Why Most B2B Marketing Efforts Are Wasted

The signal is the truth. The noise is what distracts us from the truth.   - Nate Silver

Enterprise B2B marketers spend the majority of their effort marketing to individuals that don’t have any chance to become customers.

  • Your marketing database is full of contacts that will never become clients. Even if it’s well maintained, it is full of tire kickers, companies that are too small or large, or contacts that just aren’t a good fit.
  • All types of people visit your website. Whether you have thousands or millions of visitors a month, most of them do not even have the potential to become prospects.
  • And let’s not even start with banners for B2B marketing, where most of the audience of even the most targeted sites will never represent an opportunity for you.

The problem is, you don’t want everyone to register. You don’t want everyone to spend time on your site. You don’t want everyone to respond to your advertising. You care about the people who have the potential to drive business.

The probability of most of these people becoming customers is zero. And that means you are optimizing your marketing investment based on how people you don’t care about are responding.

This quote from Nate Silver in his book The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail โ€” but Some Don’t highlights the problem many B2B marketers are facing.

“The signal is the truth. The noise is what distracts us from the truth.”

B2B marketers today are overwhelmed by the noise from all of the activity that is tracked and reported on from people who will never buy. Your A/B testing is optimizing your site for the average visitor, the one you don’t actually care about. Your reporting is dominated by the responses from people who will never be qualified and represent a dollar of opportunity.

Seeing past the noise requires letting go of the big numbers you report on. Likes, visits, even registrations. These numbers represent everyone, and you can’t continue to focus on everyone.

You need to take targeting and segmentation well beyond industry, role or previous responsiveness to your marketing. You need to identify the audience that is most likely to purchase and then focus your effort and evolve your marketing based on how these segments respond.

Your Turn

Are you ready to make the leap, to cut out the noise and focus on a just a small portion of what you call your audience today?

Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo Credit: rosmary via Flickr cc // Text added by author.

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  • Aaron Bean

    Interesting and very honest rant Eric, I certainly agree with your commentary here and now you have me very interested for the deeper punch line…so what’s a B2B marketer to do? What are a few tangible ways you might suggest that a B2B marketer identifies and focuses on the audience most apt to purchase? Are there a few key prospect attributes that you believe marketers are overlooking and should be paying more attention to? How would you propose that enterprise B2B marketers get more dialed in and really focus on the people that matter the most? Seems like an age old problem (and one that is often rift with internal political battles that have nothing to do with marketing outcomes)…might you be proposing older school approaches (i.e. hard work and diligence in understanding your real customer), some newer approach that is supported by technology-driven insights, previously unavailable, or some combination of the two?

    • Aaron, I think there are a number of things marketers can do, some will be fodder now for a part two post. One of the most important things though is just mindset: don’t settle for lumping everyone together.

      Every time you can make a cut that gives you more focus, you are moving in the right direction. Too often, B2B marketers segment in order to market to everyone instead of segmenting to narrow focus on the most valuable and likely to convert subsets.

      Between your comment and Bart’s, I’m going to have to finish what originally started as the second half of this post. Stay tuned!

      • carmenhill

        Oh good. You’re already planning Part 2! You left us with quite the cliffhanger ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Fully agree with this Eric. And picking up on Aaron’s comment – I also find it hard to execute on this vision ๐Ÿ™‚ One way I am doing it is to try to work with goal completions, and extend those goals to (recurring) revenue. But is still seems limited. Would love to hear recommendations!

    • Hi Bart, glad to hear you are doing that. The closer you can get your measurement to direct revenue contribution the better, that step by itself will help.

      After that, the more you can carve out from your core audience, the better. For instance, if marketing managers buy your product but designers use your product, you probably have both in your database. When it comes to revenue impact, you need to focus your reporting and evolution on the efforts against marketing managers. You may then have a completely different set of goals for marketing to designers, so don’t let your marketing to designers cloud in any way your reported results or conclusions about marketing to marketers.

      And of course, that process continues and can become more rigorous. I’ll look at a followup with more detail in the coming weeks.

      Good to see you here, thanks for the comment!

      • Aha – spot on! Your ‘for instance’ describes my reality perfectly. All the best!

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  • Interesting post. In my view segmentation is the key but without a real strategic focus on exactly what makes the business different and what narrow band customers are most likely to be interested any specific targeting process is likely to fail. It takes real courage to set aside the majority of a marketing list to focus on the few.

  • Pornprapun Sriyotha

    Agreed with Eric. Targeting and segmentation is the key for B2B marketing because customers always look for customise solution, otherwise you rather disturb the customers.

  • Cynthia Lovely

    Well, in Part 2 (or maybe even Part 3), what would you say to someone really just starting with an essentially new brand? I see the wisdom in really drilling down in the data and segmenting ruthlessly to focus on only what matters. But when you’re a long way from having a thriving list or much significant data, where could you even begin?

  • Mars

    How do you identify the audience that is most likely to purchase? Also, you talk about going beyond previous responsiveness, but wouldn’t previous or ongoing activity around the topic you’re marketing relates to be an indicator of purchase intention? Curious to get your thoughts here.

  • MultiView

    Eric, I’m glad you brought up this topic. There are a few ways B2B
    marketers can cut down on the noise and improve their signal, one of which
    being programmatic ad buying. This allows marketers to target their buyers
    directly without wasting money and effort on more traditional ads. I look
    forward to reading your follow up post on this topic.

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