In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, B2B marketing is changing faster than ever before. With new technologies, changing customer behaviors and emerging trends, companies find it increasingly difficult to keep up with the latest strategies and tactics—or even decide which ones to pursue.
Only organizations with truly mature marketing strategies can keep up and stay ahead. But what does mature look like?
Defining marketing maturity.
“Marketing maturity” refers to the level of sophistication and effectiveness of a company’s marketing practices, strategies and tactics.
A company with a high level of marketing maturity has a comprehensive understanding of its target audience, a well-defined marketing strategy aligned with business goals, and a data-driven approach to measure and optimize marketing performance. On the other hand, a company with low marketing maturity may have fragmented or inconsistent marketing efforts, lack a clear understanding of customer needs and preferences, and struggle to achieve meaningful results from their marketing initiatives.
A mature marketing department does integrated marketing effectively and efficiently. They’re consistently performing at a high level across each marketing pillar simultaneously.
Most B2B companies fit into one of four maturity profiles.
Low maturity across the board. When I work with companies that are just starting out, I often notice they tend to do things manually, without much precision, such as in identifying their target audience or measuring the efficacy of content assets. That’s usually because they don’t have a lot of resources or budget to work with. As a result, they end up taking a more general approach to their marketing strategy, trying to do a little bit of everything in order to get something out the door. Unfortunately, this means that their overall marketing maturity level is also low across the board.
Lumpy maturity. On the other hand, I’ve also come across companies with an imbalanced maturity level. For example, they might be really good at measurement because they have a team of skilled data scientists but are weak at content creation and writing. This imbalance is usually due to a previous investment in a specific area that paid off well but resulted in neglect of other important aspects. This type of lumpy maturity doesn’t work because effective marketing needs all parts to work together simultaneously. When one area is really good, and the other is not as strong, it leads to suboptimal results—which in some cases is worse than those companies with low maturity across the pillars.
Chaotic, unconnected maturity. At the other end of the spectrum, you have big enterprises that can get caught up in a game of constant organizational shifts and numerous acquisitions. As a result, there can be a lot of duplication and complex layers, which creates a noisy and busy environment within silos. While each silo may be performing at a high level, they become disconnected from each other due to the overwhelming amount of objectives, platforms, and tactics. It’s easy for companies in this profile to become unclear in their focus and contradictory in their execution.
Highly mature but not able to rest. The final category includes those who are currently performing well and have reached a high level of maturity. The question then becomes, how complacent are they? The best companies don’t rest on their laurels because the market and technology keep advancing. As new technologies and techniques emerge, buyers’ preferences change, and regulations are updated, the definition of what it means to be mature continually shifts. Great marketing departments are never ‘done’ when with maturity.
The five fundamental pillars of marketing maturity.
My Iron Horse team recently published our Integrated Marketing Maturity Assessment. With this self-serve tool, we help organizations evaluate their marketing strategies based on five fundamental pillars: audience insights, planning, martech, execution and measurement.
The goal is to nurture each of your five marketing operations pillars holistically, giving them the thought, effort and resources they need to work together to drive growth. Here’s why I chose these five pillars:
1. Audience insights.
To hit the target in marketing, it’s crucial to know your audience, from creating personas to defining the members of your buying groups. Without a clear understanding of who you’re trying to reach—without a direction in mind—you’re just shooting blindly. I can’t stress enough how important it is to define your target audience and focus your efforts on them. This includes understanding their buying journey, needs, preferences, and what type of content they’re interested in.
An in-depth understanding of audience isn’t always an easy investment for companies to make because it doesn’t feel like you’re producing anything. But it’s like buying a washer and dryer. They’re just tools until you put dirty laundry in and get clean laundry out. The same applies to marketing strategy that isn’t designed around deep audience insight.
Start here to strengthen your maturity around audience.
Every marketer starts with some notion of who their target audience is. To turn that idea into something actionable, you need to layer additional detail on top. To start selecting accounts to target, you’ll need demographic data. This includes identifying geographic boundaries and determining primary and secondary industries.
To start creating appropriate content for buyers, you’ll need persona data. You’ll want to gather job roles (regardless of title), their role in the buying decision and their core needs that your solution can solve for. Look into language that resonates with them, where they hang out online and how they consume content throughout their buying journey. Once you have these basics, you can begin deciphering the makeup of the buying group, including the champion, decision-maker, and influencers.
While most marketers would agree on the importance of good planning prior to execution, it’s actually one of the areas that gets sorely neglected, especially by companies in the unconnected maturity profile. It’s crucial to strike a balance between agility in execution and careful planning. While it’s good to be flexible in execution, changing overarching plans too frequently can lead to inconsistency and lack of focus. Your marketing plans should be based on the needs of your target audience, which, frankly, don’t change all that fast.
This is also where companies need to align across the organization. Without alignment between sales, product, marketing and operations on objectives, tactics, audience and direction, you’ll all see lackluster results. When companies align in the planning stage, they’re able to dedicate all their resources towards the same goals, creating a unified, omnichannel message directed at the right target accounts, while cutting out dead ends in messaging, as well as duplicated initiatives.
Start here to strengthen your maturity around planning.
To ensure effective collaboration and integration among stakeholders, it’s important to establish sustainable processes encompassing sales, product, channel groups, and global and regional marketing teams. Interlocked planning and governance measures help to ensure that all content and tactics used in both digital and personal interactions are cohesive and interconnected.
Achieving marketing and sales alignment is key to successful cross-organizational planning. This requires a clear and enthusiastic vision communicated from the top, with leadership at every level continuously sharing the reasons and goals for alignment throughout planning.
3. Marketing tech stack.
I’ve seen many people fall into the trap of thinking that technology is a silver bullet that will solve all their problems. However, technology alone won’t fix anything unless it’s integrated correctly and used the way it’s supposed to be. There’s a huge gap out there between what martech is capable of and how companies actually use it.
Organizations usually bring in tech to solve a specific problem or pressing issue. It’s natural to focus on using the tech that specific way. Additional features or integrations are considered second priority—to be revisited once you have the tech up and running for your initial use case. However, it’s all too common for organizations to move on with their lives and choose not to (or forget to) revisit the full extent of what that tech can do. This creates a gap between the value the company currently receives from the technology and the value it could provide.
Start here to strengthen your maturity around martech.
The first step towards improving your marketing tech stack strategy is evaluating what you currently have and making sure you’re using it to the best of its abilities. You need to establish a strong foundation of basic technologies, clean data, and solid processes before you can start adding technology, integrations and automation. These tools can help you gather valuable insights about your audience, personalize your messaging, and guide customers along their buying journey with predictive offers.
Just make sure to carefully evaluate which technologies will be most effective for your specific goals and ensure that they’re integrated seamlessly with your existing processes. While technology can be helpful, simply adding more without proper training and governance can create more noise and distractions than benefits.
Execution is all about connecting the dots without any dead ends. Prioritizing your effort is crucial, especially when resources are limited. It’s important to determine what to do first and whether you’re building for the long term or just focused on short-term goals. For example, building brand equity and reputation takes time, versus the potentially more immediate effect of demand generation efforts. But they are symbiotic, and mature marketing organizations work on both in tandem.
While mature organizations have more stability in annual plans, execution is when they benefit from being agile. A/B test. Evaluate your results. Pivot and adjust tactical plans as necessary.
Start here to strengthen your maturity around execution.
If you want to improve your ability to execute successful marketing campaigns, the first step is achieving alignment among your team. This involves agreeing on what a campaign, a program and a tactic is, as different people may have different definitions.
It also means clearly defining objectives and ensuring everyone is held accountable for achieving them. If there are multiple objectives, the campaign or program should be broader, longer, and more comprehensive. Finally, it’s important to clarify who is responsible for each aspect of programs and campaigns and make sure everyone knows their role, as a lack of role definition or clear decision-making rights will slow things down and cause confusion.
Finally, the key to the success of all marketing strategies and operations is measurement. For example, without the right kinds of insight, it’s difficult to know whether the content you’ve created is working effectively for your clients, and you won’t know whether to build the same content or campaign, or something different the next time around. Additionally, the right measurement helps articulate the value of marketing to stakeholders such as sales, the board of directors, and partners, by providing a yardstick to measure and demonstrate the value. Lastly, it keeps everyone aligned and focused on the same goals.
I also want to note that while we tend to place measurement as the last pillar in marketing, it’s actually fundamental that it runs throughout. Setting objectives at the beginning is just as important as measuring results at the end.
Start here to strengthen your maturity around marketing measurement.
I subscribe to Forrester’s definition of the three types of measurement—activity, output, and impact. Activity measurements are things you count, such as the number of attendees at a webinar. Output measurements are things that happen because of activity, such as an MQA (marketing qualified account). Impact measurements are tied to business objectives, such as revenue.
Shift your goals from activity-based goals (like webinar attendees) to outcome and impact-based goals (like MQAs). While it may be tempting to focus on specific tactics, like getting clicks, this can give you a false sense of achievement. Instead, aim for goals that show you understand your audience and are making progress in guiding them through their buying journey. You’ll get a more accurate view of your program’s effectiveness and be able to make data-driven decisions to improve it.
The Iron Horse insight.
Focus on progress rather than perfection. For example, I’ve seen companies get overwhelmed by the amount of data and content they are dealing with that they become paralyzed and don’t know where to start. But it’s not a race to be fully mature in as little time as possible. That’s just not realistic. Success will often look like making a little progress in harmony across each of your five pillars. Little by little, you’ll start to see the results you’re looking for.