The Future of B2B Marketing. Challenges and Chances
See where B2B is going, that´s how the BMA advertises for it´s 2014 global conference in Chicago. The topics are big data, automation, ROI, the relationship between CMO and CIO and Sales, faster business results, improvement of margins and the role of marketing in the innovation process. Our US partner Godfrey has organized a conference titled FWD.B2B, with a keynote of R.Oliva, head of the US ISBM Institute, presenting his study: trends in B2B. There the themes were very similar to the ones in Chicago and those that Forrester names in its B2B trend studies.
All are convinced: If marketing redefines its role as one that drives growth, it´s short and longterm future is brilliant. But it requires a change to more strategic thinking and results in new tasks for marketing. The most important challenges are the following:
On the one hand this means to collect relevant insights on prospects, clients and their decision processes. Customer journey analysis helps to extract and gain granular customer and market knowledge. In the B2B arena decisions are complex, last long and involve many people. Touch point analysis demonstrates that a lot of new tasks in pre- and after-sales periods and in the intergation of the total process are waiting for marketing. According to Foster up to 60% of all decisons are already made long before a salesman calls. That´s why brand building has got top priority and why communication has to meet the actual needs for information at the right time. The member of buying teams expect different information at different times. During the inspirational phase they look for neutral evaluations, in the search phase case studies are most welcome, when they are in the comparison phase facts and ROI numbers score highest and in the phase of confirmation service offerings and success stories are needed to increase loyality and turn customers into fans of a brand.
On the other hand customer centricity means not only to know touch points and information needs, but also content optimization. It is important to create content that meets the emotional needs of the clients. Successfull brands do not only tell about features and advantages of their products and services, but also offer additional value to the prospects and clients. Strong content marketing creates value, gives answers to the clients´ questions that keeps them awake at night, solves business problems or offers a stage, where the prospects and clients may present their brands and expertise. Sometimes even entertainment helps to build and sustain close bonds and trust. When the needs of the clients are put in the center of the communication then good business results are created. Topics and interests you may find through search and keywords analysis, but also through close exchange with sales.
Build stronger interfaces between marketing and other functions
"Together we are stronger" this is an old wisdom. According to the above mentioned American researchers this is the single-most important lever for B2B marketing to impact business performance.
Particularly a close collaboration between marketing and sales helps to reach that goal. Lyfe cycle management is the buzz word. At a certain point sales and channel partners take over critical roles in the race, but without the fast prerounds by marketing and the rounds after the sales, without a joint language and without a smooth handover of the baton you hardly can reach the intended organic growth of the company.
Also the marketing / innovation interface gains importance. Product and process development may benefit from client and market data collected and analyzed by marketing. In some leading companies there are cross departmental innovation teams installed. They have jettisoned old structures and protocols, concentrate on innovation and growth. Marketing managers are at the nucleus of these teams or the leaders. The success of these teams is extraordinary.
The convergence of marketing and technology
Social media, marketing/sales automation, the cloud and big data are altering buying behaviors and upsetting business models.
Big data,the hype in B2C has now reached B2B. The Goal is to collect as many data on clients as possible, such that are hidden somewhere in the own company, as well as those ones from external databases and social media. In B2C this is a valid goal, the data is analyzed and used to segment target groups and allows to optimize both marketing mix and allocation of the high media budgets.
But in B2b the game mostly isn´t about huge data or huge budgets. Target groups are relatively small and seldom exceed the Million mark. Global players normally segment by country and language. Nevertheless it makes sense to improve data collection in order to be able to turn from mass communication to addressing clients individually at the right time with the right message using the right channel. Data Collection and Data analysis will require big parts of the budgets as does marketing automation to optimize processes. Nevertheless it may be worth to make these high investments, because social media, the cloud and big data will change buying patterns and evolve purchasing practices.The digital customer experience will burst traditional boundaries. Therefore marketing practises and business models will have to constantly change. CMO/ CIO Tandems or CMO´s and Consultants, with skills in marketing and IT, may best manage these challenges.
Optimizing Marketing`s contribution to drive business results
ROI will get more important. There were a lot of changes in the last years, but we are still far from proving Marketing´s real contribution. Caution to The easy to prove success rates delivered by new media agencies, not only because likes and fan numbers may be bought from suppliers that sit somewhere in the third world, but also because web-traffic or e-mail opening rates mean not necessarily business results. In minimum one should strive for qualified leads. But the real and only goal should be an increase of revenues and margins and loyalty of clients to allow for recommendation, cross- and re- selling. That means for marketing: forget about reports and plans that only list activities and turn to a result orientated planning and reporting system. These change needs time, for that reason meanwhile reach, engagement and client satisfaction and conversion rates may be good indicators for the real success.
Strengthening of branding and creation
Last but not least we have to mention creativity. In the BMA14 Programme this is also listed and Forrester talks on the right balance between investments into data and analysis and into brand building and creatvitiy.
Brands create trust. The ever increasing information overhaul will even grow more and hit us 24/7 with mobile channels. To be able to reach customers and prospects you have to defy the ordinary, you have to be unusual, simple and fast.
Consistent branding, images and emotional content and stories, that are easy to grasp and address emotions, create interest and build trust, all this gains importance. Coding and data cannot replace copy and art. In contrary: brilliant, strategic brand guides and CD´s, art, copywriters and video ninjas will be the best friends of the CMO´s, when and if they create stories that fascinate and inspire, that evoke customer engagement and in the end impact business performance.
Ingrid Wächter-Lauppe, CEO Wächter & Wächter Worldwide Partners in collaboration with Partners at Slack, Godfrey, Winsper, all Partner agencies in worldwidepartners.com/global-b2b-network.
This article is published in GWA business-to-business. FA edition. 2014.