• Kirkdorffer: IT Marketing — Art vs. Science?

    David Kirkdorffer

    I like trying to approach marketing based on facts and numbers as much as possible.  Generally, it seems that half of the tactics we marketers might use lend themselves to a more scientific approach, while for other tactics it can be much harder to do.

    In my experience marketing hi-tech solutions to F2000 type accounts, too often a “gut feeling” or a “cool concept” can lead one astray.  Also, we must remember that different teams in a marketing department have different goals that all require funding; lead generation, vs. awareness building, for example. 

    Focusing on lead generation specifically, then, what can be done?

    To make B2B marketing more scientific requires that we: 1) have control over variables; 2) can repeat and refine an activity; and 3) are tracking results at different steps along the way.

    The challenge is that only a few B2B marketing tactics are repeated and refined: email, teleprospecting and web-based marketing, for example.  Many marketing tactics often strive to gather “registrations” that are “nurtured” via email and telephone outreach.  But, very often these types of marketing activities can be invisible to a direct sales channel.  If this is the case, a direct sales force appreciates when marketing executes physical “face-to-face” type tactics.  And this is where the art can override the science. 

    The cost per inquiry (CPI) and cost per MQL (Marketing Qualifies Lead, to use very helpful language from SiriusDecisions) for different tactics may indicate better ROI from online activities.  Marketing naturally wants to make every dollar count.  But what about that important trade show?  And what about doing a seminar tour like we did last year that landed that one big account?  Or what about your competitor that is currently actively promoting their seminar tour and that all your sales reps are getting email about?

    It can be hard to maintain the science of marketing for many face-to-face tactics.   This leads to comparisons of almost similar activities — and we’re back to “gut feelings”. Will this be a better conference than that?  Will that seminar tour do better than this?  What will be the return on investment for this executive dinner in Chicago vs. the one in Houston?  What makes these challenging to evaluate is the way they are unique and non-comparable:  the value can be subjective.

    That said, with a good marketing operations process/team, one can gather meta-results and know what to expect from different tactics overall.  The average CPI for a tradeshow, seminar or executive dinner can be calculated if you are lucky enough to have a large enough dataset to reference.   Even for one-off events like conferences, one can always set goals to lower costs 10% and raise results 15% from the previous year.  If you can define it, you can measure it.  If you can measure it, you can improve it, right?

    Another factor that can undermine a scientific approach to B2B marketing is when cyclically changing staffing levels disconnects the organization’s marketing systems and corporate memory of large IT marketing teams.  The result:  seemingly starting over and over again each time there’s a RIF or change in management.   What can be done to mitigate that kind of disruption?  Well, perhaps that’s the topic for another blog entry.

    I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences.  And for comparison, how does your organization measure the ROI on money spent for important non-lead generation marketing activities, like Public Relations and Analyst Relations?

    David Kirkdorffer is based in Boston where he has been providing thought leadership for top B2B software and services companies for more than 25 years.  He is currently Vice President of Marketing for Cambridge Technology Enterprises, a global IT services company, and has previously worked with CA Technologies, Novell, Symantec and BrightTALK. 

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