Your Product is Amazing, BUT Your B2B Marketing Sucks

Glad I got your attention. Marketing does not suck. But, it can suck and that is what we should all try to avoid.

Marketing will suck if it is not a critical component of driving the overall go-to-market (GTM) strategy. If your marketing is merely supporting the GTM, I would say that you will continue to have low expectations from marketing.

In this post, I will address the topic of how you can make sure that your marketing drives the GTM. For that, let us begin with the person for the job.

Types of Marketing

In simple terms, there are three types of marketing functions: product marketing, marketing communications, and field marketing. Yes, there are a dozen more functions but the above three are the main specialties.

As the VP/CMO of a B2B infrastructure company generating nearly $2 billion of revenues, I led a team of nearly 100 marketing professionals across the globe. There must have been at least a dozen functions and sub-functions within that organization. But, as you will come to recognize, my blog pieces are intended to be “drop dead simple.” As such, they will focus on conveying major concepts that leaders (CEOs, VPs, Board Directors, VCs, aspiring marketing execs, etc.) can apply to their own, unique organizations.

The very first marketing headcount you should hire is someone who has a deep expertise in product marketing. I am not referring to a product manager. If your product manager is working full-time on outbound activities, you are likely sub-optimal in two core GTM functions (but that is another topic for another day). Some of the skills of crafting a PRD (product requirements document) are portable, or transferable, for constructing outbound strategies and campaigns but the two are different enough where it makes sense to have both in different bodies.

The main reason for hiring a great product marketer to build the rest of the team around is simple. All outbound programs revolve around the content. In B2B, the content not only comes in a variety of forms but is also often produced in the context of the surrounding environment (or infrastructure or stack or ecosystem) for your offerings. You cannot outsource this to a generalist.

What To Look For

Unfortunately, it turns out that the hardest role to fill within the marketing group tends to be the initial product marketing headcount. There are a few reasons why this person is difficult to hire. Most people who qualify to be a great product marketer will choose instead to be a product manager. This occurs because the product manager is often a better path to the VP of marketing role or even to become a CEO down the road. Further, people who are technically adept tend to favor working with management, engineering, and proposal- or late-stage prospects (or, if already a customer, upsell stage). They do not enjoy working day-to-day with sales reps, channel partners, marketing vendors, or peppering early stage (or cold) prospects with stuff.

In marketing lingo, these people prefer upstream marketing over downstream marketing. Upstream marketing involves them in product strategy, market analysis, and so on. This is their comfort zone. Downstream marketing includes the more common stuff such as demand generation, events and field marketing, content, PR, design, and others.

The easiest way to determine if a potential recruit is a product marketer or a product (or, project) manager is to ask them to detail their program budget history.

The largest cost for upstream marketing is the salary. In contrast, the largest cost for downstream marketing is actually the program budget. Let me give you an example.

Typically, the B2B marketing budget:people ratio is in the 2:1 or 3:1 range. That is, you will spend $200k-$300k of program budget for each marketing headcount. This data comes not only from my own direct experience building and operating six marketing organizations but also from an expensive study we commissioned which looked into an analysis of 100 B2B technology companies. A very early stage startup will have a much higher ratio. Conversely, an established company will have a smaller ratio. There are other factors that weigh into this ratio. Companies that are largely reaching buyers through an indirect channel will have a larger ratio. And, a company that OEMs or goes direct to a narrower enterprise segment will have a smaller ratio.

Once you have a better sense of the scope of work, drill into the specifics and tease out the details. I have gone so far as to ask for vendor references to vet my own product marketing hires. For example, if a person touts a popular white paper from a research firm, I call the author of the report and ask about the level of involvement from the candidate.

Often, the best references come not from former managers or employers. For senior marketing hires, the really important insight often comes from former vendors, consultants, and partners they conducted business with…so, go that extra step and make an extra 2-3 calls.

We Have Our Star Marketing Leader. Now What?

You are halfway there. There are three fundamental things to accomplish before formulating a comprehensive GTM strategy and plan.

First, research and analyze the competitive space. The product positioning will not only be instrumental to the selling effort but also to the broader corporate positioning effort.

Next, deeply get an understanding of the buying process from the customer’s point of view. In other words, fight the temptation to think you know what they buy, why they buy, and how they buy. This step is especially important for funnel and pipeline management. Many have called this part of the process “mapping the buyer’s journey.”

Lastly, you need your marketing head to get operational. There needs to be a strong understanding of the operating plan so that various assumption can be translated into hard metrics. If your marketing leader asks, “what do you mean by hard metrics?” you should really lose sleep.

This final step is what determines what type of marketing and automation infrastructure to build-out, program budget to carve out, resourcing to figure out, timelining, and (ultimately) what pipeline contribution to commit to.

Why 85 Advisors

A major reason why we introduced a GTM marketing service capability for early- to growth-stage B2B startups is to help them navigate through the above steps. If you are interested in learning more about 85 Advisors, contact me at