B2B marketing's crisis of confidence - and how to solve it

Too many marketers are coming up with the wrong research answers, leading to some incredibly wasteful decisions. That’s partly because they aren’t self-assured enough to ask the right questions. In this article by Josh Cohen, Research & Intelligence Manager at alan. discusses B2B marketing's crisis of confidence - and how to solve it.

B2B marketing has gained a poor reputation for how it treats research and insight. For many exponents, simply owning a proprietary data set counts as ‘research’, while putting a data point against a piece of received wisdom somehow equates to ‘insight’. 

Analytical standards are generally low too, often causing B2B marketers to take cues from random statistical noise. Take, for instance, failures to profile or segment customers accurately, which have caused eye-watering wastage. A 2021 analysis informed by audits from Australian digital agency Next&Co considered 32% of audited spending on digital ads to have been wasted. The financial services industry alone could be losing $19.8bn (£16.8bn) this way annually.

Most marketers know it’s important to measure the effectiveness of their activities, but few know what to measure. A recent study by found that 73% of client-side marketers don’t believe that improving brand equity is evidence of effectiveness. They’re more interested in things such as awareness pushes from communications campaigns. Naturally, this approach aggravates the short-termism that plagues businesses worldwide and restricts the function’s ability to create sustainable value.

The profession is also awash with examples of market research failures. The most extreme cases, including Colgate’s absurdly ill-advised experiments with frozen foods in the 1980s, can be found in the B2C world. But B2B marketing has the capacity to produce much more insidious problems through any failure to appreciate the real dynamics shaping an industry. That’s partly because such problems tend to present themselves more subtly than they do in consumer markets. Nonetheless, they can be even more damaging. 

DAMA International’s Data Management Body of Knowledge has estimated that in some firms the direct costs of systemic failures such as collection errors and data decay can run to 30% of their revenue. The indirect costs of missed opportunities or poor decision-making based on poor-quality data can be far more significant. The result is a B2B marketing community that fails to use the information it has to its full potential. 

But how have we got here?

It’s not down to a lack of talent in B2B marketing, because there is plenty. It’s more likely to be a lack of confidence. We don’t have enough self-belief to question the directions we receive from our bosses, even if we have the guile to test their validity. We’re reluctant to ask basic questions of our data for fear of being branded ‘the daft marketer’ in the room, even if such questions are usually the most pertinent. And we’re not courageous enough to push for the budget to do our research properly and make better choices, even when the risks of skimping on it are startlingly obvious. 

We in B2B marketing need to find greater confidence in our abilities. It’s something that 93% of CMOs working in the field believe we lack, according to research conducted by alan.

But this can change.

It’s a sad irony that agencies lack the agency to ask the most challenging questions. Sniffing out uncomfortable truths is a virtuous and important exercise. The simple question that exposes misguided assumptions is often the one that leads to better decisions.

Our methodology here at alan. – the Reality Check – aims to restore that agency to us all and lead us in the direction of better questions and more informed decisions based on the answers. By first constructing the status quo, it enables us to identify where the gaps might lie, but there’s more to this than simply pointing out the cracks in the wall.

To reconstruct a new reality, marketers need more than insight alone. Integrated intelligence is the alan. approach to layering data and insight across brand, audience and market. It enables us to perceive market changes with unique clarity, construct new knowledge systems and empower you to make more incisive decisions.

Built on secondary research, tested through primary quant-qual, verified by market data and assembled with the help of our market leading analysis suite, our approach promises to propel B2B market research to the lofty heights at which it truly belongs.

Provocative truth - b2b marketing's crisis of confidence

Ready to provoke the truth?

Get in touch.
Group 3Created with Sketch.
Group 3Created with Sketch.
Group 3Created with Sketch.
Fill 1Created with Sketch.