1st May 2017
Last month I wrote about the 4 mental habits that we should be cultivating in our day-to-day working lives to help us to focus on what’s most important, instead of what’s simply urgent. I adapted the matrix in that post from Stephen Covey’s business management book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. If you’ve never picked up this book I highly recommend it as essential reading for life, not just for business or marketing!
It may be 25 years since this book was first published, but Covey’s 7 Habits are still highly relevant and it’s a powerful framework for personal effectiveness that I’ve gone back to time and again over the course of my career.
I’ve used Covey’s 7 Habits as the basis for these 7 tips for becoming more successful B2B marketers (Coveys habits are in brackets):
- Take risks (Be Proactive): this first habit is about the choices we make and fundamentally about who we are and want to be as marketers. Are we merely reactive to the demands of the business or do we work proactively as equals with the business? Reactive behaviour reinforces the mostly unconscious perception that marketing has little of value to contribute, while proactive behaviour is about choosing to focus on what we can do and influence, instead of what we can’t. I hear from a lot of marketers who only see roadblocks – because of budget, because of time, because ‘the business doesn’t value what we do’ – instead of alternatives. The most successful marketers I know take responsibility for their choices and don’t just do what’s always been done; they continually push the boundaries of what they and their organisations think marketing can and should do.
- Have a Strategy (Begin with the End in Mind): this habit is one of clarity and is critical to everything else that follows. Strategy is the foundation; we absolutely must understand where we are going and what we are trying to achieve. Without strategy, what we do becomes ‘random acts of marketing’ that may or may not actually achieve anything for the wider business. At best, without strategy we may realise some short-term targets. At worst, we use up our valuable time, budget and energy in the wrong direction, in pursuit of misaligned objectives.
- Take the Time to Plan and then Execute Brilliantly (Put First Things First): this habit is about prioritisation and excellence. It takes a deep understanding of what is actually important for our businesses as well as what it takes to achieve our strategic intent. Marketing, if done well, is fluid by nature. But we need to get better at planning, particularly at planning flexibly, and then executing to the highest standards, so that we continue to do the right things, in other words, those activities that actually make a difference.
- Build Relationships (Think Win-Win): this habit speaks to company/customer mutual benefit and the ways in which we build and maintain meaningful relationships with our customers. There is also an element of how we measure what we do as marketers. We are under such pressure these days to demonstrate marketing ROI that we are losing sight of whether we are actually achieving what we set out to do. In B2B, that is about engaging with our customers in order to build and maintain the kinds of relationships that ultimately brings in revenue for our companies. ROI as we know it in B2B marketing does not adequately measure or demonstrate this engagement.
- Start by Listening (Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood): this habit is about knowing our customers and arguably this has never been more important. Yet we simply don’t know or understand our customers very well at all in B2B. We are still pushing out our sales and marketing messages in mostly the same ways, albeit increasingly through digital channels and platforms. Do we know what our customers really care about? Are we really listening or do we continue to hear what merely validates what we already think we know about our customers?
- Engage (Synergize): this habit is about connecting and working together to achieve better outcomes. But this doesn’t just happen on its own. Human beings have been creating, listening to and sharing stories since we first developed ways to communicate. Stories are how we connect, interact and collaborate as human beings. The best marketers are great at engaging people through the stories they tell, about themselves and the wider world, as well as about their organisation’s products and services.
- Be Curious and Learn from Everyone (Sharpen the Saw): this final habit is about continuous renewal and reinvention. For marketers, this means a mindset and commitment to ongoing learning throughout our careers. I’m not just talking about learning the latest marketing tools and techniques. What are our competitors doing? What’s the latest in the B2C world? What can we learn from companies like Coca-Cola and Cadbury’s and Volvo (yes, I’m still on about that video!)? What are the best marketers doing to constantly renew and innovate their thinking? We need to make sure we take opportunities to engage with other marketers, no matter whether they are B2B, B2C or agencies, so we can talk about the challenges we face, have conversations around new ideas, learn new things, and be inspired.
In an age when the cult of personality has become so prevalent, Covey describes what he calls the ’Character Ethic’ as the foundation for his 7 Habits. This character-driven foundation aligns collective and enduring human principles to our values and behaviours. And it’s through these compelling principles that we can become more successful B2B marketers, as well as better human beings.
Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.