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Connecting the dots of your GTM strategy: Three lessons from holiday entertaining.

Read Time: 8 Mins

I’ve been talking to a lot of marketing leaders lately about the importance of “connecting the dots” in marketing. Sometimes this gets referred to as integrated marketing or segment marketing. It’s one of those concepts everyone agrees is important—but many are uncertain where to start and what to do. And, for those facing budget challenges, this may not feel like the right time to do things differently.

That’s a mistake. 

For B2B organizations, integrated marketing is essential to growth. Doing it well not only helps organizations create more meaningful experiences for prospects, but it helps unearth and eliminate waste—a win-win no matter what the market does next year. 

As the holiday season is upon us, I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about entertaining. It occurred to me that many of the lessons I’ve learned about entertaining can be applied to integrated marketing. After all, success in both areas requires careful planning, attention to timing and sequencing, and knowing how to measure the results. Here are three lessons I’ve learned over the years.

1. Planning the marketing mix. (Or, how not to end up with 8 types of potato salad.)

A number of years ago my work team decided to have a potluck. The signup sheet went around and 10 people signed up to bring a “side dish or salad.” Without additional parameters, 8 different people brought potato salad. Certainly a sub-optimal mix overall for the party.

Many marketing leaders also fall into planning traps. After you define the strategic direction, operational planning usually falls to the marketing functions (e.g., events, nurture, PR, digital) which tend to start with their budget and plan their activities and tactics mostly independently based on their allotted resources. 

Once all these plans have been made, they need to be knit back together. This complex, highly matrixed exercise is often thwarted by individuals who are protecting their own resources and plans. It can also be highly influenced by stakeholders with plans of their own.

This is the opposite of integrated marketing. 

Integrated marketing starts with your audience segments, not your budget. 

To plan a great party, you must understand your attendees. An intimate dinner party among friends? Make sure you have some nibbles and cocktails so everyone can mingle before sitting down. A children’s birthday party? Leave the sugar until right before you send them home. 

The same goes for marketing. Rather than starting with functional budgets or tactics, begin by identifying your audience segments and determining the mix of marketing motions that will best meet the needs of the specific buying groups within those segments. Once the overall mix is correct for the segment, you can turn to the detailed activities and tactics. 

To illustrate, think of a company that is trying to reach and influence developers who build complementary products to the company’s core offering. With this approach, your first question would be: What mix is most influential for the developer audience segment? Do they read emails? Are analysts influential? How do they connect with peers? Do they like infographics? And if so, where do they prefer to consume them? 

The answers to these questions would be very different if the target audience were enterprise CMOs at existing accounts. Starting with the tactics without thinking about the needs of the audience is like serving cocktails at a children’s birthday because “that’s what you do at parties.” 

Overcoming organizational challenges.

One of the things that gets in the way of putting this planning process into practice is the organization of most enterprise marketing departments. At a bare minimum, to plan based on audience segments you must have wide agreement on:

  1. How much you need to invest in each audience segment to get the expected returns. For example, you may be targeting a cash cow segment where you are looking to get a really big revenue return for limited expenditure based on being dominant in that segment. Alternatively, you may be investing to break into a new segment and planning  for very little revenue return as you build your reputation and client base.
  2. Who has authority over resource allocation for that segment. The key word here is authority. When organizations put this role in place, sometimes called a campaign leader or a segment leader, they often place someone in this role who makes recommendations but has no real authority over resources such as effort, technology, and budget. That might be a way to start, but it will end up being a frustrating role with limited success if the person feels accountable for the segment goals, but has no authority over the resource allocation.

2. Would you like that burnt or cold? (Timing and sequencing in the context of the buyer’s journey.)

When I first started hosting Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving, the hardest thing was getting everything to the table when it was supposed to be there, and in the way it was supposed to be there—including myself. I’ve lost count of how many times I sat down, sweaty and anxious from standing over the bubbling gravy that was about to scorch, just to jump right back up because I forgot the cranberries. 

Getting the timing and sequencing wrong happens all the time in marketing, too—both externally (how buyers end up experiencing the marketing) and internally (operationally inside marketing organizations). 

Consider the customer experience of receiving content and offers appropriate to a net new buyer when you’ve been a customer for years. (Not excellent.) Or that of salespeople hearing about a new marketing campaign from their customers because marketing didn’t get the education and enablement out on time. (Kind of like hearing about a party from a mutual friend, rather than getting an invite yourself.)

When thinking about sequencing and timing, it’s essential to consider both external and internal factors. 

Getting it right in front of customers. 

I can’t say it too many times—start with insights about the audience segment and the fundamentals of their journey. This information should come from both external research and analysis of current marketing activity. For each audience segment, map the stages of the buyer’s journey and include both:

  • Information preferences. The kind of information sought at each stage, such as competitive comparisons, case studies, and industry thought leadership, etc.
  • Consumption preferences. Where and how the audience prefers to engage with that information. Infographics on social sites? In conversation with a salesperson? Research papers from analysts?

There is no one path that every buyer will always take. Instead, these insights provide a framework for creating a journey with no dead ends: a short list of activities to align offers against, and direction for where each information inflection point should lead.

Getting it right within the marketing organization.

Internally, there needs to be a true understanding of the necessary inputs and outputs for building an integrated program. The biggest internal culprits tend to be:

  • Lack of content. Not having the right content came up as a key challenge in multiple areas in our recent survey of enterprise B2B tech marketing leaders. The most common failure I see is having content that only serves one part of the journey. For example, B2B tech companies tend to prioritize product-focused content that serves the solution evaluation phase, but lack assets designed to entice or inform an audience early in their journey—or those to help pull them over the purchase line. Building high-quality content takes time, so planning a big awareness spend without first identifying and filling content gaps is likely to deliver subpar results.
  • Lack of interlock. Perhaps the communications team is planning a big PR push on a certain solution theme, but the web team is promoting an entirely different solution. It’s a lost opportunity when marketing is not connected.

3. The green beans were too salty! (Or, how you measure success.)

Over the years, there have been so many times when I’ve fretted over an entertaining “disaster.” Something ended up too spicy, or I planned an outdoor event and it rained, or I ran out of wine (okay, that last one never happened). In all those situations everyone had a great time—but I felt like it was a failure. I was measuring my success based on individual components rather than the overall party. 

The same goes for integrated marketing. While there is definitely a need to measure, improve and master each tactic or activity, when you connect the dots, your biggest concern must be whether or not you achieved the overall program goal. 

Again, two critical things need to happen here.

You need access to program-level analytics. 

Let’s say the program goal is to expand your business with existing customers. You may be using multiple activities, such as webinars, customer conferences, and in-product marketing, to achieve this goal. If the program isn’t delivering as desired, the question becomes: Is one or more of these activities not working? Or, is the mix of activities the problem? Or is it both?

Tactic-level analytics, such as how many unique individuals clicked on an email link,  can tell you if that part of your program (in this case, the email) was successful. They can’t tell you if you need more or less email in your marketing. Without program-level analytics, you can still create hypotheses and experiment. But that’s like adjusting a recipe using different ingredients and different proportions at the same time—it can be a long route to success.

Everyone needs to be committed to the overall program goals. 

If each individual function only measures their own success (e.g., number of event attendees, or emails opened) but are disconnected from the overall goal (e.g., segment growth) they will be incentivized to optimize for their own functional success rather than the overall program success. There is nothing worse than being asked to make decisions that are orthogonal to the way you are being measured and rewarded.

The measure of success in entertaining is whether your guests enjoyed themselves. You can’t control everything, but you can plan for, mitigate and adjust along the way. As a party host, you might adjust the music based on the noise level and change the lighting as the sun goes down. In the same way, it’s often a combination of subtle adjustments based on internal and external signals that deliver overall marketing success.

The Iron Horse insight.

When you arrive at a party where the host hasn’t planned well (or at all), it’s obvious. The host is rushing around grabbing drinks, chopping ingredients and picking up their children’s toys, without even being able to pause and greet you. This is how a disconnected campaign feels to a buyer. They get left in the proverbial entryway, all alone and without a cocktail. Your job as a marketing leader is to make your buyers’ experience like a great guest experience, where everything is ready and well connected for the journey they will take from the moment they ring the doorbell. 

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