As firms look to optimize their marketing efforts in 2020, it’s imperative that business-to-business (B2B) marketers are laser focused on doing what is most likely to drive growth and make an impact.

Just as many great minds once thought the world was flat, there are plenty of B2B marketing misconceptions that are widely held and need to be abandoned in 2020. Here are five to consider:

Myth 1: B2C marketing has little relevance in B2B

For decades, B2B marketing has viewed itself as an entirely different discipline than that of its peers in the B2C or retail world. Big branding, flashy advertising, slick design, paid influencers and retail experiences have often been seen as “otherworldly” products of B2C and impractical considerations for B2B. While there are certainly historical reasons for that viewpoint, marketers who stay inside the B2B bubble are hindering innovation and keeping their firm’s marketing behind the eight ball of consumer trends that will inevitably find their way into B2B.

In fact, the lines between the two are becoming increasingly blurred as B2B customers increasingly demand B2C-like experiences in their professional lives, too. B2B buyers are after all, consumers, and these buyers have been conditioned to expect the same level of sophistication, personalization and attention-to-touchpoints that are the staple of retail brands such as Apple, Amazon, Chick-fil-a and Southwest. Just look at the list of top B2B marketing trends for 2020 and you’ll find a plethora of examples of marketing ideas that originated in B2C and at one time would have been considered mostly or altogether irrelevant in the B2B space. And while admittedly not all B2C strategies and tactics translate perfectly to B2B, forward-thinking marketers know how to look below the surface and uncover insights behind the idea that can be leveraged in a B2B environment.

Myth 2: Content marketing = thought leadership

Arguably the most definitive B2B marketing discipline of the last decade, content marketing is often a victim of numerous mischaracterizations. While it was once confused as “the new SEO,” perhaps the most rampant myth today is that content marketing is synonymous with thought leadership. In fact, in Edelman’s 2020 Thought Leadership Impact Study, this idea is endorsed by their definition of thought leadership:

Free deliverables organizations or individuals produce on a topic they know a lot about and feel others can benefit from having their perspective on. Thought Leadership, in this context, does not include content primarily focused on describing an organization’s products or services.

While Edelman is certainly a respectable organization, this definition of thought leadership sounds an awful lot like the definition of content marketing. The truth is, while content marketing can be used to promote thought leadership, the activity alone doesn’t create it. Content marketing can only support and convey what actually exists. You have to be a thought leader if your content is going to pass as thought leadership. And being a thought leader isn’t something you can simply become because you create educational content. Thought leadership is about having an ownable and unique perspective—backed by both conviction and authority.

Myth 3: Marketing technology is a magic wand

Marketing technology (MarTech) has experienced explosive growth over the last decade. Back in 2011, when Scott Brinker, editor of ChiefMarTec.com, began tracking the growth of MarTech with his Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic, there were only around 150 solutions on the market.  Fast forward to 2020 and the landscape has seen a 4,500%+ increase in solutions now available to marketers. Today there are more than 7,000 marketing software vendors, which include tools for website content management, CRM, email marketing, advertising, social media management, content marketing, SEO and collaboration among many others.

While MarTech can enable marketers to do some incredible things, it is simply a collection of tools that should be approached strategically—closely aligned to support a firm’s marketing plan and content strategy.  Marketers need to avoid the mistake of assuming that the purchase of software is going to serve as a magic wand, as all tools require a marketing strategy and varying degrees of effort.  For example, “automation” in marketing automation is a misnomer as anyone who has used the software understands that the successful implementation and use of the tool requires a great deal of strategy, programming and content. Regardless of the MarTech, the key is to view it as a means to supporting marketing strategies and tactics, not an end in itself. In other words, success will only come through hard work and investment of time and resources.

Myth 4: We already know what our clients think

Many B2B leaders and sales executives are convinced that they already have a handle on clients’ perceptions of the firm, their view of the marketplace and their current level of satisfaction. Especially for professional services firms, the less transactional and more relationship-oriented nature of the business provides support for this viewpoint. However, this viewpoint assumes that clients regularly (and always) communicate their thoughts and opinions with full transparency and candor. With that view in mind, it’s not surprising that many leaders are either skeptical or dismissive altogether of 3rd party client research (one-on-one interviews, focus groups and surveys).

However, from our experience, this is rarely the case and often there is a wealth of invaluable insights—good and bad—that B2B firms are missing out on when they do not leverage the power of 3rd party client research.  This research, especially qualitative interviews, can uncover client-specific issues and provide an indication of whether or not the marketplace views your capabilities and expertise the same as your firm does. It can also help to strengthen relationships as many clients are appreciative of being included, and it reflects well on the firm that the clients’ viewpoints are valued. The insights ultimately impact and inform a wide range of areas, from client experience, operations, brand messaging, content and business development.

Myth 5: Marketing’s work is done once the selection is made

Another myth that seems to permeate B2B is that marketing’s job is over once a lead converts to a client. For many firms—especially professional services firms—marketing’s usefulness is seen as support for sales and business development efforts, with a particular eye on the buying cycle. And while marketing’s focus on attracting and nurturing new business leads is paramount, failing to address the entire client lifecycle is missing half of marketing’s purpose.

For many firms, existing clients represent a substantial portion of their overall revenue AND future pipeline. So the end goal of your marketing should not be just to turn prospects into clients; the end goal should be to turn clients into promoters. In order to do that, your marketing strategy should specifically address the client experience, and the content and tactics needed to both nurture and engage existing clients, in addition to prospects.

Ignore the naysayers, focus on the future

While many B2B marketers no longer subscribe to these myths, this kind of thinking remains prevalent in many industries—often among leadership. Unfortunately, believing these (and other) B2B marketing myths can stifle growth, hinder innovation and negatively impact a firm’s marketing efforts. To avoid the pitfalls of these and other B2B marketing myths in 2020, firms should aim to be more forward-thinking, operating with a strategic focus and a propensity for experimentation.