Where Is B2B Marketing Headed in 2020? 7 Predictions

Forecasting the future is a dangerous but irresistible practice for observers like myself. So let me plunge ahead with seven bets on likely new developments in the world of B2B marketing.

Forecasting the future is a dangerous but irresistible practice for observers like myself. So let me plunge ahead with seven bets on likely new developments in the world of B2B marketing.

Just don’t look at my predictions from last year to check my record for accuracy, please.

“My crystal ball is on back order,” as B2B database expert Bernice Grossman is fond of saying.

This year, my predictions range from retention to robots. I welcome your feedback!

A Move From the ‘Funnel’ to the ‘Relationship’

B2B marketers are expanding their roles from just cranking out lead generation campaigns to stepping in as managers of the prospect and customer relationship, in partnership with their sales counterparts. As business buying becomes more complex, with larger buying groups and longer buy cycles, marketers will continue to embrace the contributions they can make in market coverage, sales enablement, and ABM.

Voice Search Takes Hold in B2B Buying, for Real

Business buyers are already using their Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant (“Hey, Google!”), and Cortana devices to identify potential vendors. And CPQ technology that enables configure/price/quote on more complex products is coming up quickly. So, the table is set. We marketers need to get ready by adding structured data, beefing up our FAQs, and mobile-enabling our websites to get the best advantage.

Messaging Apps Go Enterprise

As messaging app usage soars, leading providers Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) offer business solutions. The top application, so far, is customer service to solve problems quickly. But marketers are dipping their toes into product introductions, company news, promotions, and even purchasing with business customers. Of course, the granddaddy of business messaging, LinkedIn, is still the place to test the waters with these new channels.

Employee Advocacy Becomes Mainstream

Companies are realizing that they can harness their employees for customer acquisition, customer development, and HR recruitment.

Typical tactics:

  • Encourage employees to share company posts on social media.
  • Ask employees to recommend your company and its products to their friends and colleagues.
  • Provide them with logo merchandises to use and wear.

Here are some tips for how to get started.

Content Creation by Robots

It’s here. Still mostly in data-heavy fields like financial services. But as artificial intelligence tools improve, certain auto-generated copy applications are bound to follow. My guess is that some types of B2B social media posts are ripe for automation. But while I’m on the subject, let me refer you to Janneke Ritchie, who explains how robots will soon be taking on B2B tasks in areas like inside sales, customer service, and marketing operations. Yikes.

GDPR, CCPA Will Be Clarified for B2B

This is my fervent hope, anyway. Most enterprises have taken significant steps toward GDPR compliance, and are now investigating what needs to be done in the face of Jan. 1’s California Consumer Privacy Act. But what we really need is some action by regulators that will help us understand how regulatory concerns really apply to B2B vs. consumer marketing. And we also need action at the federal level here in the U.S., to simplify the current mishmash of state-level privacy legislation that is in the works.

B2B Marketers Embrace Current-Customer Marketing

Another fervent hope, but one that seems to be trending in the right direction. The new push is coming from the world of SaaS, where marketers realize that real profitability comes from attention to renewals, and defection prevention — the meat and potatoes of subscription marketing. For years, we’ve seen lead generation named as the top goal of B2B marketers, and typically a mere 15% of marketing budgets being devoted to retention activities. But when I hear software executives preaching about retention marketing, I think my hope may be justified. Customer penetration and expansion is a key source of profitable growth.

 

Happy 2020 to us all.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

5 Big Changes in B2B Buying Behavior

If you’re a B2B marketer — especially a services provider — your environment is about to be upended. Customers are changing, and so are the ways they buy. I’ve been struck recently by five glaring developments in business buying behavior that you need to know about.

If you’re a B2B marketer — especially a services provider — your environment is about to be upended. Customers are changing, and so are the ways they buy. I’ve been struck recently by five glaring developments in business buying behavior that you need to know about.

And once you know, you must consider how to adapt and, better yet, turn the changes to your advantage. Consider these.

The Arrival of Millennials in Business Buying Positions

These 30-somethings are rapidly migrating from researcher and specifier into decision-making roles. I’ve written about this before, offering ideas for how marketers can cope. But I also see this development as part of a larger trend that has deep implications for how we need to be selling and marketing today.

Use of Ratings and Reviews Sites in B2B

Comparison sites in the mold of TripAdvisor and Yelp have entered the B2B buying process; especially in crowded categories, like software and services. You’ll find ratings sites like TrustRadius, Capterra (now owned by Gartner), Clutch.co and G2Crowd, where users leave product reviews — and sellers quake in their boots. Here are some tips for how marketers can take advantage of this new channel.

Expanded Customer Requirements for Compliance

Long prevalent in government buying, companies of all sizes are increasing their requirements of vendors in areas such as sustainability, diversity, and — for manufacturers in such categories as apparel — wages, working conditions, and safety. Christine Crandell brought this to my attention recently, with examples like Marriott embracing the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals 2030 as a source of competitive differentiation, and how event planners are routinely making venue carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions an evaluating criterion in property selection.

Buyers Are Bringing Their Consumer Expectations With Them to Work

They want fast, personalized service, pricing transparency, ease of use, a human face, seamless integration across contact channels, and mobile access. We know this, but are we stepping up?

Enterprise Buying Platforms Mature

B2B buying has long been enabled by EDI, supplier exchanges, and e-procurement. But the pace is accelerating — fast. A new entrant is Globality’s platform that helps large enterprises buy services. According to Kathy Chin Makranyi, head of corporate marketing, Globality’s founders recognized that services procurement is inefficient, and ripe for change. So, they set up an AI-enabled platform that manages the entire buying process, enabling buyers to write the RFP, identify a short list of candidates — even inviting incumbents to participate, conduct the bidding process, hire for and manage the project, and handle the billing. Globality has vetted and recruited over 17,000 services providers to the platform, giving enterprises access to entirely new potential vendors. And the platform saves both time and money in managing the competitive bidding process.

“It’s a marketplace between the global 500 and a network of worldwide providers. The big services firms, the McKinseys, KPMGs, and Accentures will play, too, because it makes their sales cycles faster and easier. If you go with the incumbent, you’ve confirmed they are the best choice. Sourcing team[s] can learn and validate their work. And a provider who lost can find out ways to improve next time,” explains Makranyi.

Calling all consultants, accountants, lawyers, agencies — here’s your chance to compete on a level playing field for enterprise accounts.

 

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Mounting Dysfunction in the B2B Buying Process

Everyone is aware B2B buying is complex. But new research from Gartner suggests that things are even worse these days. It’s buying gridlock. I interviewed Brent Adamson, author of The Challenger Customer and The Challenger Sale, and got the skinny. He also has a set of good ideas for how “prescriptive selling” can help us get out of this mess.

How do you sell when your buyers can’t buy?

Everyone is aware that the B2B buying process is complex. It involves multiple parties over long decision-making cycles. In large enterprise, this can take months, if not years, and involve dozens of individuals in the buying circle.

But new research from CEB, now Gartner, suggests that things are even worse these days. It’s buying gridlock.

I interviewed Brent Adamson, sales principal executive advisor on sales, marketing & communications — also author of The Challenger Customer and The Challenger Sale — and got the skinny. He also has a set of good ideas for how “prescriptive selling” can help us get out of this mess.

Q. Your Research Found a Lot of Dysfunction in the B2B Purchase Process. Please Explain.

At CEB, now Gartner, we’ve been studying sales and marketing for years, which means that we have deep insights into the challenges within these functions. But interestingly, what we’ve been seeing is that it’s become difficult for customers to buy today. It’s certainly hard to sell, but when you look at it from the other side, it is actually harder for customers to make purchase decisions.

Based on CEB’s latest observations, here is a summary highlighting the dysfunction in the B2B purchasing process:

  • Bigger, increasingly diversified buying groups.
    It was only 2.5 years ago that we found the average buying group consisted of 5.4 stakeholders. This number is up 26 percent to 6.8 today, and the average buying group now consists of 3.4 different functions. Diversity also means different tiers within the corporate hierarchy, different geos and different teams. In many cases, these stakeholders have never worked together. Alarmingly, we’re seeing more and more purchases where the customer doesn’t even know who ultimately will be in the decision-making group.
  • Dysfunction runs rampant.
    As customer buying group diversity goes up, so does stakeholder dysfunction. They are having clear disagreements, avoiding key issues, and reporting that they weren’t being heard.
  • Decision-making takes longer than expected.
    A full 84 percent of customers report their purchase process took longer than expected — by nearly double.
  • Even indecision takes forever.
    The average purchase decision now takes 4.9 months, but shockingly, the average “no purchase” decision takes 4.7 months. So whether your average sales cycle is three months or three years, “doing nothing” takes just as long to decide as “doing something.”

Q. Why Do You Think B2B Buying Has Developed in This Way?

The world that we operate in — selling or buying — it’s a world of “more”: more information, more options, and frankly, just more people involved in a purchase decision.

Many observers wrongly conclude that all this “more” empowers customers. The problem our studies have uncovered is that this “more” is causing decision paralysis.

Q. What Can a Sales Team Do About It?

Sales teams often think they need to be more reactive. As customers demand more, they need to respond more completely and quicker than their competitors. So it’s a race to become the most responsive supplier.

However, if sales teams respond to all their customer’s demands and requests for more, when the customer is already suffering from information overload, this only makes things worse.