A Great Question: Why Don’t Big Companies “Get It?”

At our event in the Bay area last week, Marketo Marketing Director Jon Miller gave a very compelling presentation about how they’ve put a comprehensive sales and marketing strategy together that not only blows away performance benchmarks in his category, but outstrips what would be considered “Best of Breed” campaigns. At the same event, someone from a huge company asked who were the companies that were “doing it right” in B2B. A panel of very smart B2B marketers looked at each other, struggling to come up with a single name. Finally, Jon said “Well, I think we’re doing it pretty well.” It might have sounded boastful, but Jon had the numbers to back up his claim.

I’ve thought about that a lot in the few days since. Why can a small company like Marketo put together a digital campaign that integrates all the right pieces and gets them to click while a Fortune 500, with all their resources available, can’t?  Why are smaller companies much more likely to “Get It”, with a big G?

“Getting it with a Big G”

First, I should explain what I mean by Big G “Getting It.” When I look at the most successful marketers in the digital ecosystem, they have a unique ability to position themselves at exactly the right place on the digital adoption curve. They can read where their markets are going and seem to be there at the right time with the right offering. They offer something so compelling that adoption is a no brainer. These companies have a magical ability to combine the promise and advantages of game changing technology with a intuitive sense of what the market wants. Think Amazon, eBags, NetFlix & Zappos.

Hmmm..you say. No B2B companies in that mix? I would put Salesforce there, but after that, it gets difficult to think of B2B marketers who have found the sweet spot of the adoption curve. That’s why our panel was stumped when asked for examples of B2B companies that “Get It.”

I think the answer lies in the inherent nature of the companies that “Get It”. I suspect there are things that are natural here that it’s almost impossible for bigger companies to emulate. This follows up an earlier post about companies that seem to naturally benefit from SEO. As I thought more about it, I realized it comes down to a few common things:

Top Down, Bottom Up Buy In – Getting a company aligned and on the same page is just a whole lot easier when an executive meeting consists of leaning back in your chair and yelling across the hallway. There’s immediacy of communication and, through this, agreement, that’s intoxicating in a smaller company. If you get executive commitment to an initiative, the entire company can know about it and start executing in minutes if required.

Nimbleness –  With quicker communication comes nimbleness. Smaller companies move faster than big companies, and in the digital marketplace, that’s a vital advantage. If you get that rarest of animals, a small company with seasoned executives who have “been there, done that”, you get a tremendously effective execution machine: a company who knows what to do and can actually do it without dealing with energy sucking inertia.

Growing Up Digital – The handful of companies that I see have almost all grew up in a natively digital market. The online marketplace is baked right into their DNA. Another important point: they get technology, but they’re not star struck by it. If they’re chasing a social media strategy, it’s because they understand that it’s because conversations are happening and they need to be part of them, not because they’ve been caught up in the buzz and hyperbole of it.

It’s Not Marketing, It’s How We Roll – The idea of marketing as a separate department or discipline seems to belong to a past generation. In the successful new breed of companies that “Get It”, marketing best practices are so deeply woven into the fabric of the company that it’s impossible to separate them from all the other stuff the company does. They just do the things that are right for the customer, and everything good seems to naturally flow from that. If you want to call it marketing, fine, but it’s not the first label they’d put on it. They tend to use words like “culture” and “core values.”

Living Closer to the Customer – This ingrained ability to anticipate customer needs comes from living closer to the customer.  There is very little distance between everyone in the company and all their customers in smaller businesses. The CEO knows and understands at a gut level what the customer wants from them. And, if you have an executive that knows how to execute (rarer than you might think) you’ve got consistently happier customers.

Those are my observations after a few days thought, but this question of why smaller, newer companies seem better positioned to evolve in the new marketplace is one that needs more thought. If you could take a few minutes to share any examples of companies that you think embody these characteristics, I’d be grateful. Just add a comment to the blog and I’ll start compiling a list of examples to both share and to take a closer look at.

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