Sometimes, it’s just not that easy. Why do we dislike hearing that truth so much?

“Too Simple,” a recent blog post by best-selling author Seth Godin, got me thinking about the impact that over-simplification currently has on many areas of B2B marketing. The desire to make everything simple is lulling us into believing that great marketing execution is easy. To put it simply, that’s just not reality. Here’s my proposal:

Let’s make 2013 The Year of Realistic Thinking.

Why? If I’ve learned one thing over the last few years at SiriusDecisions, it’s that there’s a burning desire among marketers to simplify everything. From lead scoring and measurement to the buyer’s journey, customer lifecycle and the messages created to support it all, a common mission is to reduce the complexity. This can often be a good thing; for example, it helps us make decisions faster or prevents us from over-engineering execution. But other times, the insistence on a simple story causes marketers to lose some of the nuances that can make a big difference.

As Seth Godin put it in his post, “If it were obvious, everyone would do it.”

The following three areas are most in need of tapping into the power of realistic thinking:

Marketing measurement. If we can agree that the typical B2B buying cycle is complex, involving many participants over a long period of time, then we can surely agree that measurement should reflect this complexity and not just report on what’s easy to collect. If we can also agree that marketing must do more than demand creation, then it’s also reasonable to say that measurement cannot look exclusively at demand creation and be considered complete. Fight the good fight to keep measures of influence in the reporting mix. While systems may push us to over-simplify the link between tactics and revenue outcomes, people don’t have to give in to that default view. Instead, let’s create appropriately nuanced measurement views that help us make smarter investment decisions to support a complex, multifaceted journey and to understand marketing’s impact on it.

Customer insights. There’s no shortcut to good insights about the people who buy from us, the companies they work in, and what they need to be successful. No single survey or report can replace the systematic collection of information from multiple sources to create an understanding of needs and issues. This will deliver competitive advantage to those who take the time to do it well. These insights support more effective demand creation and customer lifecycle support, and form the foundation for fact-based planning and execution as well as creative work. Guessing at the right answers and hoping they’ll stand up to the demands of account-based and solution marketing just isn’t reality.

Marketing messaging and campaigns. Let’s do away with the notion that a campaign is a single activity, or even a short string of activities, and instead embrace the reality of an interconnected buyer and customer journey with many influences over a long period of time. If we do that, and create campaigns to support this complex reality, we’ll be on our way to marketing that can deliver better results while actually costing less to execute. Now that’s a reality most marketing leaders would be happy to embrace.

I wish you a new year filled with things that are, to paraphrase Einstein, made as simple as possible. But not simpler.