Doug Bell, Fractional CMO at Chief Outsiders, joins our host, Camela Thompson Go-To-Market Thought Leader and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Some have called 2023 a SaaSacre and others a diSaaSter. So what can B2B SaaS marketers learn from 2023 and apply to 2024? Doug Bell shares his thoughts.
I think it is on all our minds with the year we have just survived. What are your predictions on what is next for us in b2b marketing?
“Happy 2024 everybody. Hopefully, you have survived and thrived in 2023. It is good to have the wind on our backs now that the year is over. It was a tough year, no doubt about it. I have a lot of thoughts as always. The thing that has taken root for me, especially over the last six to seven months, is Scott Brinker’s Martech Landscape. This report first came out in 2011 and there were 230 companies on it. I think the most recent version had around 11,000 companies.
“My prediction is it is going to shrink for the first time in the history of the Martech Landscape. Scott Brinker’s report is the first thing we are going to see. We talk about the SaaSacre which is a clever way to describe the huge amount of pressure exerted on SaaS organizations that in the past encouraged burning cash. Now, they are conserving since capital costs are too high. Then you’ve got the looming presence of SaaS with and without AI and understanding what the playing field is going to look like, I think the marketing landscape is going to get smaller, a little tighter, and many efficient, high-performing companies will survive.”
Let’s talk a little bit about the elephant in the room. I would argue that nearly all of us in B2B marketing and SaaS felt the belt tighten first. When I look across the C-Suite and all of the go-to-market functions, their tenure has shrunk. It is a scary time when we are under a lot of pressure. We all know what doesn’t happen when we hit our goals. It’s very out there and in our faces. What kind of impact, if any, is that making on your prediction of Scott Brinker’s Martech Landscape?
“I am probably short-selling. I think it is fairly easy to be gloom and doom. In Hinduism, there’s a goddess of death who is also the goddess of creation. Hinduism is a beautiful religion. The idea of a multifaceted understanding of our spiritual lives. But it also recognizes what is happening in SaaS right now. If I can make this connection which is that disruption sometimes begets creation. As for the question, we are seeing b2b marketing being impacted. Invariably, marketing is the first to go. I have seen these swings go back and forth and the net result of that is the businesses suffer. The result is you end up geting rid of this top-of-the-funnel activity awareness and in the short term, you see your CAC go up. In other words, your spending produces more pipeline.
“However, what really happens is you erode your overall marketing performance and invariably there is a reckoning. The reason I don’t think the pendulum will swing back so acutely this year as it usually does. It’s about a two-year cycle and is exactly what Camela referenced, which is the SaaSacre. I think there is a systematic failure that has to occur first. What will end up happening is that marketing will become even more codified as the leader of growth. It comes back to a statistic from Gartner that is six or seven years old. It says that 57% of the sales cycle is invisible to sellers. I’m going to guarantee that number is up to no less than eighty-something percent. In other words, marketers are the new sellers. There’s a huge amount of market that has to settle out first, but eventually, b2b marketing will know buyer preferences have changed. They prefer to learn from a distance, a little bit online, digitally, before they speak to anybody.
“B2B has been slow to realize why investing in marketing early is necessary and finding the right talent, and the right messaging. All of that is so critical to success. It is hard to measure but I think we’ve been underinvesting and underemphasizing.”
What other things are you seeing in the market that B2B marketers can take advantage of to get in front of this demand coming for a very high caliber of marketers?
“I am going to stay out of the AI trap because I think there is so much that needs to evolve there. The only nod I will make is if you’re not using AI in your day-to-day work as a marketing leader, or as a marketer, then you need to catch up fast. It just makes you that much more efficient. The other thing I am going to speak about is I don’t think there has been a time in the history of modern marketing when it shifted from brand to data-driven marketing as now. I think there has never been a time when data was more important.
“I am going to explain it through the lens of somebody who has dealt with many different attribution solutions and someone who has stepped into the cockpit of one of the most amazing solutions which is CaliberMind. I’ve worked for companies that had attribution platforms and they’ve had really good ones. The difference between having that profound level of data that I have as a member of the CaliberMind team as a fractional executive that I have had in the past is the difference between getting into a Toyota Prius and then getting into a Ferrari. Irrespective of whether it is CaliberMind or whatever you’ve created to be most useful, that is the data you’re sitting atop like GA4. We’ve had a whole podcast on the tragedy that is GA4 data and how they’re refactoring it. But if you’re not in a spot where you feel full confidence in your data performance heading into 2024, if you feel like there are disparities, that is really the area I would focus on.
“So my prediction for 2024 simply is that data is becoming even more important. I would say AI, but check out ChatGPT 4.0. You can upload data into it and ask it to do analytics and sometimes, that could be your shortcut. From the standpoint of somebody who has not had data and has had data, it really turns when you can point to data. It makes the conversation completely not personal. You are no longer pointing at what people are doing, but what the results are. I think that is a huge context shift we can benefit from.”
There have been stats published in Forbes where 80% of CEOs don’t trust or are unimpressed by their CMOs. And then the Wall Street Journal recently came out that the divide between the CEO and the CMO is growing. The major complaint I think is that only 22% of CMOs felt that their CEO understood what it is they do. I would like to challenge that a little bit. How much responsibility do we as marketers need to take for not being able to communicate succinctly what it is we are doing?
“Let me unpack that because I think those are wonderful articles to read. I would emphasize drilling in since they do get into this idea of a communication drift and misunderstanding that can occur. As somebody who has been through the ups and downs of marketing leadership for twenty years, the thing that I’ve discovered about communicating well and setting expectations with CEOs is this idea of elasticity. I don’t care what era we are in. I don’t care how much the economy is sucking or crushing it. At the end of the day, your job is to help your boss, your CEO understand how elastic their business is. Notice I am not saying marketing, but how elastic their business is. Meaning how much do I put in and how much do I get out. I love a phrase that I got around a year and a half ago, which is ‘don’t hide the ball.’ I think marketing leaders tend to hide the ball.
“If you embrace this idea of how does what we do collectively as an organization and then what marketing does, it results in a business benefit given the risks. We are the risky part of the business? We tend to go look at everything we did, look at the work we did. I think that’s what is happening. I think that is the gap right now. Therefore, I would say there is this inborn tendency to focus on the positive and that is what we do with our product. That is what we do with our company. And sometimes, that translates over to what we present, and that’s a dangerous pattern to fall into. This is particularly so considering that business units have a gold standard that they are held up against and they’re expected to be transparent about those results and consistently report on the same things. It can be disastrous.
“I think we are missing out on our opportunity to be truth tellers in organizations. I don’t insist on it, but my own internal mantra is I’m not the Chief Marketing Officer, but the Chief Growth Officer. My job is to hyper-focus on growth. And if that sometimes means there are things that are occurring outside of the purview of marketing that are preventing growth, I am not pointing fingers. That is not my job. My job is to simply say this is what is preventing growth and I’m the catalyst for it. I’ve to mention that the average tenure for a CMO is less than 18 months. With that short half-life for Heads of Marketing, be the truth-teller. What is going to happen in a 15-month tenure? So we’ve got a real advantage here in that frankly, when all is said and done, we’ve got that ability to see through a lot of the BS and lets us communicate on a risk and elasticity level with our CEOs.
“If they don’t like it, then at the end of the day, it’s probably a bad place for a growth marketing leader to be in. But before we start wailing and pointing out that it isn’t fair, that we don’t get enough time to prove ourselves, the VP of CS, the newest stats say 12 months and sales is just as short as we are. So this isn’t unique to marketers and we can’t blame anyone. We just need to embrace it or move on.”
The Wall Street Journal article we referenced in the episode: https://www.wsj.com/articles/divide-between-cmos-and-ceos-is-growing-research-finds-a73374f4
The Forbes article we referenced in the episode: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2020/03/26/the-secret-battle-for-marketing/?sh=64afad4f5535
For more content on B2B marketing trends, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.