B2B Marketers: Misaligned Goals, Measurement and Budget Are Obstacles to Proving Marketing ROI

Posted on by Kaylee Hultgren

According to a survey of B2B marketers and business leaders done by growth agency Walker Sands, 79% of marketing decision-makers experience more pressure from their C-suite and executive teams—compared to 2019—to measure marketing success based on key business outcomes. And while nearly 90% of marketing leaders are more focused on business objectives today, the majority—58%—say they struggle to understand the outcomes that their leaders expect from their marketing activities.

The reason for the disconnect? The C-suite is evaluating success differently than it did a few years ago, the report suggests. And 73% of marketers are focusing on activating specific marketing channels and achieving KPIs—and only then connecting metrics back to the outcomes.

Examples of B2B marketing outcomes are strengthening a product or service’s position in the market, accelerating growth, building reputation and sparking audience engagement. The report, titled “Outcome-based Marketing: The Case for a Perspective-Shift in B2B,” surveyed 152 US-based CMOs and VPs of marketing as well as 51 CEOs, COOs and CFOs working at B2B organizations with over $25 million in annual revenue, from Oct. 5 to Oct. 20, 2023.

Roadblocks to Proving ROI

The survey also identified marketers’ main obstacles to successfully demonstrating the value of their work to the C-suite. The greatest roadblocks are misaligned marketing and business goals; lacking the means to measure success; difficulties translating marketing metrics into business insight; and resource constraints, such as budget and personnel skills.

We caught up with Ann Hagner, SVP Integrated at Walker Sands, to discuss ways B2B marketers can better align with C-suite goals, how to build internal relationships, advice for channel marketers, and more.

Chief Marketer: What are the proactive steps that B2B marketers can take to help them align with C-suite goals? Any tips on how marketers can realistically accomplish this?

Ann Hagner, SVP Integrated at Walker Sands: Do you know how marketing results are socialized with your company’s board or management team? If you don’t, find out.

Listen, then learn to speak the language of your leadership team. The formula for a good business case is simple: hard metrics plus narrative. If you’ve been in marketing long enough, the metrics look similar from business to business. But the narrative is just as (if not more) important because it’s unique to your organization. It’s about the story behind the numbers, and how they connect to business goals.

What has the CEO established as priorities for the business? Which offerings are generating margin, and which are strategic imperatives to delivering on the value prop for the business? Are you focused on the audiences who will move the needle for the business?

The B2B marketers that drive the most impact for their orgs have a command of both data and storytelling in order to establish direction, prioritize activities and marshall resources to achieve an outcome.

CM: The report mentions talking early and often with C-suite leadership to ensure outcomes are part of the strategy. Do you have any other practical advice along these lines?

AH: Many of the best marketers I’ve worked with are experts at navigating their organization. They spend time with customers, partners and employees, and use what they learn to shape their perspective on marketing.

As a junior or mid-career marketer, invest in internal relationships. Build a relationship with colleagues in customer success, who can help you create a feedback loop to inform messaging and positioning. Befriend the sales team and watch your understanding of key audiences grow. And be visible with tech and product colleagues to ensure you understand the offering as well as a customer does.

CM: What’s your advice to marketers who are more accustomed to channel KPIs? If they want to make a shift, how might they approach the C-suite?

AH: There’s nothing inherently wrong with channel KPIs—we evaluate them constantly—but it’s important to remember they tend to provide a narrow view of performance. When you’re executing on multiple channels in support of the same objective, try to orient measurement around the objective (think: share-of-voice across multiple channels or a brand visibility survey, instead of siloed proxies for awareness like impressions).

Understanding channel performance is important when considering budget allocation or campaign flighting, but those are conversations for a marketing team meeting. Your C-suite is looking for headlines, trends, risks and opportunities. Most importantly, they need the story—AKA the “So, what?”—behind the data.

CM: As it relates to the four types of outcomes that B2B brands use marketing to accomplish, what are some of your clients’ biggest pain points?

AH: Clients looking to strengthen position are often reacting to changes in the market or within their business. For example, they may be getting customer feedback that a competitor has better technology or a more compelling offering. We’ve worked with many clients that have grown through M&A, and they need to re-evaluate how they go to market with an expanded set of capabilities or to reach new buying audiences.

Clients looking to accelerate growth may have big ambitions around an IPO or other exit event, or they are dealing with specific issues such as growing sales, improving opportunity velocity or attracting investors with an identity that looks more premium.

Reputation is all about how a business is perceived. Is it known as an innovator? An incumbent or a challenger brand? We often hear from clients, “Our customers love us, but not enough people know what we have to offer.” That awareness and credibility gap is common for B2B brands.

Engagement is about building meaningful touchpoints and relationships with key audiences. Many of our clients are looking for inquiries from investors (public or private), and all of them want to attract the best talent. And what B2B company doesn’t want to turn its customers into advocates and promoters?


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