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The real audience for B2B marketing is... not the c-suite. Here’s who you need to target

The c-suite shouldn’t be the target for marketers

Business-to-business (B2B) marketers, the c-suite isn’t the target. Sorry if you were hoping to hear otherwise. Despite the pleas from the sales and product organizations, unless you have a solution for a c-suite-level issue (and few companies have that), they are most likely not your audience, writes Carbon Design founder Scott Gillum. Here is who you really need to be focusing on and why.

Sure, the c-suite may have to make the decision and/or sign the deal because they own the budget which makes them an important target... for your sales organization, but not marketing.

There, I said it. So feel free to forward this post to your head of sales.

I can say this because the goal of marketing is to find an audience, get their attention and motivate them to take action. It’s not to sell them, which is often forgotten.

So, given that, who is the audience for B2B marketers? It’s a director-level position. Let me explain why they’re important. Actually, I’ll give you three reasons, which are all backed by ‘the numbers’:

  1. There are more of them.

  2. They feel the pain.

  3. They’re motivated to take action.

Think of an organization chart: there is a pyramid with the c-suite executive on top, vice-presidents in the middle and directors near the bottom. As you cascade down the pyramid there are more and more positions. Logically, for every one c-suite executive there are possibly dozens of director-level positions. And marketing, like sales, is a numbers game.

More important is the role each level plays in the purchase decision process. Typically, the c-suite executive is the decision maker, the vice-president is the budget holder, and the directors, well, they’re the users. And as the users of the product or services, they are also the ones who feel the pain.

Feeling the pain makes for a motivated audience and that’s who marketers need to get in front of with content. There is also another key reason why directors are important, and it has to do with motivations.

Being a source of information and bringing new ideas, vendors and solutions to the table is a smart way to demonstrate value to the organization. They’re motivated by career ambitions, so feed them information.

Not convinced yet? Here are some numbers to back up my argument. Over the past year we’ve collected data from clients on over 10,000 prospects and leads sources from marketing activities, lead nurturing programs and new marketing qualified lead (MQL) entries.

Guess how many had director-level titles? Over 60%, and that number went even higher for MQLs. Yet for some reason when we plan marketing campaigns, the target audience is often defined as the c-suite.

The problem is that the c-suite does not actively seek information from marketing channels. If they are looking for a new solution or vendors, they are relying on their network. Peer-to-peer is the number one source of information, and it’s not even close.

Marketers, it’s time to step up and defend your audience. You need to understand and build content for directors with the understanding that they will share it with their bosses and perhaps their bosses’ boss. They are the door openers as well as the path to decision makers.

For sales, they’ll also one day realize that they are key for them as well. Directors are at the beginning of the buyers’ journey, and without motivated participants it doesn’t move.

The truth is, just like the fact that the c-suite is not a viable marketing audience, marketing doesn’t actually motivate prospects to take action. Rather, it finds motivated audiences who are seeking information, and that audience is dominated by directors.

Scott Gillum is founder and chief executive at Carbon Design.

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