By Ruth P. Stevens

With a tip of the hat to Bob Bly, whose June article in Target Marketing magazine dispels 7 B2B marketing myths, I’d like to tackle some myth-busting of my own. 

Myth No. 1:  Lead generation is the top job of B2B marketers.  There is overwhelming evidence that B2B marketers consider lead generation their most important contribution.

So why, you may rightly wonder, am I calling this a myth?  Well, maybe it’s more of a misconception than a myth.   But I am arguing that the true top job of B2B marketers should be customer retention, or customer penetration, which is where all the profit lies. 

Of course, we need to feed the funnel, and lead generation is certainly a close second priority.  But for delivering real value to shareholders, marketing should be spending considerably more effort on supporting the goal of extracting value from the customer relationship. 

In B2B, this might mean strategies like:

  • Identifying potential needs in current accounts through data analytics, and providing sales people with reasons to call into the account and pursue those opportunities.
  • Setting up Advisory Boards by key customer segment, to gain insight into customer needs and future buying trends.
  • Producing ongoing outbound marketing touches to expand the reach of the sales force in communicating value to current accounts. 

My point is that retention should be viewed as a top priority, dispelling the myth that if marketing generates tons of leads, they’ve done their job. 

Myth No. 2:  Social media is a flash in the pan.  B2B marketers are embracing social media with gusto, but many still view it as a toy, something to play around with, most likely in the corporate communications or PR departments.   

Wrong.  These channels are ready for revenue generation.  I ran across a fascinating example of this at the DMA12 conference in Las Vegas last month, where Cheryl Mikovch of IBM shared the story of how the marketing team that supports inside sales has enabled reps over the past couple of years to use social media to identify opportunity and deepen their account relationships.  The result?  For one of IBM’s public cloud offerings, 15% of the closes via inside sales could be attributed to the social selling effort.  When it comes to IBM revenue levels ($107 billion, worldwide, through all channels), that’s a lot of money.

The IBM social selling journey began with a market audit that showed 37% of IBM buyers have used social media to engage with IT vendors, and that 77% of customers were very or somewhat likely to do so in the future.  So IBM understood they had to be there, with vigor.

The next step was to build a scalable, replicable social selling process, beginning with listening and engaging clients and prospects, and getting involved in the discussion—earlier than the competition.

Tactically, the process features a “rep page,” where every inside sales rep (this means lead development teams and product specialists, as well as quota-bearing account reps) has a dedicated URL, filled with social media tools, to build his or her web presence and engage in direct communications.  The marketing department provides professionally written content, some fed automatically to the rep page, and some available for the reps to pick up according to their needs. 

The marketing team also provides training to the inside sales reps, showing them how to engage effectively at groups and discussion boards, to listen and contribute, to compose tweets and create their own video messages. 

Word of social selling’s success has spread among IBM reps on 170 countries, primarily through rep word of mouth. Helping drive 15% of public cloud inside sales, this thing is no myth.

Myth No. 3: Old media are dead.  Au contraire.  We’re now in an integrated marketing communications world, and each medium has a role to play.  Companies go 100% digital at their peril. 

Direct mail, for example, is still an excellent prospecting tool due to the wide availability of highly targeted lists, and the impact of corporate spam filters and the dear old delete key, which reduces the productivity of email for cold prospecting.  Trade shows are making a comeback, with higher quality attendance and happier exhibitors as a result. 

Author’s biography:  Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at Columbia Business School. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and currently serves as president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Crain’s BtoB magazine named Ruth one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing in 2002. She is the author of The DMA Lead Generation Handbook, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.
 Ruth P. Stevens is a director and contributing editor of BIIA.