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On August 3, 1997, Lee Clow, then an advertising agency rep, pitched the Think Different campaign to Steve Jobs and the team at Apple. At the time, Apple had a tarnished brand, slumping sales, and they were being dwarfed by Microsoft.  The theme, “Think Different,” resonated. And it was what would define and continue to define Apple. 

The “Think Different” campaign---and all that it entailed---helped rescue Apple. This same message, if accepted, will be what rescues B2B marketers today.  Here are some of the lines from the commercials:

"Here’s to the Crazy Ones ... The ones who see things differently ... You can quote them, disagree with them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing that you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They explore. They create. They inspire."

These words (change, invent, imagine, explore, create, inspire) encapsulate the approach and attitude that needs to be adopted and embraced by today’s B2B marketer. Marketing receives so much negative press today. We read about the marketing skills gap, our lack of visibility at the C-level, our lack of lack of alignment with sales, our in ability to justify our budget, etc. Unfortunately, much of it is true. That’s because we keep doing the same thing over and over again.

I submit that the time has come to change, to change for the better, to think different. Here are 5 things marketers can do differently:

1.   Don’t Believe What They’re Saying

A good friend of mine played professional baseball for 12 years. He was a relief pitcher---specifically, a closer (the pitcher who comes in at the end of a game to secure a win). I asked him what kind of mindset was needed to be a closer.  He said, “You can’t let yourself get too high, or too low. And don’t read the press clippings after you blow one.”

Good advice for marketers. Too many marketers are “too low,” believing what everyone tells them: that marketing is a necessary evil, providing little value. But that doesn’t have to be true. So, as the commercial says, start to “Think Different.” Rather than accepting the characterization,  begin believing that being a B2B marketer is one of the most exciting and promising careers of today. Embrace what’s in front of you. Go for it. And if you fail (and at times, you will), so what? Just keep plugging. Success over time is the goal. When you achieve it, others’ perception will begin to change.

2.  Defy Tradition

During my tenure as a marketing director for McAfee, I made the decision to move to paperless collateral. This decision was not particularly well-received by some of our veteran field sales people. In their traditional way of thinking, I was overlooking the “need” to have something to hand to customers. They told me that we would lose sales, miss out on opportunities, and that this was a bad decision. I didn’t care. Why not? Because our analysis showed that we could redirect the huge printing budget and spend it in areas that would generate a better overall ROI. Before I announced the decision, I showed our Sales Management how the extra budget would be spent on demand generation and even showed them the forecasted increase of leads. They bought in immediately.

Many traditional marketing activities (tradeshows, collateral, telemarketing, etc.) are done simply because things have always been done that way. But as Mark Twain said, “Sacred cows make the best hamburger.” So, take some initiative and do some study and analysis on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the return you’re getting from it.  Tradition should not be a driving factor when it comes to marketing spend.  Revenue and ROI should be.

3.  Fight for the Right Change

“We already have an in-house teleservices team.”  This is what I heard two weeks into my new position with a software company. This comment was a response to my suggestion that outsourcing our teleservices would be more efficient, effective, and economical.

In the process of making my case, I had to have meetings with the head of sales, the head of marketing operations, and the president of our division. The head of the in-house teleservices team made sure he was present at all these meetings, so he could counter my arguments.

During one of these meetings, after quite an animated plea by him to keep things in-house, I said to him, “Dave, this isn’t personal. I believe we can do better. That’s what all of us in the company should strive to be doing  ... better.”  The meeting resulted in a “bake-off”:  For 45 days I gave 50% of my teleservices work to my chosen outsourced vendor, and 50% to Dave’s team to see who would win. And  45 days later, we reviewed the results, and my outsourced vendor had 100% of my work.

Was I trying to discredit Dave? No. We simply needed “better,” and I wasn’t going to stop until I got it. As for Dave, he never spoke to me again, and he went out of his way trying to make our team look bad. But our case had been made, and our success was known throughout the company.

If there is something in your organization that needs changing, don’t stop driving for it.  Although people will fight back, if it’s the right change, it will make it worthwhile.

4.  Be Realistic

I was speaking to a client a few weeks ago about our approach to implementing the Lead Management FrameworkSM.  Halfway through the discussion, he asked, “Will we be able to get this all completed within three months?”  I told him, “No, that timeframe is unrealistic.” He said, “I figured as much, but I had to ask.”

Anything worth doing takes time. Yet, many B2B marketers (and their management teams) have unrealistic expectations when it comes to turning things around.  Initiatives, such as lead management processes, buyer journey mapping, sales processes, and software deployments take time, people, and resources. The change that has to occur within marketing often requires modifying behavior and culture. Studies show that such change can often take two to three years.

So, develop a plan a plan with realistic timeframes. Include milestones that will allow you to highlight the small changes along the way, but realize that the ultimate change will occur over time.

5.  Lead

In his book, Balancing the Demand Equation, Adam Needles states, “Sales managers and general managers lead, and B2B marketers do not.” This is a bold statement, but is too often true.

Colin Powell has stated the following in terms of leadership:
"You don't know what you can get away with until you try. You know the expression, ‘it's easier to get forgiveness than permission.’ Well, it's true.  Good leaders don't wait for official blessing to try things out. They're prudent, not reckless. But they also realize a fact of life in most organizations: If you ask enough people for permission, you'll inevitably come up against someone who believes his job is to say 'no.'  So the moral is, don't ask.  Less-effective middle managers endorsed the sentiment, ‘If I haven't explicitly been told yes, I can't do it,’ whereas the good ones believed, ‘If I haven't explicitly been told no, I can.’  There's a world of difference between these two points of view.

It is time for marketing leaders to adopt this philosophy. Stop waiting to be told “yes” and go for it!

If B2B marketing is ever going to get out of the doldrums of being viewed as inefficient and unnecessary within the organization, they must change.  They must invent, imagine, explore, create and inspire. To put it simply, the must think different.

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image of Carlos Hidalgo

Carlos Hidalgo is a life design coach, marketing and sales consultant, author of The UnAmerican Dream, and a TEDx keynote speaker. He has held corporate roles, started entrepreneurial ventures, served in nonprofits, and sat on many corporate boards. Hidalgo and his wife host The Life Design Podcast.