—Sponsored article by the Mezzanine Group
Any business owner who is considering investing in a proper and strategic marketing plan for a B2B organization may be asking themselves the following questions: “How long does it take for marketing to produce results?” “When will we see sales from our marketing activities?”
These are common questions that all marketing consultants and agencies are asked regularly. Everyone wants results yesterday from marketing. The truth is, a proper marketing plan takes time. In most cases, it can take between two to three years to really experience the momentum that a proper B2B marketing strategy can provide your business.
Don’t let the timeframe stop you from investing in an additional revenue-generating solution for your organization. A proper marketing investment and plan will bring in those sales, but as the old saying goes “good things come to those who wait.”
Having a realistic expectation at the start encourages business owners to stick with a marketing investment. That’s vital because the worst thing a B2B company can do is start marketing and then abandon it. You’ll waste money and become skeptical as a result, and are far less likely to invest in marketing in the future.
Here’s what B2B companies can expect when it comes to timelines for getting results:
1. THERE IS NO COOKIE CUTTER TIMELINE
Just like your business is unique in the marketplace and to your competition, so is your marketing plan.
To figure out a realistic timeline for getting marketing results for your company, you have to start with your current situation. There isn’t a cookie cutter timeline that applies to every company. Some of the factors that make up your current situation include:
a. The Nature of Your Services and Products
Many B2B companies sell services and products that have a long sales cycle. B2B purchases typically involve multiple decision-makers and a significant risk factor. Plus, these products or services have larger price tags associated with the sale. As a result, your products and services can have sales timelines that can range from six months to two years, or more. It follows that companies with a long sales cycle will take longer to generate the full benefits from marketing.
For example, your marketing team launches a campaign in month 13 of your marketing plan for a specific product that has a 18 month average sales cycle. A hot lead can come in at that 13 month mark, but it still takes 18 months to close the sale.
b. The Level of Your Marketing Experience
Are you a Kindergarten marketer or a Grade 11 marketer? There’s nothing right or wrong about either, they’re simply a reflection of your current state. Just like you don’t try to teach calculus to a kindergartner, you don’t try and run attribution campaigns through a marketing automation system in a company that doesn’t have a strong marketing foundation to support more advanced tactics.
Perhaps you have zero experience in marketing and that’s OK. However, you’ll need to look at hiring an internal team or hiring a third party organization to develop your marketing plan. You’ll need to consider the time it will take to either hire internally or externally. Once the hiring is completed, you’ll have to take into account any additional training or knowledge transfer of your products and services for this individual or team to be brought up to speed.
2. THERE IS A TYPICAL MARKETING JOURNEY
While there isn’t a cookie cutter timeline, there is a typical journey that B2B companies go through in marketing. Here’s the outline for what to expect and when:
a. Building The Strategy (First three to six months)
The range in this phase accounts for your starting point. If you’re new to marketing, your journey starts with confirming your strategy.
Building out a marketing strategy involves defining your value proposition, your messaging, your brand and understanding your customer and marketplace. This stage typically takes a few weeks or months, depending on how much time and attention you can give to marketing, and whether you’re doing the process in-house or with an outsourced marketing resource.
You should also expect a number of half to full day meetings and various team members across the organization required to participate during this phase. In some cases, just scheduling these meetings can delay the process of building a marketing strategy. If you make marketing a business priority, it will support the timeline of this process.
The strategy process should also include a competitive research component. Competitive research can take a few weeks to complete depending on the competition’s marketing investments. If your competition isn’t doing a lot from a marketing standpoint (that’s great for you!) it won’t take a long time to review and report back on the competitive marketing landscape. However, if your competitors are investing in marketing programs, you’ll need to account for additional time during this research phase.
Finally, today’s marketing strategies typically include building out customer personas. This exercise defines your different target audiences, their demographics, job types, knowledge and expertise levels, whether they are decision makers or not, their pain points, and more. Developing personas properly involves speaking to existing clients and in some cases, developing a customer feedback survey.
A proper strategy development takes time, but is the master guideline of marketing programs moving forward. This strategy document will dictate all marketing programs, tactics, and campaigns for the next few years.
b. Establishing a Foundation (Next six to 12 months)
Once your strategy is defined, your foundation can be built.
This stage typically includes developing the basics of your marketing collateral. The first big project most organizations will need to visit in the foundation stage is a new website.
A website project isn’t just about how great the site looks, but should act as your number one sales rep. It’s easy for a lot of business owners to get caught up in the design phase of a website as that’s the fun part of the project! The truth is though, your website can generate revenue for your organization either in direct sales or in lead generation depending on the nature of your business.
A proper website build does take time as there may be the need for additional content, user experience exercises, and proper optimization both for search engines and for mobile visits.
In concurrence with the website build, sales collateral can be developed. Best practices for this stage is to involve as many sales reps from your organization as possible. Not only are these individuals the best to rely on as they know first hand the questions and objectives coming from clients, they are also the people who will be using the collateral everyday. As a business owner, you’ll want to ensure that the sales organization has the opportunity to provide input into the new sales collateral so that it works for them and they can’t wait to use the new sales decks and one-pagers.
Similar to the strategy development phase, involving sales reps in building out collateral takes time both from a scheduling standpoint and during the feedback stages. Senior marketers are great at decreasing the amount of back and forth in a project. However, if you’re new to marketing, it will take additional time for you to nail these sales collateral pieces simply due to lack of experience.
c. Growing your Pipeline (Next eight to 12 months)
After you’ve built a marketing foundation, you can start executing marketing campaigns. This means communicating with your customers on a regular basis, publishing content that will raise awareness of your company, and hosting events, among others (there are dozens of tactical marketing options). The purpose of these activities is to generate leads, which is how you grow your pipeline.
Some campaigns require larger time investment than others. For example, if your organization was to host it’s own event, it would take approximately six months to a year to organize depending on the size and scope. On the other hand, if your company was looking to participate in a booth at an existing industry tradeshow, it would be a significantly smaller time investment.
One caveat – in order to measure the growth in your pipeline, you need a system that tracks your leads. If you don’t have a CRM already in place, you’ll need to implement a system that tracks your pipeline.
d. Generating Positive ROI (Next 12 to 24 months)
In many cases for B2B companies, marketing takes more than a year to deliver its value. This is the hard truth, and it’s better for you to know it earlier rather than later. Most B2B companies make a significant investment in marketing in year one to build their foundation and generate a solid pipeline. But the increase in sales often doesn’t start to happen until the latter part of that year, which means that positive ROI is difficult to achieve.
That does not mean that marketing isn’t working! When companies do a solid job of their marketing foundation and year one activities, they are just at the start of realizing the best returns from their marketing, and it’s vital that they keep at it.
3. PATIENCE PAYS OFF
The good news about being patient with marketing is that you’ll be rewarded exponentially for your investment.
The vast majority of B2B companies that see compelling, business-changing results from their strategic marketing usually see this in their second or third year of consistent marketing efforts.
The key to the success of these businesses’ marketing is two-fold. First, they undertook strategic marketing, not simply marketing. Most B2B companies are wary and skeptical about marketing, so they go about it in a tactical or ad-hoc way. That’s usually a recipe for spending money and getting some short-term results, but nothing that really alters their business performance for the long-term.
Strategic marketing is a longer-term view and is the difference between high performing B2B companies who have a sustainable competitive advantage, and those who don’t.
The second factor that leads to long-term success is patience. It’s possible (and necessary) to get some results within the first six to twelve months, but the bigger results come with time. When most B2B companies have sales cycles that are six months or more, it’s simple math that marketing is going to take at least that long to grow the pipeline and convert leads to revenues. It’s in the second and third year that the big and exciting gains happen.
Patience is a virtue that leads to powerful results in B2B marketing.
Need help? Contact the experts at The Mezzanine Group today!