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Why do B2B Marketing Leaders Suck at Marketing, Marketing?

Updated: Apr 26

By: Tom McKeown

Hyperbolic title aside, a common question I’ve been running into the last few weeks is how can marketing leaders better communicate the true value and impact of the Marketing function to skeptical executives?  There seems to be common disconnects between the perceived purpose of Marketing, especially in B2B SaaS companies, and what the function should be delivering in an optimal state.

I have a couple theories on why this is the case. Firstly, Marketing is a holistic discipline that combines art and science. With art, everyone is entitled to their opinion on what is “good.” In fact, art is supposed to elicit thought, feedback, perspective, and commentary in the viewer. What does this mean for CMOs? Oftentimes, every functional leader feels perfectly validated to express strong opinions on what Marketing can and should be doing. Thinking about it differently, how often is the CFO asked to entertain opinions on the core function of tracking cash flow, procurement, or forecasting? More often than not, CFO’s are granted the grace to apply their methodology and have their team execute, without forceful intervention from other department leaders (unless massive mistakes are being made).

Secondly, there are many folks (founder/owners, operations leaders, etc.) who discount the strategic impact and scope of Marketing. Recently, I had a conversation with a founder who expressed that “Marketing is pretty pictures on the website.”  Well, everyone can have thoughts and feedback on what “pretty pictures” to put on a website without much domain expertise.

Why is this the case? Controversially, I think many marketers have done a poor job communicating the power and impact of the function and how it leads to organizational success. The pain of bad marketing has burned many CEOs/business leaders and understandably, nobody wants to get burnt twice.

How can this situation be avoided? Here are some quick thoughts:


1)      Marketing’s Strategic Vision Must Be Measurable, Actionable, and Achievable

I’ve experienced firsthand what happens when CMOs communicate unrealistic expectations to CEOs. Unfortunately, they get fired at the end of year one.  I advise picking three pillars for an annual marketing strategy that the Marketing team has full operational control over.  Three is an easy number for other executives to remember and also for the CMO/Head of Marketing to communicate. Nobody remembers every item of a ten-point plan off the cuff. Having a project/program methodology for the execution of these goals is crucial, along with the measurement and reporting mechanisms. Over communication and transparency is almost never penalized in this case. The perception of hiding information is disastrous. Finally, have a framework for goal setting. I’m a fan of the SMART framework is a start (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based). I discuss more on this topic here.

Additionally, all KPIs and metrics should be fully controlled by Marketing. This is incredibly obvious conceptually, but oftentimes does not happen in practice. Recently, a marketing leader told me their annual KPI was tied to closed/won deals all while lacking direct control over the sales function. This is a recipe for disaster. How can you expect to succeed when you are not in control of creating the output? Marketing should control the data sources, processes, and reporting on all the KPIs they will be evaluated on. Is the sales team measured on number of leads generated?  Is the COO measured on employee retention? Avoid getting burdened by squishy, cross-functional metrics that you do not directly control.


2)      Plan the Plan


Recently I’ve talked with several folks who implement the same templated marketing plan with every organization they work with. Folks expect this from agencies, but it happens too often with corporate practitioners as well. Don’t be a one trick pony. Strategic planning is a deep practice all by itself. Marketing leaders should be disciplined and fastidious with this entire process end to end. Create a project management plan for creating your strategic plan. Have a dedicated project manager lead this, create a “launch plan” similar to a new product introduction. Identify all stakeholders, deliverables, formal communication channels, feedback mechanisms, etc. If you were tasked with a marquee launch, would you take shortcuts in any of these areas? Avoid the temptation with your strategic plan. If you are lucky enough to have a Chief of Staff or consultant, this should be their baby.


3)       Implement an Audience First Communication Model

Would you send the same message to a prospect at the top of funnel vs. a qualified opportunity ready to close? Why do we do this with fellow executives? Every human on this planet has strong preferences for how, when, and why they want to be communicated to. I’d advise any CMO to have a communication framework for each key executive and company function. This could be a simple one-page document or PowerPoint slide. Remember the preferences and biases of your audience every time you communicate with them. Avoid the temptation of sharing the same slide deck for a company all hands and a one-on-one with the CEO. It is surprising how often this happens. I strongly advise formulating a messaging brief for your strategic plan, identifying all key stakeholders, their psychographic profile (hopes, dreams, fears) and preferred channels for communication. Create high level messaging for your plan – What is the value proposition of Marketing in your organization? How do we do it better here than our competitors? What is the barrier for executives to buy-in?  What is Marketing’s approach to objection handling? Treat your colleagues with the same respect you would your customers. Apply the discipline of Marketing to sell marketing internally.

Finally, have a formal framework for internal communications. I recommend the Know, Feel, Do model as a first step. For every communication, what do we want our audience to know? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do? Similarly, when presenting, remember the simple public speaking adage:

1.      “Tell them what you are going to tell them.”

2.      “Tell them.”

3.      “Tell them what you told them.”

Be consistent in the common threads and themes throughout your communications.  Repetition helps the audience remember, even days, weeks, or months later.


If you are a Head of Marketing or CMO looking for more information, please feel free to contact me at

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