Start your engines: building a growth marketing strategy

David van Schaick, The Marketing Practice CMO, argues that if you want B2B growth, you need to look to marketing – but it’s going to mean a change in mindset

Growth marketing has been gaining traction as a B2B marketing philosophy in recent years. So much so that agencies and clients alike cited it as the top trend. But what does it really mean?
Marketing has been built up in a series of silos, from brand to digital to field or account-based marketing. The approach has been to try and optimise each part of the system by giving everyone micro-KPIs – the digital team is optimising for conversion, field is optimising for leads – but that’s not how you create growth.

Growth marketing is about cutting through those silos and using modern principles to work together, borrowing from growth hacking and the world of agile. Very commercial in its focus, it’s a clarion call for B2B marketers to cut through the complexity.

The challenge is that growth marketing is outcome focused rather than output focused. That’s quite a shift. From client to agency or team, instead of saying ‘build a website’ or ‘deliver 10 campaigns’, it becomes ‘how to generate a certain amount of revenue from a particular audience over a period of time’.

For a discipline that often only knows how successful it is going to be with any strategy after the fact, this can prove a difficult adaptation to make. If you’ve got these problems – a lack of meaningful metrics, siloed skills and a lack of accountability, it can be very hard to get things done. It’s a problem that is compounded by a customer audience that, while often receptive to ideas, ultimately struggles to take the final step towards commitment.

There is enormous complexity in the buying and selling process. In order to respond effectively to the needs of the buyer, across multiple channels, with relevance and timeliness, you need quality data and you need to be able to organise it and make it available in the right format to your teams to act.

Growth marketing argues for a broad range of skills working tightly together in small multi-disciplinary teams, focused on the customer

In B2B, the additional complexity comes from the large buying group. Recent research from The Challenger Group found that the average number of decision-makers in a B2B buying group has risen from 6.2 stakeholders to over 10, and it’s still growing. The Marketing Practice’s own research would suggest it’s potentially as many as 15. The data and signals need to be understood not only at the level of an individual – the old ‘lead’ model – but also at an account level. There’s a big shift towards account-based technology in B2B. This is why.

As a result, the buying process is hard to predict and typically heterogeneous across organisations. An additional complication comes from the fact that ‘buying by committee’ tends to make the collective audience more risk-averse. The higher the number of people, the harder it is to build consensus. For a lot of companies, the B2B marketer’s biggest challenge is the prevailing desire to… do nothing.

Tackling that challenge means finding that new marketing mindset. Growth marketing argues for a broad range of skills working tightly together in small multi-disciplinary teams, focused on the customer. Triangulating insight, getting perspectives from brand and field, sales and product, being able to look at leading indicators in the data that show the strategy is on the right path, adapting and learning as you go.

It asks marketers to go beyond traditional lead measures and take responsibility for growth outcomes, bringing them into closer collaboration with sales and the front office. It means having a common go-to-market strategy across marketing, sales, product and service where they all share the same belief and the same story they’re trying to tell. 

And by creating a more accountable, collaborative approach to growth marketing, it smooths the way to a more constructive relationship with the board – something long sought after by marketers from every sector, not just B2B. McKinsey has shown that high-growth companies are seven times more likely to have a ‘unifier CMO’ – someone who fosters robust, collaborative partnerships across the C-suite.

It’s one thing to begin to think differently. It’s quite another to begin to act differently and restructure the organisation accordingly. In some cases, the skills most attuned to agile, multi-disciplinary teams might not even be present in the organisation at all. This is an exercise in transition.

A solid place to start is to go back to the measures of success. As an organisation, are you still focused on output over outcome? By switching thinking in this simple, single area, it very quickly becomes clear where marketing activity is delivering value.

The next step is to view those outcomes and measurements in the wider context of the business. How easily can marketers understand the different incentives and behaviours of teams across the rest of the organisation, and how easily can they be aligned so you’re all looking at a similar picture?

When KPIs and measurement are aligned, then it comes down to practicalities. Who do you collaborate with on what issue, where and when? It may be something as simple as a group chat, or it could involve the creation of a scrum under an agile framework to bring together a broad group to tackle a broader, longer-term challenge. Understanding the cadence of collaboration is key.

However organisations choose to reframe their approach to growth marketing, there remains one guiding principle: the buyer is now in charge. No longer beholden to sales for information, they can direct much of the process themselves. In order to be where they are, when they want you, a more joined-up approach between marketing and the rest of the organisation isn’t just nice to have, it’s essential.

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