We are in the era of immediacy. I’m sure that you can attest to this, as you are probably reading this on your phone, being interrupted by notifications if not now, in the next few paragraphs.
Marketing in B2B is not exempt from the mindset of “no time like the present, it’s now or never”.
As B2B industries continue to grow and become more competitive, the race to enact the best marketing, claim market share, and embrace technology to do it are all constant pressures. To reduce time needed to create campaigns or programs, marketing teams rely on digital channels, leveraging them for doing research in-market, rather than before launch – and look for any other opportunities to get to market in the most efficient way possible, wasting no time to get there.
This has led to quicker timelines and briefs with a due date of ‘yesterday’. To keep pace with those expectations, we are on the go, achieving speed to market and focused on progress. We seek immediate answers which are now at our fingertips – whether Googled, asked in ChatGPT or even, plainly, assumed – our focus seems to be on those answers. We are certainly not wasting any time on silly things like questions, debating the objective or opportunity, or asking “why?”.
In the pursuit of efficient progress, we have eliminated what is necessary for progress itself: our capacity as marketers, for questioning. We make assumptions of what it is we are solving for. We choose to limit our purview on what we might need to consider in our solution. And we neglect why it matters in the first place. In order to make it matter, we need to make the time to ask these things.
We must dwell in the uncertainty and sluggishness that is asking questions – because without doing so, how will we know that our solutions are right? How will we know that our strategy, creative approach, channel plan, or any other part of our efforts are effective?
Making time to ask questions is a daunting task in an era in which we must move fast, and efficiency means eliminating wasted time. But we mustn’t mistake the pursuit of efficiency with the result of effectiveness, because without the latter, the former is in vain.
As marketers, there are a few ways we can start to prioritize effectiveness, begin to get comfortable with a little uncertainty, and start to make time for questions.
The simplest solutions can come from the most complex situations or problems, but to find the best solutions, the complexity must first be embraced. B2B marketing is no stranger to complexity, whether it be audience firmographics or the intricacy of industries and innovations. For this reason, as a marketer, don’t shy away from the nuances. In fact, giving more attention to the nuances amongst variables like audience or industry can often reveal the most interesting and applicable insights. Consider each nuance a potential new way forward, rather than a distraction from the path you are on. Afterall, without questioning these differences and variables, you might not even be on the best path.
Question the challenge we’re faced with or the issue that we’re trying to solve. Examine why that issue exists. If your program isn’t getting the leads needed to meet quota, why might that be? There are many factors that can contribute to this, and many reasons by those factors are what they are. Go deep into the why to assess whether the remedy is the only remedy – or even one at all. Using a one-word question is the beginner’s playbook to truly understanding a problem: Why? For each “why?” that is answered, add one more until you’re a hand deep (5) – then you might have a grasp on the real issue and opportunity that can affect meaningful change.
B2B marketing and agency teams are most often comprised of a collection of functions – creative, strategy, media, you name it. Leverage the varying perspectives of each of those functions when asking questions. The diversity of perspective will not only ensure that questions are holistic in nature, but that might also help to resolve some of those questions as well.
As marketers and agency teams, we are rooted in creativity. Many of us entered into our field because of it. It’s time to get back to our roots. Creativity is the use of the imagination or original ideas in the production of artistic work. While there are many interpretations on what is artistic (and I would argue life itself is) – the aspects that creativity relies on are imagination and originality. Without questioning, without giving a springboard to our curiosity and imagination, creativity is limited. But how do we just flip from our time-minimizing, productivity-focused go-go-go mentality to one of allowing our imagination to provoke new questions about what it is we’re setting out to do? Start with eliminating the problem – if this problem didn’t exist, what would we do with the time and budget allocated to fixing it? Or simply consider what is missing. In reviewing a brief or direction, what’s not there and left unsaid?
This may be the most challenging aspect of making time to ask questions – allowing ourselves to not jump to the answer or conclusions. It’s similar to pauses and breaks between speaking during a conversation – we all tolerate different levels of it and depending on what that comfort level is, it can feel quite uncomfortable. That is, until you get used to it. Taking pause to question and discuss allows dissent to happen. As Charlan Nemeth explains in her book, In Defense of Troublemakers, “the value of dissent is not in posing a correct idea, but in the thought that it stimulates us.” This points back and enables our former point then – stimulating our imagination. To make the time to ask questions, I like to begin with a ‘but’ – finding the outlier or the exception to the assumed, finding the aspect or input that breaks the predicted mold, allowing a breakthrough which diverts our thinking.
In a time when the clock is ticking and answers are at our fingertips, the power is no longer in having the answer. Those are widely and immediately available now. Now, more than ever, the opportunity, the novelty, the most effective solution, and the innovation lies in getting to the best questions.
After all, without questioning, without thinking about alternatives and imagining the possibilities beyond the immediate solution, one of the most famous dissenters, Galileo Galilei may have never argued that the earth is in fact, not the center of the universe.1
Marketers, now is the time to make the space to pause, question and make your next steps matter.
1In Defense of Troublemakers by Charlan Nemeth