3 simple questions B2B CMOs can ask that will focus marketing on profitable growth


Whether it’s writing your marketing plan or planning a new campaign, it’s always wise to check your commercial compass is on point before diving in. Making sure you’re sending your team and partner agencies in the right direction – solving real business challenges that unlock new opportunities for profitable growth – and avoiding the common pitfalls of vague business plans.

We’ve all been there, handed a strategy from the business, which is best summed up as: “Sell more of everything to everyone.” This is not a business strategy and it shouldn’t be the basis for marketing activity either. If you don’t have sound, focused commercial goals to aim for, how can marketing demonstrate an impact on growth? Trying to cover all directions means spreading your time, creativity, energy and budget too thinly. It’s no fun, demoralising and doesn’t set you up for success.

To deliver marketing activity that stacks the odds in your favour of delivering growth, the first step is a great brief. You must challenge and work with the business to understand: 1) where your best sources of growth lie; 2) what is stopping the business from unlocking those opportunities; and 3) how will we know if we’re on the right track.

#1 What are your biggest bets for growth?

If you want to demonstrate marketing’s contribution to profitable growth, you first need a good understanding of where that growth is most likely to come from and what you need to achieve it.

What new opportunities could you open up that would get you closer to achieving revenue and/or profitability targets? Or put more simply: What do you need to sell more of, to whom, and at what volume and price specifically that would have the biggest impact on growth?

What: Which new or existing services, projects, products, or combination of these are the highest value and the most profitable? And for which of the above is there growing or new demand?

Whom: Be as specific as possible. In high-value B2B the pool of potential buyers is often relatively small. Name individual clients, prospects and buyers in your brief, if you can. Campaigns and activity targeting broad segments may work from a brand perspective but are often not specific enough to create and convert demand for high-potential target clients and prospects.

Volume and price: To hit target, how much do you need to sell and what uplift in volume does this represent? Don't forget price. If you could increase the price for certain services or better protect margins from being squeezed, could you have a bigger impact on growth than solely trying to sell more? Check out this blog on how to influence price.

#2 What are the biggest barriers to unlocking growth? And why?

Spend most – if not all – of your resources addressing real business challenges. Those stopping the business from unlocking the growth opportunities identified. For the greatest return, focus on new opportunities where your efforts can have the most impact, not where you'll win work anyway or where you'll only see marginal – or no – gains.

The business challenges marketing is best placed to address tend to fall in one of three buckets: generating new demand; increasing conversion; and/or growing and protecting margin. The most common growth challenges we see at Stack include:

Lack of differentiation in highly competitive markets: With very little to distinguish one B2B brand’s services from another, you need to create additional value to win work and protect margin.

Limited market share: Growing market share often means changing market perceptions in a way that unseats the leading brands.

Launching a new product or service: The best new services and products address an unmet or unrealised need in the market. The challenge here is building a compelling business case to create new demand.

#3 What are your lag and lead metrics?

The desire to demonstrate ROI has drawn us to things we can measure, not what we should measure – such as social media shares, downloads, etc. over hard commercial metrics.

Knowing what the businesses’ financial objectives are (revenue, market share and profit growth, for example) – the longer-term, lag metrics – is your starting point. Your second question can then be what metrics can marketing control that will be the best predictor of achieving those lag metrics – i.e. shorter-term lead metrics. Meetings with key prospects and targets, invitations to tender, trial sign ups, conversion rates are all good measures of potential revenue growth in B2B.

If you can be specific about what metrics can be influenced and the numbers required, you can better set targets to measure and demonstrate performance in a way that is meaningful to the business. It also allows you to develop a risk/reward relationship with your agency partners, in which everyone is accountable for and committed to achieving the desired commercial outcomes.

It’s easy to forget to ask the right questions before embarking on a project or planning activity. But armed with the answers to these three simple questions, you can ensure your marketing activity is set up for success and best placed to deliver commercial results.

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