Psychology of Choice for B2B Marketing

Addressing personal values matters in B2B marketing — more than most might think. In fact, research from Motista and ThinkGoogle shows that B2B brands have more emotional bonds with their customers than B2C brands. Their findings showed that B2B brands had emotional connections with around 50% of their customers.

Addressing personal values matters in B2B marketing — more than most might think. In fact, research from Motista and ThinkGoogle shows that B2B brands have more emotional bonds with their customers than B2C brands. Their findings, which involved researching more than 3,000 brands, showed that B2B brands had emotional connections with around 50% of their customers and B2C brands had that coveted connection with only 10% – 40%.

So how do you get someone emotional about buying accounting software? Ordering a machine repair? Paper supplies and other products and services that are not known for creating warm fuzzies?

Its actually really simple: You don’t.

You get them excited about what really matters? Self actualization.

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? And that little tiny part at the apex of the pyramid he labeled “actualization”? Well, whether we get there or not, we aspire to be there. One way or another. Down deep, we aspire to do something greater than our parents did. Greater than most think we can do. Greater than our current routine?

We want to be that next great writer. Artist. Rapper. Comic. Or top-achieving business executive.

We think about these things, and then we go right back to the moment at-hand. Being the best we can be at what we are doing day-to-day. This is what we marketers need to focus on. First.

If we can provide customers and prospects with the hope that we can help them succeed at their jobs, get a promotion, maintain stability to provide for their families, achieve their short- and long-term goals, we will capture their attention.

And if we can provide more than hope, such as actionable advice that helps them refine their skills, do something better than before, we will trigger that very important response — dopamine rushes — that creates emotional bonds and passion that will be hard for anyone to break.

How do you go about doing the above? Ask your customers. Instead of asking about ways you can better serve them, keep their business, and so on, ask what they need help with beyond your products.

Start with:

  1. What are your greatest challenges each day?
  2. How are you being evaluated for your job performance?
  3. What skill gaps do you feel are holding you back?

Then create materials and activities that help them overcome these challenges. If you can do this, you will create emotional bonds that are much stronger than price, and even convenience to some degree.

It’s true that whomever provides the guidance, insights and confidence that make a difference in our world becomes a partner, not a supplier. And that distinction is what creates those bonds that secure loyalty, sales and marketing ROI.

B2B Marketing ROI — Focus on Quality Over Quantity

The efficacy of B2B marketing can be notoriously hard to measure. Due to long sales cycles and channel conflicts, most B2B marketers are underestimating the ROI of their campaigns. In an effort to improve ROI, B2B marketers often fall into the trap of measuring quantity over quality. Here are three things that B2B marketers are regularly doing but should stop.

The efficacy of B2B marketing can be notoriously hard to measure. Due to long sales cycles and channel conflicts, most B2B marketers are underestimating the ROI of their campaigns. In an effort to improve ROI, B2B marketers often fall into the trap of measuring quantity over quality. Here are three things that B2B marketers are regularly doing but should stop.

  1. Stop Making Sales Conversion Your Only Marker of Success. Yes, sales conversion is a very critical metric, but it is notorious for getting diluted or lost in a long sales cycle. Examples of this include: credit for a sale being split along multiple marketing and non-marketing touchpoints or the sales department wants full credit for the sale. The latter happens because five years back, the customer had briefly talked to a sales agent — and marketing gets no credit. As a result, marketers should have multiple conversion metrics (aside from sales) which are within the marketer’s sphere of influence. Examples include: white paper downloads, social sharing of content or mail list sign-ups.
  2. Stop Assigning Click Volume as a KPI. Yes, it is a performance indicator; however, it is not a KEY performance indicator for most B2B campaigns. First, let’s get past the fact that a clickthrough can be unintentional, click-baited or a bot. None of those clicks will have any value and baited clicks usually have negative value. However, even legitimate clicks tell you nothing about why the prospects are there and their level of engagement or sales disposition, which are the real metrics in B2B sales. Instead, focus where those clicks lead to macro-conversion activities, such as downloads or contact information shares. These post-click activities tell you much more about the level of engagement with site visitors, the types of prospects you are attracting and the relevance of your content.
  3. Finally, Stop Cold-Selling Through Digital Channels. As a B2B customer, if I don’t know you and you have not come recommended by someone, why would I take the time to learn about your company? Unless you have a very unique product that addresses an acute need and you catch me at the right moment, I am simply not going to “click here to learn more.” In my experience, these campaigns are full of low-quality clicks. Jeff Molander’s recent post “Ditch the Call to Action in Your Cold Email Strategy” provides a great discussion on why you should be aware of selfish calls to action. Aside from just being ineffective, these communications can also place your email campaigns on blacklists and hurt your overall brand.

A healthy B2B measurement program begins during the campaign planning stages. I often recommend the clients think about the digital sales development journey and how they want to develop sales opportunities. When thinking about content, I suggest that they don’t simply focus on sales conversion, but also think about content that helps prospects develop a relationship with their company. Finally, I ask them to think about measuring immediate content’s effectiveness. Tracking shares, mail list signups and other engagement activities help you understand prospect intent and confirm marketing effectiveness faster than waiting for the eventual sale.

My 3 Complaints About B2B Marketing

There are things about B2B that just tick me off. Forgive the rant, but I have to get this off my chest.

I’m always running around saying how much I enjoy B2B marketing, because it’s complex, and high ticket, and the results can be really satisfying. That’s all true. But sometimes I find it annoying, too. There are things about B2B that just tick me off. Forgive the rant, but I have to get this off my chest.

Businesses Play Their Cards Close to the Vest

Have you ever tried to get a client to give you a testimonial? Well, then, you know what I mean. I’ve had customers say, “No way, you’re my secret weapon. I don’t want my competitors to know how good this is.”

What’s particularly annoying is that testimonials are one of the most powerful tools in B2B marketing. They reduce buyer risk. They offer social proof. And in theory business people want to help each other, so you’d think testimonials should be easy to get. But they’re not. Because buyers want to keep their good things to themselves.

Businesses Think Email Is Their Best Prospecting Tool

When it isn’t. I just got off the phone with a data scientist in Bangalore who was complaining how he digs up high value prospective accounts, and his clients blast them with email, get no results and then blame him. Poor guy.

I’ve said before that I think email makes us stupid. It’s too cheap. So we get lazy. In a complex environment like B2B, you have to recognize how buyers buy. They research online. They talk to their peers. They attend conferences. They develop short lists. We need to reach them where they are, which is not talking to strangers from their inboxes.

B2B Marketers Still Duck Their Data Responsibilities

This irks the hell out of me. I am not the geekiest marketer around, but I find the power of data in B2B an endless source of fascination, and results. Where else are there so many buyers and influencers who need to be part of the decision-making process? Where else are people’s titles and job roles changing constantly?

So when marketers shy away from taking ownership of their company’s data strategy, and feeling personally connected to the need for data hygiene, I get mad. I’ve ranted about this quite recently, so I should probably shut up. But I can’t help myself. It bears repeating.

Okay, that’s the end of today’s rant. Maybe it’s time for me to go back to consumer marketing? Naw… I’m still B2B’s biggest fan.

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

The Insider’s Guide to Strategic B2B Webinar Campaigns

Webinars have been increasingly used as an interactive, visual form of content marketing, both educational and promotional. In fact, about 60% of B2B marketing teams make webinars a key part of their content strategy, as it’s easy to control the message that is communicated to your customers. That’s where strategic B2B webinar campaigns come in.

Webinars have been increasingly used as an interactive, visual form of content marketing, both educational and promotional. In fact, about 60% of B2B marketing teams make webinars a key part of their content strategy, as it’s easy to control the message that is communicated to your customers.

However, just because something is popular doesn’t mean that it is working; engagement rates for most webinar watchers are pitifully low, dipping to 15% in some cases. Getting your audience interested and invested in your message has always been a challenge, but capturing their attention is essential for growing conversion rates.

An unengaged audience is not likely to convert into customers. So you need to ensure that your watchers are actually listening and interacting with your webinar, especially while it’s in progress. Here are a few strategic B2B webinar pointers on how to do that.

Understand Who You Are Talking to in an Audience

Knowing your audience through and through is always the first step to a successful marketing strategy, and it’s no different when it comes to webinars. Using a webinar as a B2B marketing tactic is going to be different than a traditional approach, simply because of the kind of people who will be watching.

B2B customers are not your typical day-to-day consumer. B2B audiences are more motivated by relationships with a business and the measurable value that a product or service provides than saving money or buying the newest thing in the market.

In many cases, the people you are marketing to are upper-level executives who are highly knowledgeable in their industry (and, therefore, less easily swayed by standard pitches). Additionally, you will likely have to appeal to multiple people within an organization, rather than just one, as you would in B2C marketing. It follows that your webinar content should be highly focused on providing top-notch information and clearly demonstrate how your product or service will have a significant impact on the customer’s business.

Invite Your Audience’s Active Participation

Webinars must be interactive if they are going to drive engagement. If your customers wanted to tune in only to learn more about your company, then they could choose to do so from umpteen other channels, the simplest of them being your website. They choose to participate in a webinar because it is one way to interact with your business on a personal level while contemplating whether your product would work for them.

According to Bizibl’s “2017 Webinar Benchmark Report,” the most effective engagement tool during a webinar is a Q&A session between the speaker and the audience. You can collect these questions before the webinar begins through email or social media, or in real time on the webinar platform, which probably lets the audience post questions via a live chat. Answering these questions spontaneously is akin to creating personalized content or providing individual customer service.

Credit: Bizibl Marketing

A webinar should not be the same as a seminar, per se. Just listening to a speaker drone on for an hour (even when they are an interesting orator) can get fairly boring. Webinars provide you and the audience with the opportunity to have meaningful discourse, so make sure that your program is set up to promote two-way conversation.

Show, Don’t Tell

In general, most people tend to be visual learners, especially when it comes to marketing. Eight out of 10 customers would prefer to watch a video demonstration of a product, rather than read about it on a website. Plus, studies have found that when people learn online using visual aids such as video, they are far more likely to remember the information shared therein.

Again, show your customers exactly what you are talking about with live demos, rather than just explaining what your product can do. A webinar solution like ClickMeeting lets you use real-time screen sharing, file sharing, polls, private chats with simultaneous translation, and various collaboration tools to help guide your customers through a step-by-step process that helps them achieve their goals.

Credit: ClickMeeting

By sharing insightful tips and techniques live on webinars, your business can establish itself as a credible resource and an authority in your industry. Top B2B decision-makers are highly influenced by this type of hands-on thought leadership; an Edelman survey found that 48% of C-Suite executives cited educational content as the reason they did business with a brand.

Have a Plan Before, During and After

The entire process of creating a webinar as a part of your marketing campaign must be carefully planned from start to finish. First, you must determine why you’re putting together a webinar in the first place:

  • Is it to establish authority by discussing a technical topic?
  • Does it aim to educate your customers by explaining a complicated process?
  • Is it focused on brand awareness and top-of-the-funnel growth?
  • Is it a push for higher conversion rates from already engaged consumers?

Once your goals have been established, there must be a plan in place to ensure that your webinar brings in positive results. The number of attendees can vary greatly depending on a few small details. For example, people are far more likely (Opens as a PDF) to watch a webinar in the middle of the week (Wednesdays and Thursdays are best). Also, more people will attend a live webinar if they are informed of it a week or so before, rather than further in advance.

Credit: ON24

You also want to monitor audience sentiment before, during and after a webinar. Tracking ROI from marketing campaigns in general is always a challenge, but measuring results from webinars is the most difficult of all. Be sure that your team knows how to properly translate analytical data from the event and that they have the right tools to do so. Look into audience development tools, such as AmpLive, in conjunction with Google Analytics and on-site event tracking software for a better chance at determining ROI from webinars.

Once your webinar is complete, you can make the videos available as part of a resource section of your website, as well as on your YouTube (or Instagram) channel. Digital marketing and competitive intelligence solutions can do this effectively. (Disclosure: the author works for SEMrush, which is one of these tools.)

Video marketing has seen tremendous growth in the past few years, and the engagement numbers are staggering. Branded content video viewership has grown by 258% on Facebook, and 64% of consumers have bought an item after they viewed a video on social media. What’s more, webpages and social media posts with video will keep a user’s attention 2.6 times longer than those with just text or images, thus increasing engagement levels significantly.

Over to You

Webinars provide B2B companies with the unique opportunity to engage with audiences through an interactive and informative process. No other marketing platform can provide something quite this in-depth. However, this does not guarantee success: webinars require a lot of strategic planning.

Make sure that you understand who your audience is and the type of content they are looking for. Fully integrate webinars into your marketing mix. Set goals and put in place tools and systems that will help you achieve your target ROI. Remember, webinars should be informative and educational, but they should also be engaging and fun. Keep things interesting by soliciting and answering questions. And do throw in a liberal helping of humor while you’re at it.

Rich Herbst on Automation in Verizon’s B2B Customer Journey

The other day, I had the chance to meet with Rich Herbst of Ascend Marketing. His team has developed a breakthrough approach to delivering a custom communications stream to business buyers based on their particular journeys, one that recently won awards for Verizon. Very cool stuff. My gratitude to him for providing these insights.

Rich Herbst, founder and managing partner, Ascend Marketing
Rich Herbst, founder and managing partner, Ascend Marketing | Credit: Ascend Marketing

The other day, I had the chance to meet with Rich Herbst, founder and managing partner of Ascend Marketing, which is based in Dallas and Austin. Rich agreed to discuss what he and his team have been doing in B2B, and share what they’ve learned in recent years, as business buying behavior evolves. His team has developed a breakthrough approach to delivering a custom communications stream across the B2B customer journey. Very cool stuff. My gratitude to him for providing these insights.

Q: Tell Us a Bit About Your Professional Background, Rich.

When I was working on my MBA years ago, I had in mind a career in strategic marketing, but with some sort of entrepreneurial slant. I started my career in CPG, which I really enjoyed, and then transitioned into telecom/tech. During my corporate career, I somehow found my way into a series of transformational challenges, like brand relaunches and new product work — which was really invigorating. We started Ascend Marketing in 2004, and it’s been a fun and interesting ride.

Q: How is Ascend Differentiating From Its Competitors?

We work in a model quite different from traditional agencies or consultancies. Our specialty is Journey Marketing — particularly highly automated journeys — and it requires a different approach. We work very deeply with our clients to transform their marketing, from the ”inside out,” so to speak. It requires a rethink of a whole lot of marketing, sales and business processes. It’s more than just changing campaign tactics or finding a new agency. We help clients envision — and then deliver — more powerful customer and prospect journey experiences across their full lifecycle and across all channels, using advanced data and automation technology.

Q: You and Your Verizon Client Recently Won a Silver PRO Award. Congrats! What Was That Campaign, and What Can Marketers Learn From Its Success?

That was Verizon’s Quantum Upgrade program. It was more than just a campaign. It’s actually a great example of the highly advanced — and automated — customer journey approach I mentioned.

Verizon was looking for a better way to upgrade its business customers to a faster Internet speed. They also had a vision of applying more advanced automation and data technology. We began in 2016 by designing a more sophisticated journey architecture. Using the Kitewheel decisioning engine, plus a custom data platform, we created personalized experiences for each marketing communication recipient.

Each Verizon business customer received a personalized email with a unique subject line, headline, subhead, marquee header image, body copy, Verizon phone number, landing page, offer, price point, legal disclaimer, and call-to-action button. By segmenting customer data and continuously testing subject lines, body copy and creative, our custom-designed journey marketing platform automatically served emails with best-performing subject lines, creative and offers to each qualified customer. Ascend also designed custom landing pages that matched each email version.

The results were astounding. The email open rates more than doubled. The volume of inbound calls increased by 7%. Cost per acquisition went down 14%. Best of all, sales increased by 336%.

Q: Why Do You Think Journey-specific Marketing Is the Way to go in B2B Marketing?

We think the journey approach is what’s next in marketing. Rather than blasting messages at targets, we are gaining direct insight into what the customer or prospect is really seeking, in that moment, and where the prospect is in an overall lifecycle. Based on those insights, we deliver a highly attuned experience that meets them where they are. When we do that well, the results soar.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this work is interpreting, via the available data, the signals that tell us where the customer is in his/her journey. While there’s a lot of automation being used in B2B marketing today, mostly we still see marketers using technology to basically pull a list and then deliver an automated series of digital tactics.

Automated Journey Marketing goes far beyond just pulling a list. And the delivery of that experience should go well beyond the basic digital channels to incorporate sales channel experiences, personalized web experiences, and service experiences.

Q. What Advice Would You Give to a B2B Company That Wants to Start a Customer Journey Marketing Program?

Take a step-wise approach. First, it’s critical to put a sound roadmap in front of the work. Second, journey automation strategies involve real rigor in data handling. You have to align data from a number of sources and channels, and the data must be clean for the journey experiences to execute reliably.

Third, content management can be overwhelming if not taken in steps. To design and deliver well-attuned journey experiences, you need to assemble the relevant content. Plus, you need more refined versioning of the creative to make sure each touchpoint matches the customer’s needs and preferences.

With those foundational pieces in place, the automation work is more likely to succeed.

Q: Things Are Changing so Fast These Days. Where do You See Future Opportunity for B2B Marketers?

I think that B2B marketers who can strategically get their arms around the advanced insights and tech tools available today will be able to write their own tickets.

The B2B Marketing Ironies of Our Time

I’ve been noticing some ironies in the world of B2B marketing lately. You know what I mean. When the common wisdom is one thing, but the reality is another. I get annoyed. Especially when the so-called common wisdom is driven by the profit motive, or by fashion, or political correctness. Let me share a few ironies that I’ve noticed, and I hope readers will add others to the list.

I’ve been noticing some ironies in the world of B2B marketing lately. You know what I mean. When the common wisdom is one thing, but the reality is another. I get annoyed. Especially when the so-called common wisdom is driven by the profit motive, or by fashion, or political correctness. Let me share a few ironies that I’ve noticed, and I hope readers will add others to the list. Or tell me to shut up and talk about something else.

When Inbound Goes Outbound

Here’s an interesting one. Hubspot preaches inbound marketing as a mantra, right? The theory is that if you post irresistible content to your website, you’ll rise in search rankings and attract interested buyers to find you. The result: You get higher quality prospects, with higher conversion rates and at lower cost than traditional outbound marketing. Which is true. But it’s gotten to the point where some marketers have gotten the impression that outbound marketing is bad, inferior, old-fashioned, or maybe even immoral.

But guess what? Turns out Hubspot’s own growth as a software company has been driven via cold calling through an inside sales team. Yep. Even Hubspot realizes that you can’t get all the B2B business you deserve using inbound marketing alone. An interview with one of Hubspot’s former sales chiefs actually made their call center sound like a pretty well managed and productive organization. Kudos to them.

The Digital Revolution Will Be Direct Mailed

Here’s another. Google and Facebook are leading the digital marketing revolution. Budgets continue to shift to digital channels. Marketers are abandoning print and face-to-face channels in droves. But, hold on. Did you know that both Google and Facebook use dear old direct mail for cold prospecting in their ad sales businesses? I’ve seen actual samples. Their direct mail is first rate, including benefit-laden outer envelopes, a compelling offer to motivate response, supplemented by powerful calls to action and easy-to-use response vehicles. Ironic, isn’t it?

B2B Opt-in Isn’t Optional?

Now, my last example involves an irony that had an impact on me, personally and professionally. Back in 2010, I was invited to become a contributor to Harvard Business Review’s online publication. What a thrill! I quickly prepared two articles, and when the first was published, was dismayed to see that it caused a firestorm of criticism.

In the article, I made the case that email marketing policies in B2B should be more flexible than those in consumer, when it comes to strict use of opt-in. My rationale is that business buyers need information from suppliers to do their jobs, and they want to be up to speed in their fields. So, if a prospect leaves behind a business card at a trade show, for example, the exhibitor should feel comfortable following up with an email.

The response was immediate, and it got nasty, fast. Readers argued that nothing justifies opt-out email behavior — which is ironic because opt-out is in fact the guideline operational under the CAN-SPAM Act.

But here’s the larger irony, which made me both laugh and cry: A few months later, at a conference, I spotted the booth of the very company where one of my most vicious critics was employed. So I stopped by the booth to find out more about their services. And just as I turned to leave I asked what if any way they planned to follow up with me. “We’ll probably send you an email,” they said. I rest my case.

My conclusion? Whatever is in fashion, or what people think is working — remember that the basics still drive B2B marketing. It’s the daily blocking and tackling of account targeting, sales lead generation, outbound communications, call centers, data management and building a trusted reputation that drives business growth.

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

10 Most Fascinating People in B2B Marketing From 2017

Top 10 lists are everywhere this year. I even ran across a top 10 list of top 10 lists—hilarious! My list is about the most interesting people that I came across in B2B marketing during 2017. I find them fascinating not only as interesting people, but also for making valuable contributions to our business and our world. So, meet this year’s fascinating B2B marketers.

Top 10 lists are everywhere this year. I even ran across a top 10 list of top 10 lists — hilarious! My list is about the most interesting people that I came across in B2B marketing during 2017. I find them fascinating not only as interesting people, but also for making valuable contributions to our business and our world. So, meet this year’s fascinating B2B marketers, and let’s not forget the outstanding members of my lists in 2016 and 2015.

Katie Martell

Katie Martell coined the term “on-demand marketer” to describe herself and her business. Very apt. After years of developing wildly creative PR strategies for D&B NetProspex and Aberdeen Group, she now advises companies large and small on how to create buzz in B2B. Have a look at her case for how to manage PR in the “age of the Kardashians.” The payoff? So that sales people can operate in an environment where prospects say “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of you.” We all need some of that.

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner was SAP’s pioneer in developing the powerful Internet marketing strategy of building a website community to serve the information needs of top-of-the-funnel business buyers, to generate leads and “own the category.” His new book The Content Formula explains how you can do the same: how to find the budget, sell the concept, and measure the results. Highly recommended.

Anahi Traba

Anahi Traba takes B2B marketing to the streets, as CMO of the gigantic construction equipment company Sullair Argentina. Sullair’s headquarters in Buenos Aires is located in the funky industrial neighborhood of Barracas. Their yard crammed with forklifts and cranes is surrounded by a 7-foot concrete wall. As Anahi noticed graffiti artists tagging in the neighborhood, the idea hit her: Why not invite these neighbors to use the Sullair wall as a canvas? The project turned into a huge community relations win, with enormous press coverage, books, films, and even the birth of an in-house employee-driven photography project. “I like to combine the art and science of marketing,” she says.

John Whelan

John Whelan heads the for-profit media division of HIMSS, the global association for healthcare information and technology. I’ve served on John’s board for 5 years now, and recognize him as a master of extracting value from media properties — trade pubs, websites, databases, seminars, conferences, online training programs — and rounding up data sources across a complex organization. To his credit, he achieved the difficult milestone of moving the trade pubs to 100% digital in 2016. Bravo.

Steve Greshik

Steve Gershik, B2B consultant and thought leader, is developing some fresh thinking for B2B marketers that I find very compelling. He calls it the “funnel beyond the funnel,” namely a strategy to systematically address the opportunity to deepen existing customer relationships — an area often neglected by B2B marketers in their relentless search for leads. “Spending 80 percent of marketing investments on net new customer acquisition spells doom for B2B marketers, especially those in SaaS and other subscription businesses,” says Gershik. “It’s the post-sale experience where success lies.”

Amy Guarino

Amy Guarino and I first met in 2014, when she was heading Marketo’s effort to foment the marketing automation revolution in Japan. Hats off: Marketo is well established there now. Last year, Amy moved to her next hot trend, artificial intelligence. She’s now COO of Kyndi, a startup AI platform focused on government, healthcare and financial services. Kyndi’s hook is taking AI out of its black box, and making it “explainable,” so users really understand the reasoning behind the conclusions.

Todd Lebo

Todd Lebo began his career in marketing for newsletters and other business publications, and has cleverly migrated those skills to build Ascend2, a nifty research program that B2B marketers — mostly in martech — use for content development and lead generation. Marketers value Asend2 for their 60,000-name database of marketing professionals who answer survey questions and request the results. Journalists love it for the hard data that fuels great stories. Hint: How about someone extends this model to other B2B segments, like manufacturing and financial services?

7 B2B Marketing Predictions for 2018

New-year predictions are a dangerous business. I will take the risk, and just hope that at the end of 2018 no one looks back to call me on it! B2B sales and marketing are evolving quickly — as buying behavior changes, and new technologies take hold. So, there’s a lot to talk about.

New-year predictions are a dangerous business. I will take the risk, and just hope that at the end of 2018 no one looks back to call me on it! B2B sales and marketing are evolving quickly — as buying behavior changes, and new technologies take hold. So, there’s a lot to talk about. But I shall limit my predictions to just seven, and hope they provide food for thought to my fellow followers of the B2B marketing scene.

1. More Growth in Marketing Technology — and More Consolidation

Ever since Scott Brinker began tracking the marketing tech space in 2011, when he identified 150 point solutions on the market, the category’s growth has been unstoppable. In 2017, he counted 5,381 solutions, up 40% from the year prior. This is nuts. And ripe for consolidation, as buyers sit paralyzed by the deluge, and vendors scramble to stand out. I predict major M&A next year. One corollary point is that marketing executives will need to be tech savvier than ever to manage their ever-growing stacks.

2. Predictive Analytics Becomes an Essential Tool in B2B

Data and modeling are nothing new in B2B, but the tools and strategies that have entered the toolset in the last few years are setting us up for a new kind of data-driven future. Particularly in prospecting, new resources like purchase signals (“intent data”) and lookalike modeling will continue to expand marketers’ access to new audiences and provide scale to their ABM programs. Look to Lattice, Mintigo, 6Sense, Leadspace and MRP Prelytix.

3. AI Gets Real

The marketing buzzword of the year, artificial intelligence will in 2018 prove its value in speeding up data processing and applying machine learning to digital advertising, predictive analytics, responsive websites, chatbots, and all manner of customer management. Look, when Salesforce.com introduced an AI plug-in called Einstein, my point was proved.

4. Self-service Analytics

As marketing tech gets more complex, and CMOs are close to controlling tech budgets as large as CIOs, next up is the need for simplicity, and new ways for marketers to take advantage of technology without becoming total geeks. Enter self-service, which essentially means more sophisticated business intelligence tools that feature ease of use along with speed and power. IBM’s Watson may be the most famous of the bunch. But cheaper, more accessible competitors will be coming along, I reckon.

5. GDPR Will Give B2B Marketers a Break

This is certainly wishful thinking, but my gut says the EU regulators will clarify whether some exceptions — or workarounds — may be available to B2B marketers as the May 25, 2018, deadline approaches. net in the UK has prepared a useful guide for B2B marketers on how to begin their compliance efforts. Meantime, Forrester predicts that 40 percent of marketers are going to take their chances and not even try to comply.

6. Customer Experience Will Become a Key Discipline in B2B

It’s been a long time coming, but B2B marketers are finally waking up to the fact that purchase decisions are based far less on price and more on direct and indirect experience with the product, the brand and the company.   Even in B2B, where things are supposed to be so rational. Sirius Decisions has been following this topic for some years. As interest grows, so will marketing departments focus on how to deliver consistent, informative and enjoyable experiences — online and off — to customers and prospects.

7. Understanding Millennial Buying Behavior Will Be Key to Success

I’ve offered tips about marketing to Millennials before. But new data suggests that this cohort is more influential than ever. They are now responsible for researching and influencing 65 percent of purchase decisions, and in 13 percent they are the decision makers themselves. Moreover, it turns out that the first place they look for solutions is not Google search and your website, but on social media. As these people age, their influence will grow. We need to be on their wavelength.

So, those are my predictions for B2B marketing in 2018. Anyone have others to offer?

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

How to Select the Perfect B-to-B Data Vendor

Most B-to-B marketers rely on customer data from third party suppliers. But how do you choose among the myriad of data providers out there? Use this handy checklist of criteria, organized into three categories: the data product itself, the surrounding services that will help you get the most value from the data and the factors that suggest the vendor will be a satisfactory business partner for your company. To get started, you need to identify your business and marketing objectives. Let’s look at this process in detail.

Most B-to-B marketers rely on customer data from third-party suppliers. But how do you choose among the myriad of data providers out there?  Use this handy checklist of criteria, organized into three categories: the data product itself, the surrounding services that will help you get the most value from the data and the factors that suggest the vendor will be a satisfactory business partner for your company. To get started, you need to identify your business and marketing objectives. Let’s look at this process in detail.

First, clarify your marketing objectives for the data. If you are going for customer acquisition, your data needs will be different from those for retention goals. Here are some examples.

chart1Next, prepare a detailed analysis of each segment you are trying to understand or communicate with. This will allow you to assess your data needs with precision and avoid buying what you don’t really need. Most companies are targeting a variety of audience segments, based on variables such as customer product needs and customer profitability.

Criteria for Vendor Evaluation

Only you can determine which criteria are most important for your business. I suggest you pick a handful of primary criteria that you deem essential to your company and marketing objectives. Then pick a few secondary criteria that you might consider “nice to have.”

This list will help you ask vendor candidates the right questions to make sure they can meet your needs.

The Data Product

chart2

Services Surrounding the Data

chart3

Characteristics of the Vendor Company

chart4

The world of data vendors is a crowded one. Each vendor has its own strengths, specialization and culture. Your due diligence will pay off with a productive partnership that will take your marketing programs to the next level.

This article is excerpted from “How to Select a Data Vendor That is a Perfect Fit for Your Marketing Objectives,” a new white paper available from Infogroup.  A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.