Sleepless in the C-Suite: What keeps CMOs up at night?


August 2, 2016

by Carla Johnson

“What keeps you up at night?”

For marketers, there’s plenty. The annual Tech Heads survey of marketing directors and business buyers points out exactly this. This year’s results reveal that B2B CMOs are six times more likely to lose sleep than gain it in 2016, compared with previous years. And while there are several reasons for sleeplessness, the biggest cause is competitive threat.

The report notes that 92% of sleepless CMOs say that competition has increased pressure to hit targets, and 90% say they have to be more creative to compete. Added to that, 54% of B2B buyers are taking longer to make purchasing decisions than they did just 12 months ago.

What’s driving all this? CMOs report that pressures are being driven by three things:

  1. 58% say keeping pace with marketing innovation is their toughest challenge
  2. 57% report bringing new products and services to markets adds pressure
  3. 51% struggle to keep up with changes in the competitive landscape

While each of these adds pressure, changes in the competitive landscape may be the biggest force behind all of them. It’s not only because the majority of businesses tend to react to competitor behaviors, but because – as the research points out – the competitor landscape confuses buyers and that’s what delays buyers making decisions.

Let’s look at the data a little closer –

Competitors are costing CMOs sleep
Increasingly competitive and converged markets are putting pressure on CMOs. They’re being pushed to meet marketing challenges with innovation and creativity.

  • 92% of CMOs say competition in their market has increased the pressure for their company to achieve its commercial objectives.
  • 90% say they’re having to become more creative and innovative to compete with other suppliers in the market.

Complexity is a key culprit
CMOs are also worrying about how to engage buyers who are struggling to find clear and compelling information about potential suppliers.

  • 81% of buyers believe that they scoping phase of supplier selection is delayed due to the changes in the vendor landscape, which is getting busier every years.
  • 78% believe that a competitive supplier market creates increased confusion and complexity when purchasing.
  • 70% are more likely to select a supplier with clear differentiators.

Delayed decisions = disturbing dreams
Because of buys, complex and confused markets, buyers are taking much longer to make the decisions that CMO success depends on.

  • 54% of B2B buyers state that they take longer to make decisions about buying products and services than they did 12 months ago.
  • 25% feel they take less time, with 21% stating no change.
  • The top three factors delaying buying decisions are:
    • Greater choice of services / products offered by suppliers (45%)
    • More sources of content to research/digest/consider (43%)
    • Greater choice of suppliers in the market (41%)

What makes decision-making more complex?

As the chart below shows, buyers are inundated, confused and paralyzed. Too much information that looks and sounds the same across every vendor makes it hard for buyers to understand the difference between apples and oranges. All they’re seeing are fruit.

Bar chart depicting the percentage of people with disabilities, analyzed by C-Suite executives.

The problem behind the problem

Interestingly, the research also points out that it’s not the decision itself that’s prolonging the buying process, but the ability to scope the decision. Buyers are worried. 81% believe that the competitive market is leading to a greater investment in time at the crucial, early research stage where nothing is standing out enough to eliminate confusion and complexity.

“Tech Heads research shows that the problem with B2B marketing is that everyone is saying the same thing, in the same way. With the result that prospects are struggling to identify messages that really connect, and CMOs are losing sleep trying to figure out what to do next.”

B2B buyer research is more than a quick Google search and a website visit. It’s a time-consuming process to find the right product or service in a sea of information that all sounds the same. Do you have a way out? Yes, if you’re willing to buck the status quo. Statistics show that 70% of decision makers are more likely to work with a vendor that stands out as a clear differentiator. This means that CMOs who can position their company differently through considered planning and genuine innovation are primed for a huge win.

From sleepless to sweet dreams

What can you do to stand out to buyers, deliver obvious value and make sure that you’re shortening the decision-making process:

  1. Deliver an experience that’s different and distinct from the products and services you sell. Most companies jump from brand awareness to product specifics. As this research points out, buyers want a different experience. They want one that delivers value. That’s what Aon understood when they launched their Global Risk Management Survey, one of the company’s key thought leadership pieces that’s published biannually. The reports looks to understand the top risk concerns that companies around the world are facing today and those that are on the horizon. Delivering a portfolio of experiences like this is what moved Aon from an unknown runner up in its industry to a solid number one.
  2. Content with purpose. Marketers habitually create ad hoc pieces of content without thinking of the total experience they want to create. This is why there’s too much content and it’s so confusing. Before you create that next whatever, ask what the purpose is behind it and how it connects to other content that you’re creating. Ensuring that content inspires people to want to engage with the next piece means making it obvious what that next piece is, and then saying “no” to anything else that detracts from it.
  3. Be draconian with your brand story. It’s not enough to have a brand story. You have to be relentless about telling it consistently year after year after year every chance you have, inside and outside your organization. This is how you engrain your story, and the purpose of your brand, into the DNA of any company. Before you can deliver consistent, relevant experiences for your audience, you have to be able to consistently tell that story every time, in every channel.
  4. Simplify. Buying processes are stretching out because buyers struggle to understand what differentiates potential vendor partners. B2B purchases are complex. Marketers have a mountain of opportunities to make it easier for customers and prospects to understand their problems and what it takes to fix them. As yourself, “How can I become the Chief Complexity Reduction Officer?”
  5. Take a risk. Respondents were loud and clear about this – 90% say they’re having to become more creative and innovative to compete with other suppliers in the market. That’s the only way that any company can stand out from the competition. While risk is…well…risky…you can temper it. Taking a creative risk doesn’t mean turning everything upside down and turning marketing into an unrecognizable animal. Start with small risks, observe, learn and strengthen your creative muscle while learning tolerance along the way.

 Now tell us, as B2B marketers, what keeps you up at night?

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.