Though the discussion around the death of B2B marketing due to the advances in the Internet is somewhat new, the perspective is not. For years I have been hearing about "products that are so good they sell themselves" (btw - these are highly intelligent products designed by engineers that understand exactly what the market wants and they have the capability to identify a target customer, walk into visit with the customer, introduce themselves and their value, determine the needs of the customer, clearly articulate the benefits and competitive advantages they offer, and finally close the sale).
This perspective has evolved to the notion that B2B marketing is dead because of the advances in the Internet. The Internet now provides so much information, that customers have the power to get all the information they need to make purchase decisions. This perspective seems to view the marketing function as simply communications. It also seems to assume that companies have a limited interest in the information about their company or products that is on the Internet.
To begin with, let's understand that communications is one role of marketing, and if done in isolation from the other functions, it is bound to be ineffective. Poorly implemented marketing functions may be a source of the challenges directed at the value of B2B marketing. Even the most basic textbook definitions of marketing include the 5 P's (Positioning, Product, Pricing, Placement, and Promotion) or SIVA (Solution, Information, Value, and Access). All of these elements of marketing must be coordinated and work together.
Before being able to legitimately communicate about any product or service, it is critical to understand the product's value proposition.
- Who wants this product?
- What problem is it solving?
- Why is it solving the problem better than the competitive alternatives?
- Does the solution provide all the elements necessary to adequately address the problem?
In other words, there is a very important need to identify a legitimate target market, define positioning for the product, and assure the product has the appropriate capabilities to meet customer needs and support the positioning. There is also the need to apply limited development resources in a manner where choices must be made about what to build and more importantly, what not to build. Successful companies grow because they are able to maintain focus to dominate a market, not just build and sell products. Is this a function that is now dead?
How should products be priced? There is a need to understand the economics of addressing a problem, the cost of the competitive alternatives, and what other elements may need to be brought together to offer a "whole product". Companies make economic decisions, not just about the price of a product, but also the total cost of addressing a problem. These factors, along with the internal cost of delivering a solution to a customer, are critical in designing pricing. Is this function dead?
How do your customers want to acquire solutions, and what types of services are required to implement it? Customers may want to leverage relationships they have with value added resellers that know their networks and that they can count on to do any necessary integration. Such a channel will need to be developed, trained, and supported to be successful. Is this function dead?
Now we are at perhaps the most controversial topic - promotions. In all honesty, if the other aspects of marketing have not been done well, then the value of promotion is substantially compromised anyway. But, if the other aspects have been done well, who better to convey the messaging and information about a product than the company that knows the most about it. Are we to expect that companies should simply put all the information about their products on their web site and hope people find it and understand it? Should sales teams simply work with the customers they already know, as opposed to leveraging new leads from marketing? It is more important than ever to assure your message in product information is represented correctly, and consistently in all the places where there is a potential to educate potential customers. Is this function dead?
The claims of the demise of marketing seem to often target an element of the marketing mix in isolation. Even the evolution of marketing vehicles on the Internet cannot be viewed in isolation. New mechanisms for communication provide greater opportunities for both educating potential customers and collecting feedback. These create the opportunity not to eliminate marketing communications, but rather implement more effective marketing programs.
Companies build brand and leads by engaging different customers in different ways, and at different stages of the buying process. This needs to be a coordinated effort where customers become familiar with both the company and its products. B2B customers, much like the B2C customers, are people who respond to brand perceptions and will have preferences on how they consume information. It is the job of marketing to bring all the components of marketing together to operate in concert.
Just as technology is always moving and advancing in a very dynamic manner, it is also driving an evolution in marketing. B2B marketing is far from dead; it is alive and well, evolving and becoming more dynamic, and is now more challenging than ever, as the environment is more dynamic than ever.
What are your thoughts?