The ultimate point of marketing is to entice the intended viewer to see your materials/message, and then convince them to act upon that. At its most sophisticated, a B2B marketing strategy is a behavior modification tool.
On the surface, the concept appears simple: Get them to See it, Believe it, and, finally, Act upon it. However, the reality of the concept is anything but simple. The convincing part of marketing is through telling an enticing story, and then amplifying the message with the result being a positive response to the call to action.
Marketing is a journey with a starting point and one (or perhaps multiple) ending points. As when one travels, with marketing we plot a course, and then need to understand and deal with the stops (AKA. meeting objectives) along the way, with each one getting us closer to the destination. This requires us to start and then proceed by working backwards.
Let me begin by clearing up some confusion in the use of the terms ‘goals’ and ‘objectives’, as they relate to business and marketing. While the terms are often used interchangeably, they have major differences and important implications for organizations.
At the 30,000-foot level looking down, setting goals is critical for every organization because goals determine the broad vision and direction for any business plan. The best goals align with the company mission, vision and culture and describe the business’ longer-term aspirations before laying out specific actions.
A goal describes where your company wants to be in the future and objectives are specific actions and detail how you get there. Without actionable objectives, company goals can be lofty statements but have little support and can be difficult to reach.
Goals are a good thing and do their own “work”. By nature, overarching goals are (intentionally) abstract and intended to illuminate the big picture.
They are aspirational in nature and are guiding lights for the company. Goals define the intentions and ambitions of the company but on their own can be difficult to measure. Setting goals is an important first step of business planning.
Clearly articulated goals will impact your mission statement, financial planning, corporate culture, and yes, your B2B marketing strategy. As one subject matter expert points out, “There are positive consequences beyond the dollars and cents of the business plan. Goal setting helps individuals and organizations motivate themselves towards a destination or achievement. In a positive work environment, developing lofty goals can boost employee engagement and create excitement that spurs action.”
In one sense, setting of goals can be thought of as internal marketing, but also provide external influence as the famed author Simon Sinek suggests.
Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why? introduces the concept of the Golden Circle. He illustrates it with three circular parts (why, how, and what). Every company knows what they do, but not why. The why is your cause or your purpose. Why do you exist, and why should anyone care? This correlates directly to (personal and company) goals that become your north star. If the why is not clear, then the how and what are negatively affected.
Sinek points out that in companies where there is not a why that is clear cut, or where the why becomes obfuscated, this results in a lack of direction, going off course and/or not fulfilling your promise. Next is the three circles is “how”. These are specific actions you take to realize your why. The “what” is the result of why and how.
Once goals are set, the next step is understanding and articulating how to reach the desired outcomes. In our metaphorical journey, these are the “stops along the way” aka the objectives. Objectives are precise actions or measurable steps that can be taken by individuals or groups to move closer to the goal. They are specific targets that typically have a time-bound schedule or timeline for completion.
As you can see, goals and objectives are symbiotic but different and are (or should be) inexorably linked.
- Broad and visionary
- Set a general direction
- Abstract and difficult to measure
- Longer term, representing the overall result
- Focused in scale and scope
- Scheduled steps with a time frame
- A means to an end
- Easy to measure
- Short or medium term
While goals create the 30,000-foot vision we spoke of earlier, objectives focus on the specific, achievable, and actionable outcomes.
One marketing guru recently opined that “Objectives are the concrete deliverables that make the goal come to life. Progress towards them helps measure advancement to reaching the larger end goal. Setting goals without assigning measurable objectives will likely lead to goals that never get accomplished.
Creating objectives without a broad goal or target lacks meaning. Goals can seem impossible or overwhelming without breaking them down into measurable tasks with objectives.” As we noted goals and objectives are (or should be), inexorably linked.
Jay Acunzo, the founder of Unthinkable Media, opined on goal setting as it relates to marketing. He points out that traditional goal setting lets you measure what you do, but it doesn’t lend itself to gauging why or how you do it, which is what ultimately gives your work meaning and resonates with prospects. He suggests that “only focusing on the results can sometimes incentivize you to take a course of action that prioritizes your organization’s needs over your customers’ needs.”
Acunzo recommends considering two additional factors things when setting a marketing objective — what he calls your hunger and your aspirational anchor.
He explains that hunger refers to your current dissatisfaction with what you are currently doing, or where you are at, and/or why you want to achieve your new goal. What problems do you solve? This is your driving force, or why your company exists.
Your aspirational anchor is your vision of your work in the future, or how you’ll achieve your goal. What does success look like? What steps do you need to take to make that aspiration come to fruition? These two factors drive your motivation and keep you on track to create work that better serves your customers. This approach allows you to “simultaneously produce customer-centric work and create business impact.”
After goals have been set, the task at hand is creating a plan for achieving the goals. This can be daunting and even feel intimidating to put together a goal attainment plan with reliable results.
One tool that many companies use is the S.M.A.R.T method. It helps make goals achievable by breaking the goal down into their disparate parts and assigning responsibility and objectives to team members — they describe who will do what, by when. S.M.A.R.T goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. These are realistic, quantifiable, and focused targets that you can easily aim for.
- You should choose the metric you want to improve upon. Each team members should have tasks to work on, resources they’ll have, and their plan of action. Fail to plan and plan to fail.
- You need to clearly define what you’re setting out to do. Ask yourself and the team:
- What exactly do you want to achieve?
- Whose actions or behaviors are you trying to change?
- Are any stakeholders involved?
- What marketing tactics will be utilized
- If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. To gauge progress, you need to quantify your goals, in a measurable manner.
- You need to make sure you can track your progress with quantitative data. This takes second guessing out of the equation and shows whether you’re on the right track. Here are some questions you can ask to set measurable marketing objectives:
- What tells you if you’ve completed your objective?
- What benchmarks do you need to meet to achieve your objective/goal?
- Do you use KPIs to help you measure your progress?
- Make sure that your goals and objectives are achievable in your specific situation. As one marketing expert notes, “It’s crucial to base your goals off of your own analytics, not industry benchmarks, or else you might bite off more than you can chew.”
- Your marketing objective must be attainable, which means it must be feasible to achieve. A realistic objective should be a bit of a stretch but not out of reach. It will help you and your team members envision the path you need to take. To keep your marketing objectives attainable, ask:
- What resources are needed to achieve the goals/objectives?
- What is the budget or time constraints?
- Do you have the proper hardware and software support?
- Do the team have enough training or experience to accomplish the objectives
- Your goal needs to relate to your company’s statement of “why” with a focus on the customer and also account for current trends in your industry. Key words to consider are evolution, flexibility, and adaptability in changing times.
- Here are questions you can ask yourself to keep your objectives relevant:
- Does the business objectives and marketing objectives coincide?
- Will meeting objectives help your business grow?
- Is this customer centric?
- Are other tasks necessary before this one is possible?
- Can your resources be better used elsewhere?
- Most objectives take time to achieve. Be realistic in the time assessment and allocation. Failing to do so will end up pushing you backward instead of forward. Attaching a time frame and deadlines to your goals helps you make consistent and significant progress in the long-term. Without deadlines, you can easily fall into the trap of procrastination and slowing the rate of progress. Setting a deadline is the best way to keep everyone accountable and on track. This puts a greater sense of urgency behind your goals. To set time-bound objectives, ask:
- Given the current situation and resources, how long would it take you to achieve this objective?
- If prioritized, how fast could you achieve your objective?
- Are there obstacles that may stand in your way or slow you down?
There is a difference in marketing objectives that range from the general to the specific. The best approach is to start with the general (i.e., aspirational) and then drill down into the details with specifics that can be set, measured, and managed.
Examples of general B2B marketing objectives
- Increase sales
- Build brand awareness
- Grow market share
- Launch new products or services
- Target new customers
- Enter new markets internationally or locally
- Improve stakeholder relations
- Enhance customer relationships
- Improve internal communications
- Increase profit
Examples of specific marketing objectives
- Increase sales by X percentage in a specific venue or vertical
- Increase new customer acquisition rate by a X percentage
- Decrease returns by a X percentage
- Increase customer return business by X percentage
- Convert x percentage of “lookers” to customers
- Increase market share from X to XX
Once business goals are agreed upon and specific objectives set, you must measure your progress to stay on track. Goal setting is only meaningful when you have a system in place to hold the team accountable for fulfilling objectives.
One benefit of a formalized method of management, measurement, and tracking in place, is as one expert noted, “No one wants to be the person that lets the team down or misses an important deadline!”
Performance management software can make project creation and the managing and measurement of goals easier.
This can foster accountability and responsibility towards goals within teams. Everyone can view one another’s progress and where they are at, so there is no question about who is responsible for completing certain tasks within specific time frames. With these tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to collaborate more effectively and track your progress against your objectives. Proper support tools like
this can help the team stay motivated and demonstrate the team’s and individual abilities to work towards a goal.
Setting and adopting S.M.A.R.T. marketing objectives focuses the team behind a common goal and can help build your companies productivity. This begs the question of a personal approach to cultivate and facilitate individual participation and success, respectively.
In Stephen R Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he presents an approach to being effective in attaining goals by aligning oneself to what he calls “true north” principles based on a “character ethic” that he illustrates is universal and timeless. Covey defines effectiveness as “the balance of obtaining desirable results with caring for that which produces those results.”
Consider this as a roadmap for personal development that will positively affect your personal and professional lives.
Many have modified or paraphrased what Covey teaches but here is a brief synopsis of the first 3 Habits that significantly affect us personally, professionally, and in our teamwork and marketing approach:
Habit 1: Be Proactive
We can measure our degree of proactivity by examining where we focus our time and energy. Covey introduces the Circle of Concern… Everything we care or worry about. There are many things that we cannot control in our Circle of Concern. The things that we can do something about reside in a smaller Circle of Influence. Proactive people focus their time and efforts on the Circle of Influence. Focus on the things that you can actually do something about. Positive and constructive energy causes your Circle of Influence to grow. By working on ourselves instead of worrying about conditions out of our control, we are able to influence the conditions.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
If Habit 1 advises changing our lives to act and be proactive, Habit 2 advises that we are the programmer! To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of our destination. We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will only be truly effective when we begin with the end in mind. Covey notes that all things are created twice. There is a mental or first creation, and then a physical or second creation. Do not just act; think first: Is this how I want it to go, and are these the correct consequences? Covey explains that almost all world-class athletes and other peak performers are visualizers. They see it; they feel it; they experience it before they actually do it. Envision what you want in the future so you can work and plan towards it.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Effective management is discipline and putting first things first. We need to organize and execute around priorities. Covey says that “Time management is a misnomer. The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves. Rather than focus on things and time, focus on preserving and enhancing relationships and on accomplishing results.”
He introduces what he calls the Time Management Matrix:
- Important/Urgent (important deadlines and crises)
- Important/Non-Urgent (long term development)
- Not Important/Urgent (distractions and time wasters)
- Not Important/Non-Urgent (frivolous and huge time wasters)
Hopefully, I have piqued your interest in reading the full book but for those who need a little more push, the remaining habits that Covey delves into will make you a more effective person:
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood
Habit 6: Synergize
Habit 7: Sharpening the Saw
When you set goals and B2B marketing objectives, you are plotting the business journey with a plan to succeed. You are sending your business in the right direction, and this allows you to consistently make decisions based on your company’s best interest. Smart marketing objectives can also help you build your organization’s efficiency.
With your employees all aligned behind the same, specific goals, your team will function like a complete unit organized toward a clear direction. Proof you ask. In a survey of over 3,000 marketers, results showed that goal-setters were 376% more likely to see successful outcomes! The takeaway is to start with the end in mind.
Know the difference between goals and objectives. Work SMART, articulate the Why and manage the How, and employ and work with good Habits! It is time to leave on the journey towards a better B2B marketing strategy.