As previously published on 8/5/21 in The Drum

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 4 Minutes

Years ago, doctors treated gastric ulcers as a chronic disease, most likely brought on by stress or spicy foods. As a young pharma rep carrying the world’s first billion-dollar drug in my bag, I’d actively promoted how this wonder product could relieve the symptoms for their ulcer patients.

That was until the day I met a doctor who questioned why we weren’t selling a drug to cure the problem. It was a very valid point, one that would not be fully understood until a couple of years after I left that job.

Given the success of that drug, other similar products would soon follow, all for the relief of ulcer symptoms. Pharma companies followed the money, rather than investing in developing a cure.

Recently, I recalled this memory while looking at Scott Brinker’s Martech Landscape, which now includes 8,000 companies. There are companies investing millions of dollars into B2B marketing technologies that have hardly moved the needle on marketing performance – tools created to treat the symptoms of poor performance rather than fix them.

This issue has persisted for years. Performance should be improving by now, unless we’re missing something.

Here’s an example: ask a salesperson to describe their ideal buyer in detail and this is what you will likely hear. They want more buyers who are ‘risk-takers’, ‘innovators’, ‘people who are looking to make a name for themselves’ or ‘big-picture thinkers’.

What you won’t hear is prospects who are ‘technical buyers’, ‘budget holders’ or the ‘CEO’. Do you see what we are missing? Sales reps are describing personality attributes that make prospects ideal buyers, not their role, title or budget authority. The martech stack doesn’t capture those descriptors.

Still not convinced? Ask a salesperson why they lost a deal when they should have won it. You’ll probably hear “they had an existing relationship” (trust) or “they have used the solution/service in the past” (security). These are emotional decision drivers also not capturing or seen in CRM tools.

Get at the cause to find the cure

There is a buyer’s journey that is hidden. Our sales and marketing tools are not built to capture, track or provide us with insights into what to do about these ‘soft’ factors that impact deals. And it may be more important than anything we are tracking or measuring today. It’s time, like the doctor I encountered all those years ago, to ask the question of why we aren’t fixing the problem.

In 2005, a couple of Australian researchers named Barry Marshall and Robin Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work on linking the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori to the formation of gastric ulcers. They won this coveted prize after spending decades trying to convince the world of their discovery, even coming to a point where Marshall ingested H. Pylori to prove the causation to ulcers (it worked, he developed an ulcer three days later).

Marshall’s research was hugely disruptive and would eventually lead to the demise of a multi-billion-dollar therapeutic class of drugs. Their joint research in the late 80s was discredited for years, until the first drug of its type (the one I promoted) came off patent. Suddenly, gastric ulcers could be cured by prescribing a common antibiotic (which, ironically, was also manufactured by the same company).

Millions of dollars have been invested into martech tools, yet our sales and marketing performance have not improved. This industry is thriving by treating poor performance as a chronic disease – developing tools to keep the focus on extending reach and increasing scale, not on improving conversion rate or return on effort and investment.

Just as Marshall and Warren used postmortem research and forensic medicine to link the cause and effect of H. Pylori on the body, we are doing the same with breaking down deals closed, both won and lost. We are starting to get at the ‘cause’ – and to find a cure.

What we’re finding doesn’t necessarily match with the conventional wisdom of the day. Intent data may not actually show any real intent. Lead nurturing programs may be set up to nurture prospects that will never become leads. Campaigns may be targeting ‘buyers’ who are actually the exact opposite, a personality type that is more likely to kill a deal than help to close it.

It’s called personality-based marketing, and it has the promise to cure our ills… but please don’t make me ingest a lead to prove it.

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