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Today, there's no shortage of opinion on how to do B2B marketing. From the latest podcasts and blog posts to social media and the LinkedIn echo chamber, you're spoiled for choice.

"Unleash the power of AI with these 9 must-use prompts."

"Stop wasting time advertising, the future is account-based."

"Get thousands of qualified leads every month with our no-fail playbook."

Of course, such claims tend to be made by companies and influencers who peddle solutions or courses or consultancy.

But as everyone who's actually worked in B2B knows, there is no magic wand and no playbook that guarantees real-world results for every business. The examples of success are often outliers, used because they're the exception, not the norm.

If it worked for everyone, everyone would be doing it.

Trouble is, there has been precious little hard data to go on, too. But now, new research into B2B marketing effectiveness—looking in-depth at what top-performing marketers are doing differently—reveals that it's often not what you expect that elevates marketing performance from so-so to so-good.

I've worked in marketing for three decades. In reality, not much surprises me anymore. But some of the data had me resetting my view on what works, what doesn't, and why.

1. Marketers who really know their customers are in a minority

What many of us consider to be marketing 101, well, isn't. In reality, very few marketers take time to really understand their customers.

In fact, just 36% research the people who make up the buying committees for their products and services. And a pitiful 18% research buyers to create ideal customer profiles (ICP) or customer personas—despite the focus on the importance of the value of ICPs by just about everyone, from marketing gurus to VCs.

What that means is that most marketers' ideas of targeting will be partial at best, leading to wasted effort and budget. It also means that investing in getting to know your customers is likely to set you apart from the competition.

2. True differentiation makes you more successful across every category

We all know it's important to stand out, but many B2B marketers treat differentiation as a nice-to-have. Yet the data shows that it is a significant multiplier of effectiveness.

If we look at the tech sector, those that have a clear differentiated position—which, crucially, has been tested with customers and reviewed against competitors—outperform the norm by a

significant margin. They're twice as likely to be in the most effective group across lead generation, demand generation, and brand-building, too.

And in professional services, where differentiation is typically harder to achieve, the results are even more extreme.

I'd go as far as to say that if you focus on just one thing, it should be differentiation.

3. A marketing strategy informed by business strategy is a force multiplier for effectiveness

It's no surprise that having a marketing strategy that takes its lead from your core business strategy is important. But you may not realize that it's also another way to elevate your marketing performance across every area.

If we look at the professional services sector, those marketers who have a written marketing strategy that flows from the business strategy are 84% more likely to be top performers in lead generation, 73% more likely to be leaders in demand generation, and over one-fifth more likely to lead in brand-building. Not small numbers.

4. Popular tactics are often not the most effective tactics

It's no surprise that those who select higher-performing tactics will get better results than those who choose less-effective ones. The challenge is to work out which really are the high performers. But that's easier said than done when everyone with an aspiring personal brand is trying to convince you that the bright shiny new thing is the only thing you should be doing.

One of the standout results in the data is that what's popular and what's effective are often two quite different things. The data also shows that some tactics that might be pigeonholed as being for demand generation actually work better for lead generation—and vice versa.

For example, the most popular demand generation tactic across the entire database ranks 31st (out of 39) in terms of effectiveness. And the most effective tactic is just 13th on the list of the most popular. And although the specific tactics deployed change by sector, the pattern repeats again and again.

Those findings fly in the face of so much of the marketing advice we see online, which either adopts a one-size-fits-all perspective or a that's-dead-so-do-this-instead message. The reality is far more nuanced, and optimum tactical mixes depend on so many variables: sector, deal size, core objectives, and more.

5. Men and women make notably different tactical choices

We didn't expect there to be anything noteworthy in terms of comparing the approaches of women and men—we almost didn't ask about gender at all. However, they do seem to make quite different tactical choices.

Compare how male and female marketers in the technology sector approach demand generation, for example, and women seem more likely to take a longer-term view in their choices, with a preference for more top-of-the-funnel content like thought leadership, industry guides and whitepapers.

Women are significantly more likely than men to use account based marketing ( ABM) and influencer marketing in their tactical mix, whereas men are significantly more likely than women to include nurture programs, PPC, and programmatic advertising.

Perhaps less surprisingly, men are around one-fifth more likely than women to rank themselves as marketing "top performers."

6. Those focused on leads are less likely to be effective at lead gen than those focused on demand

You'd think that if you want to be effective at lead generation, being laser-focused on delivering leads would be a no-brainer.

You'll know your MQLs, SALs/SQLs and ICP (plus all the other acronyms) and go looking for them using all the tools in the modern B2B arsenal.

Except, the data doesn't back that notion up. It's actually those who have a primary objective of increasing demand who are more effective at lead generation.

Why is that? Well, if you're focused on leads, you'll tend to spend your time on demand capture activity targeting in-market buyers.

We can argue about whether in-market buyers account for 5% of the market or not (or even 1% in these cash-strapped times). Whatever the exact number, it's a very small proportion of potential buyers.

Of course, many within the other 95% will be largely immune to anything we might say. But, by focusing on accelerating demand, we're likely to have a greater effect over time: There are more potential opportunities, you can get into a conversation earlier, you'll face less competition, etc.

More than that, it's an effect that should compound as we continually lay the groundwork for future success.

And, finally, you're likely to use different tactics. In the data, there's a marked difference in the effectiveness of a wide range of tactics between those focused on leads and those focused on demand.

What really drives B2B marketing effectiveness?

Ultimately, there is no silver bullet. Success in B2B marketing will come down to a combination of things.

You need to...

  • Get the upstream factors right.
  • Have a written marketing strategy, and make sure it flows from the business strategy.
  • Work hard on differentiation—test it with customers and versus the competition.
  • Know what your customers really care about, not just what you hope they care about.
  • And, finally, select a core set of high-performing tactics that will deliver against your objectives.

More Resources on B2B Marketing Success

The 7 Biggest Misconceptions of Successful B2B Marketing

Five Tips for Creating a Successful B2B Marketing Campaign

Three Things B2B Marketers Can Learn From B2C Marketing Strategies

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What Do Top-Performing B2B Marketers Do Differently? Six Things That Might Surprise You

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image of Jason Ball

Jason Ball is the founder of B2B marketing agency Considered Content, a B2B marketing agency that works with tech brands, professional services firms, and manufacturers. Its B2B Effectiveness Engine—the largest database of its kind—features data insights from 1,000+ senior B2B marketers. 

LinkedIn: Jason (Jay) Ball