The Top 5 Marketing Mistakes in B2B

Having supported B2B marketers for 30+ years now, I’ve learned a few things about the common marketing mistakes these companies make that hurt their performance potential. In today’s post, I will review the top 5 of these mistakes. It goes without saying that not all B2B marketers make all or any of these, rather these are the top mistakes I’ve seen over the course of my years supporting the branding and marketing efforts of B2B companies.

Suboptimal Positioning Efforts

Classically, good positioning is about finding the open perceptual space for the company/brand while simultaneously solving for three variables:

  1. What compels/motivates the target customer?
  2. What differentiates (or will differentiate) us from the competition?
  3. What are we (can we be) good at?

Seems simple enough, but to consider all three of these variables at the same time is not actually that easy—which is perhaps why branding and marketing agencies like Six Degrees exist. In my experience, it is most common to see B2B marketers act on one or sometimes two of these variables, but rarely all three. However, it is the three-variable solution that usually leads to stand-out brand success.

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Not Recognizing That Marketing Is the Organization’s Most Important Team Sport

A fair number of major projects initiated by marketing—such as re-branding, positioning/re-positioning, installation of a new CRM system, development of a new website, etc.—fail because the project was conceived and executed as a marketing project rather than a company-wide project. Such projects, once they rise to a high enough level (visibility, budget, etc.), trigger alarm bells and increasing corporate brake-tapping until, more often than not, the project dies a quiet, inglorious death, and project leaders are lucky to escape without losing too much reputation and clout.

Marketing is an activity that is inherently company-wide for all but its tactical activities. Marketing success comes from involving appropriate stakeholders from all across the organization in an early and meaningful way.

Thinking Product Innovation and Quality Sell Themselves

Perhaps the most intractable problem in B2B marketing is the preponderance of the belief that high-quality and innovative products offered at reasonable prices sell themselves and that marketing’s role is really just to demonstrate product quality and create awareness around innovation. Poppycock. As long as people rather than machines make purchase decisions, product quality and innovation are important but not sufficient to drive sales. We like to think human beings make rational decisions, particularly at the professional level, but humans make mostly emotional decisions and justify them with rational information. Image, reputation, trust, comfort, excitement, dislike, envy, safety, and self-preservation/image are just a handful of the real drivers of purchase decisions. For those who have been around as long as I have, the following (now dated) phrase in this context makes the point: “You won’t get fired for buying from IBM”. The purpose of marketing is to create perceptions, emotions, beliefs, and attitudes (something we refer to by the acronym PEBAs) in the target audience that increase the likelihood of purchase. Product features and benefits are necessary, but not sufficient on their own to accomplish this.

Inside-Out Versus Outside-In Perspective

This is a slightly different, but related, version of the previous point. Having reviewed many B2B sales and marketing pitches, there is an obvious bias for the B2B marketer to front-load their pitches and messaging with content and proof-point about themselves and their offering. This is quite natural, of course, because it is what B2B marketers know best and is easiest to present. The usual justification for leading with content about themselves is that they need to establish credibility with prospects.

In reality, only those customers who are pre-sold and otherwise ready to buy, want to hear that much about you and your offering. For all others, it is clear that they will stop paying attention fairly quickly if what you are saying is not highly relevant to their situation and needs. Pitches must very quickly get prospects nodding along and that only happens when the content of your pitch is speaking directly to their needs, wants and pain points rather than starting off with all the features and benefits of your offering. Again, as people buy on emotion, they first have to feel like you understand them and where they are coming from before trotting out your wares.

Marketing and Sales Are Not Operating Synergistically

When business development runs the show and marketing just provides ad hoc support to sales, growth potential is limited by the number of people in sales. When marketing fails to involve sales early and often in the development of positioning, messaging, campaigns and tactics, huge potential remains unrealized. It is essential to the successful growth of an organization to ensure sales and marketing are well aligned and act in sync.

These are the top mistakes in B2B marketing I’ve observed over the years. Do these align with your observations? Any I’ve missed?

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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