Setting TOUGH B2B marketing objectives

10th February 2019

We’re well into the month February of this new year and I’ve (literally) begun to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel of winter. There’s noticeably more daylight as the weeks pass and, though not causal, I’ve been shining a new light on the goals and objectives I’ve set for myself for 2019. Which has led me to thinking more deeply about how we set objectives within our B2B marketing organisations.

Setting TOUGH B2B marketing objectivesPhoto by Javier Segura on Unsplash


MBOs and SMART Objectives

In his 1954 book, ‘The Practice of Management’, Peter Drucker introduced his concept of Management by Objectives (MBO), the essence of which is that individual objectives are developed in alignment to corporate objectives. According to Drucker, they should be:

  • determined with employees;
  • both quantitative and qualitative;
  • challenging and motivating;
  • given ongoing feedback, at the level of coaching and development instead of management reports;
  • rewarded (recognition, appreciation and/or performance-related pay); and
  • formulated with the basic principles of growth and development.

Out of this MBO concept has grown the SMART technique – Specific, Measurable, Attainable (sometimes Achievable), Realistic (sometimes Relevant) and Time-bound – which is pervasive and which the majority of us, including myself, have used for objective-setting throughout our careers. These are the objectives against which we receive feedback throughout the year and are measured during our annual performance reviews. The outcome is a reward that’s usually reflected in our pay packets, with a combination of a promotion, pay rise, or bonus.

We have accepted SMART as the way it ought to be done, because it’s what we’ve always done.

When I was in the corporate world, our annual objective-setting exercise was such a chore and ended up more like a to-do list of what we would accomplish each year. We had to do them of course, because we our annual performance reviews were based on them. During the annual review process itself, there was no allowance for not achieving any of our objectives, with the rationale being that someone who achieved all of their objectives was a better performer than someone who hadn’t. So, none of our objectives were particularly challenging or motivating. We created our objectives in such a way as to enable us to receive the best possible performance rating.

Let’s just think about this for a moment. How does this make sense? We never seem to think about our actual goals. We tend to use the words ‘goals’ and ‘objectives’ interchangeably, yet they have 2 very different meanings. A Goal is a primary outcome and it can be either short- or long-term. While an Objective is a measurable step that you take to achieve a goal.

How can we create our annual objectives without one or more goals? We simply don’t put enough thought or time into the objective-setting process, so that they become a valuable part of our career and professional development.


Wildly Important Goals

I’m now outside of the corporate environment, but goals and objectives are still important to me as both a marketer and an individual. As I began formulating my own objectives this year, I once again started with the SMART technique. In the process, I had a conversation and revisited an article that made me think about objective-setting very differently.

After my lecture at the University of Southern California last year, I met up for the first time with a long-time Linked In connection. A lot of our conversation was around continuing to grow as marketers and he introduced me to WIG, the Wildly Important Goal.

The concept comes from Sean Covey, son of Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), and co-author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution. Briefly, this book describes the WIG as your most important objective, one that won’t be achieved unless it gets special attention. WIGs are at bottom about focus – on fewer objectives that make more of an impact – instead of spreading ourselves too thin on objectives that give us mediocre results.

Focusing on the wildly important means narrowing the number of goals you are attempting to accomplish beyond the day-to-day demands of [the] whirlwind’ [of your business] – The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Chapter 1, page 24 (brackets mine).

A WIG by its very nature is hard, because it demands time, thought and energy outside of the day-to-day busy-ness of our jobs. WIGs give us the framework for developing our objectives, which are the measurable steps we take towards those goals.


SMART is not enough

For me, developing WIGs are analogous to developing strategy. It’s about identifying those larger outcomes we’re trying to achieve, that – if not achieved – makes all those objectives meaningless. Which led me back to an article I’d read previously.

Dick Grote is a performance management consultant with an early career spent at GE, United Airlines and Frito-Lay. In an article in the Harvard Business Review titled ‘3 Popular Goal-Setting Techniques Managers Should Avoid’ he argues that SMART objectives may, in fact, be leading people to set low goals. In particular, he cites the work of 2 of the best-known academic researchers on goal-setting – professors Edwin A Locke and Gary P Latham – who found over 35 years of research that specific, difficult goals with tight deadlines resulted in greater effort and better performance. Despite Drucker’s MBO precept that an objective should be set with the individual, Locke and Latham’s findings are irrespective of whether it’s set by the individual and manager together, or whether the manager defines what’s expected with a tough due-date.

Grote believes that while the SMART technique is useful, we need tough, demanding goals and objectives that really stretch us in order to achieve the highest levels of effort and performance.


Getting TOUGH with our B2B marketing objectives

We simply don’t put enough thought into or spend enough time on our objectives. Just like with our wider B2B marketing activity, we’re so busy that we don’t stop and think about what we’re actually doing or why. Our performance is measured on and rewarded by what we do, not what we’re actually achieving or trying to achieve.

Our SMART objectives are just too easy.  We will never deliver remarkable results if we don’t have remarkable objectives that lead us towards our goals. We don’t learn or grow as B2B marketers if we’re not stretched.  We need tough, we need demanding, we need to be pushed outside of our comfort zones. We need to take the time to look beyond our to-do lists and understand the larger goals of both our roles and our organisations. Most of all, we need our leadership to recognise and reward these demanding efforts.

The payoff for investing this time and thought into our annual objective-setting has the potential to break new ground within our marketing teams. I’m still thinking this through, but what if we added TOUGH to our SMART objectives?

T – thoughtful (not a to-do list)

O – outside our comfort zone and thus

U – uncomfortable

G – goals (that are wildly important)

H – hard to achieve

We simply must begin to look at what’s professionally hardest and most uncomfortable, instead of just what will get us the biggest pay rise. Things that stretch our B2B marketing abilities as well as push us outside of our comfort zones.

We may just learn and do things we never knew were possible. And in the process, become better B2B marketers.

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.

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