Specialist vs generalist. What if you didn’t have to choose?
On the one hand, there’s the argument that a specialist brings unique expertise that can’t be found elsewhere. They provide a laser-eyed focus on a particular skillset, which is undoubtedly true. Yet this comes at the cost of needing a wide range of those specialists on tap, which is inevitably complex and expensive to manage. Imagine, for example, that you recruited separate specialists in creative, content, production, digital platforms, data and performance – at both a strategic and operational level.
On the other hand, there is a generalist approach where knowledge and skills are available across a variety of different fields; the agency offers those services under one roof; and it can potentially provide a broader, more global view of your B2B marketing. Here you will often hear a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ argument levelled at the approach.
Should it really be such a stark choice between specialist and generalist? Since one of the two alone is unlikely to provide the exact fit for your marketing needs, we at Referro like to think of ourselves as a ‘specialized generalist’. This means having the ability to see the big picture in a marketing sense, as well as being able to put together the specialized skills, expertise and technical know-how that are necessary to run cohesive, personalized and effective B2B campaigns for the digital age.
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Being a specialized generalist will always require having core disciplines at the heart of the business – creative, web development, production, strategy, planning and sales support to name just a few. But that doesn’t mean a good B2B agency should limit itself to just those services. The key here is develop strong partnerships with specialists – and prove those relationships really work – in more nuanced areas of expertise such as machine learning, analytics or SEO. We should also not forget that a ‘generalist’ B2B agency will in any case have gained specialized industry experience over the years – simply by working with similar clients in similar industries and dealing with similar marketing and technical challenges – this in itself can prove to be a very valuable knowledge base.
We’ve made the analogy before that B2B marketing can be seen like an engine which requires many different moving parts to run effectively. To continue that analogy, you wouldn’t expect an engine builder to design and fabricate every single nut, bolt, piston and belt that goes into an engine; in the same way it is difficult, if not impossible, for any one marketing company to bring an inexhaustible list of competencies in-house.
It’s better, therefore, to look for a single marketing partner who can provide the cohesion, accountability and broader perspectives that you get by combining the best of specialist and generalist worlds to reduce complexity. They should offer breadth through a wide range of skills and experiences gained over the years; plus depth, provided by specialized partnerships which ensure skillsets are always evolving in line with new technology approaches. Even better if that breadth and depth can be seamlessly extended across the world when required: which for Referro, as part of the BBN global network of independent agencies, is a given.
Just like an engine, your marketing must also be correctly fueled and firing on all cylinders to help your organization move forwards. And once the engine is running, you need to maintain its momentum – with more fuel and ongoing maintenance – in order to reach your business goals.
Here’s the challenge: the B2B machine is becoming more and more complex, so it’s harder to keep it running smoothly to deliver what your customers want. Gartner tells us that 77% of B2B buyers say their latest purchase was ‘very complex or difficult’ – not a result you want to see when you’re trying to run an efficient marketing machine.
Reducing the friction
Dealing with evolving marketing technology has always been a specialty of Referro. Our goal is to reduce complexity in your marketing machine.
Sophisticated marketing techniques like delivering personalized, omnichannel and end-to-end buyer experiences are complex to design and integrate, but they help to make the buyer’s interaction with your brand simpler. That integration requires skilled personnel across a number of different domains: be it strategic, social, media, technical, creative or production. That’s why we believe in acting as a generalist B2B agency with a whole range of specialist services that we can bring together for our clients. We explore the difference between being a generalist versus a specialist for B2B businesses in another blog here.
In building a marketing machine, you don’t want to create something way too powerful, and therefore expensive, for your business. Nor do you want to find that you have a whole pile of important parts leftover that really should have been integrated. As marketing technologists, we can help you in the process of developing the right, balanced solution. This may involve shifting from a multi-channel marketing strategy to an omnichannel one – without breaking the bank – to fully integrate digital advertising, search, email, website, content, social media and telesales, to use just some examples of key B2B channels. If this creates the ‘engine’, then data is the essential fuel that’s required to drive personalization and better customer experiences: without that quality data, you will never use technological advances such as machine learning to its full advantage.
Whatever condition your marketing engine is in currently – being built, starting slowing, or gaining momentum, we’re the kind of agency that prides itself on maximizing its operation by selecting the right marketing components and putting them together in the most effective way. And we’re more than happy to get our hands dirty in the process.
Gating, or using lead capture forms to capture data, is one of the leading methods of lead generation in digital marketing, especially in B2B marketing. Here, the company gathers information about potential buyers and stakeholders by offering content such as articles, videos, whitepapers and eBooks in exchange for personal information, such as name and email address. The company uses this data to take leads through a segmented customer journey, increase conversions, and measure and optimise various marketing efforts across channels.
A roadblock between company and customer
Today, gating as a strategic tool faces many challenges. People want knowledge, enlightenment and entertainment quickly and easily. They are less willing to give away personal information. The lead capture form is a barrier between the company and the audience. The content can have excellent quality, but if this form makes people change their minds because they are not ready to buy at that moment, the company risks that not enough people see the content in the first place.
An article published by Forbes points out that gating should be used late in the customer journey and that CMOs considering using gating should focus on two questions: What are the company’s overall marketing and business goals? And is the brand strong enough for gating to work?
The brand needs building
In increasingly challenging markets, it is precisely the brand that most companies should prioritise; This requires the company to spend time building a good reputation and establishing itself in the market. Andreas Thue, CEO of Iteo, believes that this should be at the heart of every company’s long-term marketing strategy:
“Companies that want to succeed need to invest in branding. They must provide people with valuable content that acquaints them with their business and what they can offer without requiring anything from people too early in the customer journey. A strong brand provides integrity, builds trust and allows the company to be considered a preferred partner and supplier over time,” says Thue.
Branding is at the top of the “funnel”, allowing companies to assess the quality of leads before they become sales-ready. Then you can also decide what measures should be implicated in the various channels in a better way.
Good content increases visibility
For branding to succeed, the company must make itself visible to a broad audience, preferably outside the main target groups. Sure enough, countless measurements show that open content generates more views than gated; it strengthens SEO rankings and increases spread to their networks. High-quality content is a prerequisite and should be high on the priority list.
Ville Murtojärvi is Head of Digital Marketing at the international B2B agency, Luxid, BBN’s partner in Finland. He and his colleagues constantly see that other methods provide better lead generation for their customers, both in quantity and quality. Therefore, he rarely recommends gating to his customers. “A courageous CMO should be confident that the content is good enough to create leads and sales.” Ville says that providing free value creates trust and warms up the audience, making them more ready to ‘commit’ later.
Collect data in other ways
Among the different ways to collect data, Murtojärvi gives this example: “A short and engaging introductory video can provide data on who has seen the video and how much they have watched; This can indicate a potential customer base, which may then be offered something else, such as a carousel ad. The further along the customer journey, the stronger the interest of the audience that stays behind without you pushing a purchase. When you later request information through, for example, a webinar invitation, you know that the audience is genuinely interested,” says Murtojärvi.
Ultimately, it boils down to the question: When we know that gating can buckle the bones of branding — and we can acquire leads in other ways — does gating belong in a modern marketing strategy? For Thue, this is a done deal – there should be no gating on the creative elements that are highest up in the funnel.
Five reasons why you should ditch the lead capture form
Better organic visibility: Open content can lead to better SEO, lower bounce rates, and higher conversion rates – in short, your business becomes more visible online and creates more traffic among a wider audience.
Reach new customers: People are less willing to share personal data today, especially to a brand they don’t know. Don’t lose potential buyers who can find free content with a competitor. Instead, build trust, give them value, and let them get to know you without asking for anything too soon.
Better spread: Is sharing content that requires your friends and acquaintances to share their contact data equally tempting? Most likely not. Lower the threshold for your audience to share your content with their networks in channels like Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram.
Less fake data: You have no guarantee that people will provide accurate information, and a contact list full of fake email addresses or phone numbers provides no value for further marketing.
More effective methods: Today, several alternative ways exist to collect valuable data about your audience, including through open content; This allows you to build both a possible customer base and your brand simultaneously.
A survey confirms that CMOs and marketers are now recognised for their increasingly important role in the company. This pushes forward a clear need for specialists in content and distribution. The international trade magazine Marketing Week released a survey in early 2022 confirming that the marketing department is increasingly recognized for its strategic role. In the 2022 Marketing Week Career and Salary Survey, six out of ten respondents say that the marketing department has gained a greater strategic role, has greater influence and/or is valued to a greater extent. According to the survey, the pandemic has contributed to this development because the need for strategic advice has increased during a time of great confusion and ambiguity.
It started before the pandemic
Markus Svenberg, CMO at the Norwegian technology company 24SevenOffice, recognises these observations but points out that this started a few years ago. It has long been a trend that companies have tried to find new and engaging ways to reach customers through digital channels or more traditional ones. Many have experienced that the opportunity to stand out on physical and digital products has become more difficult. Therefore, other competitive advantages have been sought through brand, customer journeys, or frictionless interactions that create greater customer value. This job has often been entrusted or landed in the marketing department.
The Marketing Week survey was answered by over 4463 marketers, and it also shows that six out of ten believe they are confident in their own abilities to influence change in their organization.
Great need for specialists in data and distribution
In recent years, the marketing department has to a greater extent, been restructured and merged with other departments. This has contributed to a significant need for even more experts in data-driven marketing, especially those who can work with insight and analysis. Svenberg himself has a background from one of the largest manufacturers in the building materials industry before he announced the transition to software. He believes the need for computer specialists is as great in large and traditional businesses as in the new fast-growing IT companies.
Today’s customer group looks different than before, just as tomorrow’s customer group will look different. Seamless interactions based on intention-based data will be the future. I recently read an article calling for the generalists and not just the specialists, and I think the intersection of these is precisely where the magic happens. You have to have the generalists set the direction and the vision, while the specialists are the ones who make the magic happen. All this should happen in the marketing department. It requires marketers to open their eyes and see what gold mine lies in the data right in front of their noses, and here there are huge financial upsides.
Everyone wants the same professionals
Marketing Week’s survey shows that marketing departments are most eager to hire professionals specialising in data and analytics. This is in line with Svenberg’s own plans. “I myself recruit expertise in insight and analysis. It’s critical for us to stay ahead of our competitors and create opportunities others don’t see,” he said. The UK survey reveals these three skills that are most lacking in marketing departments:
|Data and analytics||33.4 per cent|
|Content and text production||17.6 per cent|
|Performance||17,3 per cent|
“I’m not surprised by these findings, it’s a core competency that every forward-thinking team should possess, and it’s a battle for the best minds. It’s about hitting with the right message at the right time, and then the three disciplines mentioned are interdependent,” says Svenberg.
A preference to hire rather than train
Interestingly, the survey shows that twice as many UK companies plan to cover the skills gap through hiring rather than those that will further train existing employees. “This is probably because many people have little time and great work pressure. They, therefore, need to know quickly that they have access to the expertise, either through internal resources or solid partners,” says Svenberg. He points out that the challenge with this strategy is that everyone is fighting for the same talents. It is about finding the right combination based on the marketing department’s experiences along the way and what is possible to obtain through hiring or with the agencies.
Recruitment company Teft’s recent industry study in Norway points out that those who work in the distribution sector are also the ones who are noticing the biggest upswing in wages right now. Ole Aleksander Janzso, an adviser at Teft, stated the following in this article in Kampanje: “Employees in the media agencies have experienced a tremendous demand in the labour market as advertisers have recruited eagerly during and in the wake of the crisis mood that characterized parts of 2020. This affects the salaries of those who have been in the media agencies for a while and the price they must pay to recruit new ones.”