Change is nothing new to B2B marketers. Throughout the last two decades, modern marketing practices have exposed siloed talent pools, introduced process rigor that frustrates creative marketing minds, taxed marketing bandwidth, exposed skills gaps, and challenged the traditional dynamic between sales, marketing, and product organizations.

And B2B marketers adjusted.

So it’s no wonder that B2B marketers believe their teams are innovative.

Sadly, they are mistaken.

We asked global marketers to rate their companies’ use of marketing innovation activities in a Forrester Analytics Business Technographics® Marketing Survey while also answering the 20 questions that comprise Forrester’s Marketing Innovation Maturity assessment. To be fair, it was challenging to score in the “advanced” range: A marketer would have to respond “completely agree” to 13 out of 20 questions and “agree” to the other seven. While 68% of global B2B marketers believe that their companies’ use of marketing innovation activities is mature, only 4% scored as advanced practitioners in our maturity assessment.

B2B Marketing Leaders Must Build A Sustained Competency For Continuous Innovation

Of course, some innovation happens organically. During the pandemic period, B2B marketers delivered an object lesson in rapid adaptation. In a matter of weeks, physical events became digital experiences that are now morphing to hybrid experiences. Demand marketers created meaningful engagement with late-stage prospects via digital executive events to accelerate deals. Suddenly, separated teams learned to collaborate, create, and invent without a conference room, flip chart, or whiteboard.

The pandemic demonstrated to marketing leaders that in a volatile and uncertain world, a capacity for innovation is essential.

CMOs who understand the innovation imperative don’t count on serendipity. They aim to catalyze and cultivate innovation. In fact, B2B marketing leaders can operationalize an organizational competency for innovation by focusing on six change levers.

Culture: Make innovation a part of everyone’s job. Don’t relegate innovation to a department or role (new product development, research and development, strategy, etc.). Make it everybody’s business. Think about the ways that your company delivers value, and target innovation opportunities across the entire customer lifecycle and throughout your extended ecosystem. Look at the dimensions of experience, operational efficiencies, process improvements, new markets, and new go-to-market models. To build or strengthen your innovation culture, make innovation a hero. Continuously question the status quo. Celebrate the good ideas that flare up and die fast. They are more valuable in an innovation culture than the ideas that smolder, simmer, and percolate until their impact is diminished. The ultimate value of innovation is a combination of its impact and its timely introduction.

People: Don’t throw people at your challenges. Our data shows that innovation laggards hire, cultivate, and leverage human resources in very different ways. They spend significantly more of the marketing budget for people than the advanced innovators (41% more — at the expense of technology and data). But they don’t invest as much in those human resources. Respondents from advanced innovators strongly agreed, fourfold, over the beginners that their firms continuously attract new candidates to the marketing team and use multiple methods to develop marketing skills.

Structure: Create an idea factory. Everybody has ideas. Innovation leaders know how to use those ideas to fuel a continuous cycle of innovation. Sadly, in Forrester’s Future Of Work Survey, 2022, only 57% of B2B respondents reported that innovative ideas get acted on very quickly. Innovation laggards can begin by removing structures that create friction and stop the flow of ideas at organizational borders. Begin to establish communities of practice to cross-pollinate across geographic divides and communities of interest to leverage every employee’s unique slice of genius. Structure is how innovation is scaled and sustained. Yet in Forrester’s Priorities Survey, 2022, only 18% of business and technology professionals who indicated that improving their ability to innovate is a priority for their organization reported that their firm has established a center for innovation.

Process: Foster nimble practitioners. Most marketing teams have a shared drive full of templates for common projects with repeatable tasks and patterns — such as launching a campaign, exhibiting at a trade show, or launching a new product. But when it comes to joined-up, end-to-end processes, most marketing teams don’t have the same level of process rigor. Our research into the practices around process revealed that the B2B marketing innovators were four times as likely to strongly agree that their marketing workflows are fast, iterative, and responsive to changing needs.

Technology: Learn to leverage emerging tech. A wealth of new technologies has emerged in recent years to help marketers manage an increasingly complex set of processes, making martech a game-changer for B2B marketers. Marketing technology (martech) consumed about 21% of the B2B marketing budget for our advanced innovators and 18% for our beginners. Advanced innovators also planned to invest more than beginners in the next year (65% compared to 49%, respectively). Not surprisingly, our B2B marketing innovators are in the vanguard, with higher adoption rates of both marketing automation platforms (63% to 39%) and account-based marketing technologies (63% to 33%).

Measurement: Raise the bar on accountability. B2B marketers have fallen into the trap of using primarily readily available metrics; effectiveness (conversion) and response rates top the list of metrics that global B2B marketers routinely use to evaluate the health of their marketing program. But marketing innovators set the bar higher. Eighty percent of respondents in innovative organizations strongly agreed that their teams “communicate specific metrics that demonstrate marketing’s impact on overall business performance,” compared to slightly more than half of the intermediate segment and a scant 14% of the beginner segment who answered the same. But the measurement competency goes beyond metrics to include goals and governance. Respondents in advanced-innovator companies indicated that their marketing teams and policies more strongly aligned around shared goals. And marketing innovators are five times more likely, based upon 77% strongly agreeing (vs 14% of beginners), to take action based on marketing measurement.

Innovation Is Essential, But Don’t Take It For Granted

Don’t trust that sufficient innovation will happen organically. Innovation leaders make it a priority to catalyze and cultivate innovation. They execute with specific practices and processes.

Learn what these practices and processes are and how to instill innovation within your organization in our on-demand webinar, The Innovation Imperative For B2B Marketers. Watch it on demand.