The Marketing Playbook I Helped Create Doesn’t Work Anymore. Here’s the New B2B Marketing Playbook.

September 12, 2023

You’d think that all the new tools and digital channels we have these days would make B2B go-to-market (GTM) easier. But the reality is quite the opposite. CMOs and revenue leaders are struggling to create pipeline and drive growth, especially with constrained budgets.

Sure, the economy may be partly to blame, but I believe the core issue is the fact that we’ve used the same GTM playbook for the past 15 years (a playbook partly inspired by my own work at Marketo). Fast forward to today, and we are still relying on those same tactics, even though they are becoming less and less effective.

The Elephants in the Room: Buyer Indifference and Underinvestment in Brand

The first reason is buyer indifference. Years of eBook promotions, nurturing emails, social posts, and SDR outreach have numbed buyers to the traditional tactics, and our buyers are staying unknown and anonymous for longer. Too often, the response from marketing and SDR leaders is to turn up the noise and bombard prospects with even more content, calls, and emails, making the problem worse.

Second, the traditional focus on demand gen under-invests in brand and limits your marketing to only those looking to buy right now. Research from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, led by Professor John Dawes, found only 5% of B2B buyers are in-market to buy right now –  leaving a massive 95% out-of-market, potentially for months or even years. (The B2B Institute, a think tank at LinkedIn, argues that during a downturn like today, that can be as low as just 1% in market at any given point.) But the traditional playbook’s strategy of generating pipeline with highly measurable tactics has caused B2B marketers to overly focus on demand capture and significantly underinvest in brand investment, meaning everyone is fighting over the same 5% of in-market buyers.

The New B2B Playbook

To move on and start seeing results again, we need to throw out the old playbook and start over. Here is a summary of the new B2B playbook, mapped to the basic buyer’s journey of Awareness, Consideration, and Decision:

  • Awareness: In the awareness stage, the problem is not yet top of mind for buyers. The goal is to build understanding of the pains and awareness of your solutions (e.g. good old-fashioned brand building).
  • Consideration: In the consideration stage, buyers are beginning to evaluate different solutions and are starting to look for more information. The goal here is to spot those unidentified opportunities and engage the buying committees intelligently.
  • Decision: In the decision stage, buyers are evaluating options. The goal is to orchestrate your sales and marketing efforts to help the buyer build consensus around choosing your solution.

Of course, we don’t have the resources to do all that well for every account, so we also need a way to Find and focus our efforts on the right, qualified accounts.

Let’s go over each of these in turn, starting with Awareness.

New B2B Marketing Playbook

Awareness: Investing in Brand

The traditional playbook attempted to build brand and awareness with thought leadership and used gated content to capture emails. But let’s be real, that ship has sailed. Buyers today prefer to stay anonymous and don’t engage with lengthy eBooks.

Here’s where digital advertising can work, albeit with caveats. Legacy advertising solutions are overwhelmingly skewed towards B2C, potentially causing more than half of your ad budget to go down the drain, targeting incorrect accounts. So you’ll want something purpose-built for B2B.

We also need to change how we think about measurement. The traditional playbook has caused CEOs and CFOs to think of marketing like a gumball machine. You put a quarter in, you get a gumball; you put a campaign in, you get pipeline. This is a dangerous mindset to have since it prioritizes marketing that is measurable over marketing that is hard(er) to measure but more effective in the long-run. So abandon the lead-gen mindset for your brand campaigns. These are not click-or-download ads. Perhaps the ad shouldn’t even have a clickable button. The goal here is emotional connection – arousing a mix of fear about unresolved problems and trust in your brand as a solution. So drop outdated metrics like cost-per-click or cost-per-lead and focus on account engagement and progression through the buyer’s journey.

One good rule of thumb: allocate 60% of your budget to direct demand gen and 40% on harder-to-measure brand building.

Consideration: Unlock the Power of Intent and Engagement

When potential buyers acknowledge their pain points, they enter the Consideration phase, ripe for engagement. Quality account intelligence combined with predictive analytics can help pinpoint this magic moment. Here, intent data is invaluable – and fortunately privacy-compliant since it’s at the account-level, not individual-level.

But be sure to manage Sales’ expectations that just because an account shows intent doesn’t 100% guarantee they’re ready to buy right now. If even 10% of accounts exhibiting intent are genuinely in-market, the data is incredibly valuable. The cost of a false positive is minimal – a bit of outreach time. But a false negative? The missed opportunity could be costly.

Once you identify an account as in-market, you’ll need a multi-channel strategy, deploying intent-based advertising that not only targets the right companies but also the key decision-makers. (At Demandbase, this approach has generated up to 7x more engagement than generic targeting.)

Decision: A Unified Sales and Marketing Team

Unlike the traditional playbook that perpetuated a baton-like hand-off from marketing to sales, the new analogy is more like a soccer game. Marketing, sales and, occasionally, customer success must operate in an orchestrated manner as they pass the ball (the customer) back and forth. In this new playbook, rigid attribution models dividing opportunities sourced by marketing vs. sales are archaic. Instead, focus on team-based pipeline metrics that measure the efficiency of the sales-marketing symbiosis.

Find: A Framework for Account Selection

As mentioned above, the new playbook demands prioritization. You will never have the time nor resources to implement all these tactics well for every possible account in your target market. This playbook only works when you tier your accounts and focus more resources on the best accounts – and fewer or no resources on the others.

To do that, I suggest you use the FIRE framework for account selection:

B2B Playbook FIRE Framework

Sales should own the account selection process to prevent it from becoming merely a marketing exercise, but marketing must guide the criteria and data for the selection.

The B2B Renaissance

The world of B2B marketing is changing rapidly, and those who fail to adapt will be left behind. The new playbook for success is based on understanding the intricacies of the buyer journey and developing a smart, dynamic go-to-market strategy. It requires a fundamental shift in approach, as well as a willingness to embrace new technologies and tactics.

It may be uncomfortable to shed old habits, but it is essential for staying ahead of the competition. The future of B2B marketing is about balance, intelligence, and orchestration. Those who can master these qualities will be the ones who succeed.

Marketing Leader

Jon is a marketing entrepreneur and thought leader. He is currently Chief Evangelist of Demandbase. He previously co-founded Engagio, acquired by Demandbase, and Marketo (Nasdaq:MKTO), a leader in marketing automation.