Google “leading provider.”
If you did, then you found a comedy of commonality – 23 million results of blandly-worded B2B marketing and press release content. You found leading providers of everything from “threat intelligence” to “commercial transportation solutions” to “order management.” But, after reading the first paragraph of this blog, you likely already forgot who these companies are and what they actually sell.
These two words alone won’t ruin an organization. However, they are a brown M&M indicating a much deeper problem: the failure to present a meaningful, differentiated brand to your customers. They are a red flag that your Sales & Marketing investments could be better utilized.
If you’re a sales leader, you care about differentiation. If you’re a CMO, you care about a compelling brand. Yet, describing your business in such milquetoast terms accomplishes neither. So why do we always end up back in the leading provider box?
It’s easy to point to superficial causes such as fear or laziness on behalf of Sales & Marketing. But, most of the B2B marketers I know could come up with better in their sleep and are themselves frustrated with this outcome. The root cause is more systemic:
- Your CEO doesn’t own the brand. CMOs can’t shape a meaningful brand without the CEO. No CEO that I’ve met dreams of leading a “leading provider.” Unfortunately, most B2B CEOs don’t know what it means to take ownership of a brand. As a result, they allow internal and external pressures to conform them to a watered-down view. To earn CEO ownership, CMOs must build a case and articulate a clear strategy that maps to higher valuations and sustained sales performance over time.
- Your organization is too internally-focused. In many B2B organizations, Sales and Marketing are too focused on the assets available to sell to customers today. The result is a continuous cycle of feature/function selling, speed/feed marketing, and thousands of “leading provider of XXX solution” companies. Evolving the message to one that is more client-centric disrupts this cycle, and Sales ultimately pushes back because they are comfortable with the existing narrative. Marketing must make the case, then partner with Sales to educate on the problem and plot a course that leads to differentiation.
- Your company lacks guts. If Apple “leads the world in innovation,” why can’t your organization claim top dog status every once in a while? Yet, for each of the 20+ million websites and press releases that use the words “leading provider” there are 20+ million marked-up Word docs that looks something like this: “the a leading provider.” The primary culprits are Legal (“can we validate this?”), Investor Relations (“it’s too forward-looking for the Street?”) and, ironically, Sales (“what if our competitors make the same claim?”). Boldness is a business decision, and a case can be made. That said, if you can’t win the fight, change the game. Don’t be forced into bland compromises.
- Sales, Legal and IR have more power than Marketing. There isn’t a nice way to say this: Marketing’s seat at the Executive table, especially in B2B, must be constantly earned. When this is the case, any position that impacts sales, risk or valuation can’t elevate to serious consideration. This lack of parity requires fearlessness and temerity while pushing the subject uphill.
NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt famously said that “second place is just the first-place loser.” So, if you’re not going to claim the pole position, what’s the point? B2B marketers have been the subject of ridicule over this leading provider thing for more than a decade. While it’s usually not the fault of lazy marketers, it is Marketing’s problem to fix. This will only happen by navigation the deep-rooter internal issues that lead to leading providers in the first place.