A study conducted by marketing and communications agency Fahlgren Mortine found that B2B marketers are playing it too safe.

New year, new you? That’s certainly not the case for marketers surveyed in Fahlgren Mortine’s recent B2B (Business-to-Business) Marketing and Communications Report, “What’s Up, What’s Next and Where’s the Value?” Among many findings, one stood out to me more than others. Business-to-business marketers—and in turn their companies—are not taking enough risk.

Considered along with the indication that organizational risk-aversion hampers marketing and communications efforts, it becomes apparent that B2B organizations and marketers tend to be conservative to a fault. This is a mistake. Marketing and communications efforts must be carefully considered, but risk should be introduced intentionally into the planning process to stimulate creativity, conversation and discomfort within the organi­zation. If you aren’t considering something that scares you in every campaign, you aren’t thinking broadly or aggressively enough. Even if you or the organization opt for the conservative route, everyone will be better for the debate – and eventually they may take the leap.

Not sure where to start the conversation? Here are some ideas:

Throw Away the Majority of Your Content.

When was the last time you studied how your sales team—and more importantly your customers—use your content? Are those printed brochures and sell sheets really moving the needle? How about that product-centric website?

Industry data suggests customers are more interested in knowledge-advancing thought-leadership content. Industry analyst research firm Forrester notes in its report, “What Does it Take to Win with Executive Buyers,” that 74 percent of buyers will choose the vendor who was first to turn a vision into a clear path to value. Yet our survey data shows that for all the content developed by marketing teams, little is used effectively by sales for a variety of reasons. And even when sales teams are using the content created by marketing, they only occasionally use it properly.

Eliminate Sales and Marketing Titles. 

Crazy? Probably. But why not collapse the two functions if your business truly is focused on the customer experience? Customers today are spending more time with a brand online doing research and learning, ordering parts and requesting service than they are in person with a traditional salesperson. A separate Forrester study notes that 60 percent of buyers today don’t want to rely on a salesperson as their source of information. Customers and prospects seek thought leadership they cannot get anywhere else. Yet many organizations struggle to deliver.

Despite the challenges, respondents believe thought leadership will be increasingly important in the future. As one unified team concentrated on the total customer experience, isn’t there plausible reason to believe sales and marketing could achieve a greater understanding of the need for this content and better secure the buy-in to deliver it? The risk is worth it if customers receive more personalized and relevant brand engagements before, during and well after the sale.

Purposely Inject Creativity into Your Team.

It should come as no surprise that creativity is a valued characteristic among marketers (see Figure 5), but it is worth noting that a small subset of our respondents said the key qualities would change if they were prioritizing B2B marketing specifically.

Among those respondents, creativity fell from the most desired characteristic to just fifth for B2B marketers specifically. Considered in the greater context this isn’t necessarily significant, but it does reflect a feeling in some corners that creativity is of greater value to the B2C marketer, and B2B marketing is more about domain knowledge and analytical thinking.

Make no mistake: Creativity can have a tremendous impact in a B2B space dominated by white papers, case studies and trade journals. Sound research, insightful analysis and deep domain knowledge are absolute necessities for successful B2B marketing communications, but without creative approaches to research and content delivery, even the most buttoned-up programs can fail to connect with the target audience. Creative thinkers forge market separation, and that’s the ultimate goal of any marketer and communicator.

Marketing communications is complex, and marketing in the B2B space introduces different types of challenges. By better understanding who we are as marketers and the shared obstacles and opportunities in front of us, we can be better communicators, better strategic thinkers, and create more value for our businesses and our clients.

Aaron Brown is an executive vice president at Fahlgren Mortine, a Columbus-based marketing and communications agency. The agency was named the Bulldog Reporter’s 2017 B2B Agency of the Year. Download the full B2B Marketing and Communications Report to read what else Fahlgren Mortine’s research revealed.