Uh-Oh, Everyone Is Looking

As marketers, we have known it for a long time: We need to find better ways to demonstrate the value we bring in helping our companies achieve their objectives. It’s not like we haven’t tried. But now the heat is on, as the IT industry analyst community starts to focus on marketing as a place for big software and consulting projects.

In a recent best practices brief on “Making B2B Marketing Work,” Forrester Research reports that the role of the business-to-business marketing department is changing to have greater effect on business results. It asserts that marketing can’t live in a siloed vacuum without accountability to corporate objectives. And Forrester concludes that building a marketing technology infrastructure is one of the first places companies should look to support this evolution. And we agree … sort of.

Clearly, technology has been applied to help finance, operations and customer service become more efficient and effective in delivering against corporate objectives. And marketing stands as the last bastion of paper-based, manual processes in an electronic world. Yet, as the world focuses on how big re-engineering efforts can help marketing, caution is in order.

Here’s why: Most large, enterprise software projects take longer than expected. Cost more than expected. And few, if any, demonstrate value as quickly as expected.

Don’t believe me? Talk to your peers across your company, the people responsible for enterprise resource planning or customer resource management or supply chain management applications – if you can find them. Ask them how long the process took. Ask about the original budget versus the actual budget. Then ask how long it took to see return on investment. Finally, ask them whether it was worth it.

Some of our clients buy enterprise software. Some of them build it. And having tracked the space for more than a decade, we’ll tell you: Big, boil-the-ocean enterprise software projects are risky at best, and, in our opinion, career-threatening for someone in BTB marketing.

Imagine you’re the chief marketing officer of a Fortune 100 company. You finally convince the CEO and chief financial officer that a big marketing resource management software application and the consulting to install it are just what you need. You’ll streamline convoluted processes. Eliminate paper-based reporting. Track leads from source to sale. In short, be more accountable. Yet two years later, you have no choice but to pull the plug. Millions spent. Not a single promise kept.

We think that staking your reputation and political capital on a huge investment in an intergalactic technology solution that will solve all of marketing’s problems is a bad idea. You know that the bigger the project, the more complicated everything becomes. There are more influencers and decision makers, more processes and more requirements – all of which add up to more money and more time. Let’s be clear. Multiyear projects require multiyear budgets. When was the last time you made it through the year without having your budget cut in at least one quarter?

A wiser approach is to start small, prove that you can deliver ROI and then expand from there. Here are a few things marketers can do to put themselves on the path to successful technology solutions:

Start with your objectives. Never start with a solution in mind. Start with what you need to achieve. This should tie clearly to the corporate objectives and the value that your company perceives marketing to provide.

Focus on a defined business problem for a specific audience. Choose a specific process that you can improve. For example, putting a system in place that enables on-demand delivery of sales enablement materials to channel partners is specific and can be tied to important business objectives, such as earning more revenue from the channel.

Find some low-hanging fruit and save some money immediately. The most successful projects are self-funded. Or they are managed in an incremental way where success is measured before the next stage is funded.

Establish credible metrics. You will have to build financial justification to get funding. But don’t get trapped into trying to measure things you don’t get credit for doing to begin with – such as driving revenue. Sales should take credit for sales. Marketing should take credit for shortening the sales cycle or delivering qualified leads or producing sales support material that gets used.

Identify key players. This is critical if you want to avoid a mid-project derailment by an unidentified key player who hasn’t been part of the process all along.

Don’t be afraid of embracing the changes that technology will bring. Yes, it means that more people, especially those who don’t necessarily understand marketing, will have visibility into what BTB marketers are doing. But it also means better justification of the value your profession brings to the table.

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