The 5 big barriers to success

As we’ve seen, today’s B2B marketersare under more pressure to deliverpipeline and revenue than ever before(and this isn’t going to change anytimesoon). However, few of them areconfident of hitting their numbers.


Why is this?

Well, once we ignore wider macroeconomic factors over which few of us have any control, our respondents cited five main reasons for potential failure:

1. Lack of clarity from management
2. Unreasonably short timeframes
3. Sales and marketing misalignment
4. Poor quality content
5. Underperforming agency partners

These five all rank higher than theusual suspects of not enough budget, time and people. Let’s explore each in a little more depth.

What do you want from us?
It was tight at the top, but the winner on 23% was ‘Lack of clarity from management’. It’s difficult to know how to hit your targets if the targets themselves are either unclear or in constant motion.

We live in the era of the pivot where many companies (especially in tech) are in a state of constant beta. They are testing not only their positioning but their whole business with the market, trying to find the magic formula for a profitable model (or at least one that delivers the next round of funding or an advantageous exit).

It’s not just about tech and fast moving organisations however. Lack of clarity may reflect uncertain thinking at the top but it’s just as likely to be a result of poor communication between management and marketing. This will be especially so where marketing isn’t represented in the C-suite. Again, there is a tendency across B2B for marketers to talk in very different terms from the rest of the business. We see this in other studies showing declining levels of CEO confidence in the abilities of their marketing teams.

It is difficult to see how this will improve until everyone involved shares a common language around business success.



It’s difficult to know how to hit your targets if the targets themselves are either unclear or in constant motion.

Certainly most top-of-funnel activity takes time to show true pipeline and revenue results (unless you are simply focused on the initial conversion part of the picture).

You want it when?
The second major barrier, on 22%, is that timeframes are unreasonably short.

In B2B we have the conflicting demands of quarterly-driven targets and multiquarter sales cycles. More often than not, marketing is an upstream function. As such, anything marketers do today is unlikely to show a result (in revenue terms) during the next quarter.

So is this simply a case of management needing to face up to the basic realities of the market?

Yes and no.

Certainly most top-of-funnel activity takes time to show true pipeline and revenue results (unless you are simply focused on the initial conversion part of the picture). It is one thing to demonstrate you are a thought leader, it is another to show a prospect they have a problem that is both important and urgent, and it is yet another to convince them that your product, solution or service is different and tangibly better.

B2B marketers are no strangers to bottom-of-the-funnel sales support / sales enablement of course. Here we are dealing with a much shorter timeframe, helping sales to close more deals faster. But it is still the case that marketing will tend to put some materials together (the ever-present PowerPoint deck and collateral), make them available to sales, and hope for the best.

What’s missing is a more holistic, more granular view of the entire sales cycle. If like most B2B organisations you use some form of opportunity stage model, you already have the foundations for accelerating both pipeline and revenue. By examining each stage and assessing whether it is underperforming, you can plan more targeted interventions to lessen these points of friction and get things moving again.

This will enable you to deliver results across both the long- and short-term.


Sales is from Mars, marketing is from Venus

It is virtually impossible to consider barriers to B2B success without examining the lack of alignment between sales and marketing. Unsurprisingly, it came third as a key barrier in our research (on 21%).


While some of this is inevitably down to culture and, sometimes, an unfortunate mutual lack of respect, the core of the issue tends to revolve around simply not having a shared vision of success.


Fundamentally, this is about having common goals and a common language. If marketing is talking about engagement objectives and brand development while sales is talking net new revenue and time-to-close, it’s not difficult to spot the disconnect.


This is not to say that each can’t have a different tactical focus based on its particular skillset, but both should ladder up to a shared set of business objectives. And ultimately these will tend to revolve around pipeline and revenue.


If marketing is talking about engagement objectives and brand development while sales is talking net new revenue and time-to-close, it’s not difficult to spot the disconnect.

The reality is that, today, content needs to be outstanding to stand out.

“Great, more listicles!” said no-one, ever
It is now easier to create content than ever before – bad content that is. In joint fourth place on 20%, poor quality content is seen as a key barrier to success by today’s B2B marketers. (This is most acute in financial services where poor content is the most often cited barrier on 41%.)

With the focus in recent years on content, content and (you guessed it) more content, it’s probably unsurprising that quality has taken a back seat to quantity. Most ‘thought leadership’ is anything but. Too many blog posts are little more than empty clickbait. And guides purporting to be about solving customers’ critical business issues simply mask undifferentiated product pitches.

The reality is that, today, content needs to be outstanding to stand out. It needs to be psychopathically focused on the customer and their issues. It needs to be truly insightful, bringing a fresh perspective to the issues that matter. And it needs to be active – focused on the next desired action and with a clear link to achieving your wider objectives.

This sets the bar very high. Too high for many companies. But, what’s a challenge for many is a major opportunity for others.

Who the hell came up with this?

The last critical barrier to success, in joint fourth place, is underperforming agency partners (also on 20%). Again, some sectors are feeling the pain more than others. Both manufacturing and financial services appear to be suffering the most (rating this issue at 30% and 29% respectively).

Considering that many agencies will view themselves as being at the cutting edge of effective marketing communications, this will come as a shock. But maybe it’s not so surprising.

For many, the default approach has its roots in top-of-funnel awareness, brand building, and creative attention grabbing. However, as we’re seeing, B2B marketers are now under far more pressure to deliver bottom-line results. While the two are in no way incompatible, the traditional agency model will only get them so far.

Agencies are often stretched across a wide range of activities. They feel they need to be able to jump on every bright shiny new thing as soon as it launches (if not before). Content? Check. AR? No problem. Influencer Marketing? We’re all over it.

The danger with such a rapid turnover of tactics is that few are given the chance to prove or disprove their worth before everyone races on to the next. Delivering sustainable improvements in pipeline and revenue demands a more systematic approach exploring the entire sales cycle. It means conducting a more thorough diagnosis of the business problem before jumping to a possible marketing solution. And it means taking highly targeted actions to increase the pipeline and unlock greater revenue (however unsexy these may sometimes appear).

Of course, some agencies will be able to do this but many will struggle.



Delivering sustainable improvements in pipeline and revenue demands a more systematic approach exploring the entire sales cycle.