Think long and act quick: Sales & Marketing Forum

Not to be dramatic, but we’re in the middle of a fight for marketing’s soul (and yes, it does have one).

The opposing sides: Scoreboard versus story. Too often, a long-term strategy’s success is judged before the sales cycle is even halfway through, and in the absence of hard data that proves its effectiveness, the strategy is abandoned in favor of tactics that produce quick wins. In these cases, stakeholders may see good results initially, but once the story is lost, so is the campaign.

Call it a struggle between tactics and strategy, or efficiency and effectiveness. Either way, it’s clear that when you pit short-term metrics against long-term goals, both lose.

But there’s a way to harness the best of both approaches. At our first US Sales & Marketing Forum, Microsoft’s Michael Cunningham and TMP’s own Paul Everett took the floor to talk about marketing effectiveness, strategies for playing the long game, and Surface for Business’s five-year journey to becoming a $7 billion company.

What separates the best marketers from the rest?

Marketing Week and The Marketing Practice conducted a survey of 600 B2B marketers to learn more about marketing effectiveness, and we found that the most successful B2B marketers are twice as likely to measure effectiveness over the long term.

But there’s a hiccup. Clients and stakeholders often prioritize quick wins, and the tactics that produce fast results are often at odds with the strategies that lead to long-term growth. Furthermore, focusing on immediate results ignores the reality of sales cycles, which often take over a year. Despite this, the allure of fast results often seems too good to pass up—much to the detriment of marketing effectiveness, which has steadily fallen since 2012.

But there’s a solution, and in his introduction at the Sales & Marketing Forum, Paul Everett summed it up in a single phrase: “Think long and act quick.”

Balancing agility with stamina

There was a seeming contradiction inside the research on B2B marketing effectiveness. While only the best marketers ran their campaigns for more than six months before judging effectiveness, the leaders were much more likely than the laggards to act within a month.

But it’s not a paradox at all. The best marketers know what they want, and they have a strategy for getting it, but they don’t just wait until a year has passed to see how it’s going—but they make frequent course corrections along the way.

You’ve likely heard of agile marketing. In large enterprises, you’ll probably need flowcharts to keep track of how it works; in small ones, it might simply take the form of kicking the person in the desk opposite in the shins so they can listen in on your side of a call. Either way, it centers around the idea that teams work best when they’re small, multidisciplinary, and empowered to act toward a goal.

Agility requires independence and the ability for a team to decide what’s most essential to their goals. Paul Everett gave the following example: If the CEO comes in and says, “Hey, can you do this thing?” the team should be able to say, “Maybe, but that’s going in our backlog for now, and we’ll evaluate it later to see if it fits into our strategy.”

As you can see, this isn’t just a methodology. It has to be built into a company’s culture.
Thinking long-term while acting quickly may not always be easy, but it pays dividends. Surface for Business is a case in point.

Surface for Business’s five-year journey to success

Michael Cunningham, Marketing Director of Surface for Business, shared his experience being part of a start-up growth engine in the heart of a $126 billion organization.

In 2016, Michael readily admits, Surface was in a difficult position. Microsoft had taken a $1 billion write-down on Surface RT in 2013 and recently wrote off an additional $7 billion after issues with Nokia. Making matters even more difficult, few enterprises had adopted Windows 10, and Surface devices didn’t run on any other operating system.

But Microsoft had a vision. They knew that more than two billion workers worldwide used Microsoft software. What if they could build premium devices—powerful, sleek devices designed around employees’ needs rather than engineers’ preferences—that would shape the future of the business device market and set a new standard for workers worldwide?

They made a bet, and ultimately, it paid off: Surface for Business is worth $7 billion, as of late 2019, and has a year-over-year growth rate of 34%.

But Michael is quick to note that these results wouldn’t have been possible without a solid long-term strategy in place. In his presentation, he shared their approach.

Back to basics

“Growth is reliant on sticking to the marketing basics over the long term,” Michael emphasizes. He singled out five areas to focus on.

  • Strategy: What are you ultimately aiming for? In Michael’s case, he aimed to drive growth by launching Surface in the business market.
  • Audience: Define your audience and ensure that it’s both reachable and profitable. Actionable targeting is incredibly powerful. Take advantage of it.
  • Message: Split your audience into micro-audiences, pinpoint the reasons they should want your product or service, and ensure the message is consistent across your marketing and sales teams.
  • Channel: Don’t just focus on through-partner marketing—market to partners. Why should they sell your product? Surface for Business originally struggled with to-partner marketing, but after investing in additional training and incentives, their resellers ranked them #2 worldwide and #1 in North America and Asia.
  • Team: Connect your marketing team to your sales team, and prioritize leads.

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Michael’s main takeaways? Stick to your guns, incorporate all five elements into your strategy, and build a bridge between marketing and sales.

For further reading, check out the research report.



9th December 2019


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