commercial standpoint, was it worth it? Did it significantly contribute to you hitting your own numbers?

For many B2B organisations, the channel is critical to success. While this article just begins to scratch the surface, hopefully it’ll provide some food for thought for anyone struggling to make their channel marketing work harder.

Got questions/comments? We’d love to hear them.

Drop us a line at