Group of people on a business meeting

Customers are obviously essential to business success and, whether business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C), the process of acquiring and retaining them is undoubtedly the responsibility of the marketing department. In recent times, the focus has fallen on the ideal of ‘customer centricity’, embedding marketing deeper in the heart of business strategy.

However the latest research by Marketing Week, in partnership with B2B agency Omobono, would suggest that as B2B businesses grow, their regard for the power of marketing actually drops. The first part of the research found that overall marketing is seen as important but, delving deeper, there is a worrying trend towards a decrease in marketing influence in larger businesses.

The research segments UK B2B respondents into companies with turnover below £1m, £1m-£9.9m, £10m-£49m, £50m-£499.9m and £500m-plus. It covers a range of marketing issues but asks specifically how marketing is viewed in the organisation, how influential it is, what its priorities are and where the greatest challenges come from.

Getting marketing to be accountable to the wider business has helped us overcome the challenge of influence.

Carl Reader, d&t

In the smallest organisations, marketing is given the highest importance, as 69% find it very important. Marketing’s stock begins to fall with medium-sized enterprises though, as 49% of respondents rate it the same in organisations with turnover of £1m-£9.9m.

In the £10-£49.9m segment, only 40% state marketing is very important and 13% feel it isn’t important, more than double the number of the next smallest category. In the biggest companies, marketing’s importance continues to drop, with only 37% and 30% stating it is very important in the £50m-£499.9m and £500m-plus categories, respectively.

Much of this may be down to the changing nature of B2B marketing, both as a discipline as it has moved into a digital age and also within companies themselves as they evolve.

“I broadly agree with the research,” says Ben Alexander, marketing director at insurance startup Digital Risks. “Marketing’s focus changes significantly as businesses mature. When you’re working in startups, capitalisation and cash flow are king. The fundamental challenge is, can you acquire customers at the right price?”

He adds: “During your first year you’re focusing all the immediate return on investment (ROI) on marketing activities. By year three when you’re well capitalised and willing to change how much you spend on acquiring customers, you begin to look at customer lifetime value instead.”

“Marketing’s function changes over time,” agrees Heidi Birkin, EMEA marketing lead for Deputy.com, an employee management tool used by 60,000 businesses globally. “Our relationships tend to be quite long and involve repeat business. We invest as much in retaining as acquiring.”

Perceptions of marketing

Neither Alexander nor Birkin feel marketing has, in their experience, waned as their businesses have grown, but Alexander can understand why respondents to the survey might indicate the contrary.

“Over time, marketing can be perceived as less important as the business starts investing in new markets,…