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.

11 Proven B-to-B Copy Platforms

To motivate business buyers, especially in digital, it helps to base your message on powerful, proven B-to-B copy platforms that encapsulate the key benefit to the prospect. They answer the questions, “Why should I care?” and “What’s in it for me?”

Drawing Great Copy PlatformsTo motivate business buyers — especially in digital channels, where you have just a few seconds to catch their interest — it helps to base your message on powerful, proven copy platforms.

A copy platform encapsulates the key benefit to the prospect. It answers the questions, “Why should I care?” and “What’s in it for me?” Business people are people, but in their buying roles, they represent their companies. So marketers must appeal to them in terms that are meaningful to both the individual and the interests of their businesses.

I’ve been collecting effective B-to-B copy platforms over the years from such authoritative sources as Susan K. Jones, Nancy Harhut and Bob Hacker. You can use these to kick off your strategic messaging. They also make the basis of great email headlines and SEM ad copy. Here’s the list.

11 Proven B-to-B Copy Platforms

  1. Save time. Get to market quicker.
  2. Save money. Sell more. Spend less.
  3. Reduce risk. Stay out of regulatory trouble.
  4. Grow the business. Penetrate new markets.
  5. Find new customers. Sell them more.
  6. Job security. Help you look good in your job.
  7. Increase efficiency or productivity. Do more with less.
  8. Exclusivity. Be part of an elite group.
  9. Greed. Make money. Increase sales. Increase profits.
  10. Make your job easier. Avoid stress or hardship. Get the help you need.
  11. Fear of the unknown, or regulators, loss, or failure.

Any others to contribute?

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

Marketing to Millennial Business Buyers

The Millennial generation has been out in the workforce for a while now, and this cohort is now entering the stage of their careers where they are part of the business buying process. Much has been written about Millennial preferences as consumers. But how about them as business buyers? Let’s take a look.

The Millennial generation has been out in the workforce for a while now, and this cohort is now entering the stage of their careers where they are part of the business buying process. They may not all be decision-makers quite yet, but they are certainly important influencers. So we B-to-B marketers must consider how to appeal to Millennial business buyers effectively. Much has been written about Millennial preferences as consumers. But how about them as business buyers? Let’s take a look.

Millennials were born in the range of 1977 to 1995, more or less — some researchers put it at 1980s to 2000s. So they range in age today from around 20 to late 30s. As consumers, they are tech dependent, they value authenticity, and they are attracted to brands that think and act like them. Here’s what this means to B-to-B marketers.

Broaden your communications media channels. Millennials prefer mobile text, and IM networks like WhatsApp for direct messages. For advertising, use social media like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Streamline your lead gen. Make it effortless. Use auto-populate techniques for forms, where possible. Ask for minimal data elements (but fill in the company profile using an outside provider like ReachForce).

Mobile-enable all communications. This means mobile-friendly website and email formats.

Ask for referrals. Millennials are very loyal, once they establish a trusted connection with a brand. So they are likely to refer, especially if you ask.

Avoid marketing speak. Be real, authentic and truthful (they fact check). Get to the point, fast (but make plenty of information available if they want it). Don’t be too serious — make them laugh.

Don’t sell too hard. Not only do they fact check, they’ll also look at reviews, comments and other online validation.

Be active on social media. The B-to-B value of social has been proven again and again. But if you’re still not convinced, the behavior of Millennials should be enough to put you over the top. This generation expects you to be tweeting, blogging, posting on Facebook, and participating in LinkedIn groups.

Tell stories. These buyers respond to emotion. Use case studies, testimonials.

Treat them uniquely, not as a member of a group. This translates into taking full advantage of personalization techniques, like dynamic web page serving and data-driven customized messaging.

Talk about efficiency, and results. These are the themes that interest Millennials. They want to operate faster, cheaper, better. And they want their efforts to change the world. If you can help with those missions, say so. These are the product positioning angles that are meaningful to the new business buyer.

Any other ideas to add to the list?

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

5 Great Ideas in B-to-B Content Marketing

I recently got my hands on a copy of Joe Pulizzi’s new book, Epic Content Marketing, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Pulizzi has figured out how marketers can apply publishing techniques to marketing objectives, and, along with a couple of other leaders in the category, like Ann Handley and Joe Chernov, has articulated an entirely new type of marketing. One that really works, especially in B-to-B

I recently got my hands on a copy of Joe Pulizzi’s new book, Epic Content Marketing, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Truth is, as content marketing has exploded in the last couple of years, a jillion books on the subject have come along. But this is the one to acquire for your marketing library, for two reasons. First, it’s your one-stop shop on the entire subject, from strategy and planning, to thorny execution matters like measuring the ROI. Second, Pulizzi himself stands at the epicenter of content marketing today, having founded the Content Marketing Institute, and speaking all over the world on this hot new marketing field.

But, as Pulizzi points out early in the book, marketers have used content for centuries, in the form of custom publishing like The Furrow, a print magazine for farmers published by John Deere since 1895. Pulizzi should know, having headed up custom publishing for Penton, which is where I first met him. In fact, he commissioned me to write a piece of content for Penton, on B-to-B retention marketing techniques.

Since then, Pulizzi has figured out how marketers can apply publishing techniques to marketing objectives, and, along with a couple of other leaders in the category, like Ann Handley and Joe Chernov, has articulated an entirely new type of marketing. One that really works, especially in B-to-B.

Here are five of the great marketing ideas I picked up from Epic Content Marketing:

  1. Content formats that I’d never thought of. Pulizzi discusses the usual B-to-B content marketing suspects (blogs, white papers, case studies, e-newsletters, articles and videos) in a meaty chapter on Content Types. But here are several possibilities for sourcing content that were new to me: An e-learning curriculum, online news releases, executive roundtables, discussion forums and teleseminars.
  2. The importance of telling a great story. Most of us in B-to-B prepare content around business problems, focusing on technical information, how-to material, and industry trends. But Pulizzi reminded me about the importance of including the personal. The “What’s in It for Me” benefits couched in business stories, that smoothly draw in readers and keep their attention.
  3. Visuals as a delivery mechanism for complex information. People respond to graphics, movement, and especially images of other people. So designing and condensing rich information into charts, images, infographics, videos and other visual formats is a great plus for business buyers, as well as consumers.
  4. Focus on securing subscriptions. Pulizzi makes a compelling case for promoting content delivered by subscription, like newsletters and social media follows. Customers and prospects who agree to hear from you regularly are likely to be your most valuable audience. To accomplish the subscription mission, you have to deliver valuable fresh content consistently, and promote the subscription vehicle with vigor. Pulizzi notes ruefully that, even though we all hate them, pop-up display ads have proven to be a powerful subscription recruitment device.
  5. Why your website needs to be the platform where most of your content is housed. Pulizzi explains the importance of owning, versus renting, your content platform. When your material lives on Twitter or LinkedIn, it is not under your full control.

I recommend Epic Content Marketing to everyone who sells to business buyers.

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

B-to-B Marketers Should Take Another Look at E-commerce

E-commerce opportunity is evolving fast, but only 25 percent of B-to-B marketers are taking advantage of it, according to a 2012 Oracle study. Time for another look. The typical B-to-B companies selling online are classic catalogers like Edmund Optics and Seton, which were fast to supplement their print catalogs with e-commerce. But with the new functionality now available, just about any business marketer can find ways to reduce selling expense and attract new customers by integrating e-commerce into their go-to-market strategies.

E-commerce opportunity is evolving fast, but only 25 percent of B-to-B marketers are taking advantage of it, according to a 2012 Oracle study. Time for another look. The typical B-to-B companies selling online are classic catalogers like Edmund Optics and Seton, which were fast to supplement their print catalogs with e-commerce. But with the new functionality now available, just about any business marketer can find ways to reduce selling expense and attract new customers by integrating e-commerce into their go-to-market strategies.

A worthy example is Dow Corning, which found itself under huge price pressure as the silicone category grew commoditized. To meet the market demand for lower prices, Dow Corning launched an entirely new brand in 2002, called Xiameter, where customers could buy trailer-loads of certain products at a 10 percent to 15 percent discount through a newly built e-commerce engine. Xiameter sales grew so successfully that in 2009, Dow Corning moved as much as 2500 of its 7000 products to the site. Today, Xiameter represents 40% of Dow Corning’s $6 billion in sales.

Another example is Symantec, which created an online store specifically to serve its small-to-medium business customers in North America. Today, 100 percent of Symantec’s $300 million SMB sales run through this channel, which is operated for them by the SaaS outsourcing supplier Rainmaker Systems. Symantec is enjoying not only lower selling expense, but also admirable revenue growth, with sales up 25 percent and trial-to-conversion rates up 33 percent in the first year.

Why are these online ventures working so well? It’s thanks to new technology combined with changes in buyer behavior. The growth of consumer e-tailing has clearly been a contributing factor. Business buyers are people, too. So, their increasing comfort with e-commerce in their personal lives spills over to their jobs.

But business buyers also expect consumer-like functionality in e-commerce. And a seamless experience. This is where the new technologies come in. Platform suppliers like Rainmaker are building systems specifically designed to support B-to-B buying processes, with consumer-like features and ease of use.

So what are the e-commerce success factors for business marketers as they look to take advantage of these opportunities? Here are some tips:

  • Review your customer segments and product lines for e-commerce potential. Small and medium business customers may be a perfect fit. Same for high-volume, repetitive-sales product categories, like replacement parts or warranty renewals.
  • Examine your sales and marketing process for elements that can be automated with e-commerce technology. Look at quote management, contract pricing, channel partner support, purchase order processing, order approvals, cross sell and upsell, licensing, renewals, reactivation, winback-there are more than you may think.
  • Select software that was built specifically for the complexity of business markets. Companies that buy consumer solutions and try adding B-to-B capabilities will quickly be frustrated.
  • Select software that provides consumer-like e-commerce functionality. Ease of use is the competitive watchword today, according to Forrester’s recent study “Thrive by Adopting Proven B2C Principles.”
  • Make sure you connect your e-commerce with your existing accounting, manufacturing and other systems. Xiameter customers, for example, get their order confirmation, shipping notices and invoices out of Dow Corning’s SAP, which also communicates with the manufacturing plants to get the order produced.
  • Consider using cloud-based suppliers, where you can get up and running in less than a month, and leave the technology to someone else. Rainmaker Systems offers not only dedicated “sales assist” from its call center, they will even deal with their clients on a revenue-share basis.
  • Remember that e-commerce is global by definition. So look for technology that offers multiple languages and currencies, and supports tax and customer compliance.

How are you integrating e-commerce into your sales and marketing?

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

The B-to-B Buying Revolution, and Five Ways Marketers Need to Change Their Game

The Internet has driven dramatic changes in business buying behavior. Just as no one buys a car anymore without first checking prices and features online, business buyers now research and educate themselves online, months—even years—before ever seeing a salesperson. This has big implications for B-to-B marketers.

The Internet has driven dramatic changes in business buying behavior. Just as no one buys a car anymore without first checking prices and features online, business buyers now research and educate themselves online, months—even years—before ever seeing a salesperson. This has big implications for B-to-B marketers.

In the old days-just a few years ago-when business buyers had a problem, they’d call in their vendors for advice on how to solve it. So a sales person was in a nifty position to educate—and influence—the buyer from the earliest stages of the process.

But these days, the sales person has lost control. Buyers don’t really want to talk to vendors until somewhere akin to 70 percent of the way down the road, at the stage of writing RFPs and getting quotes. By then, the possible solutions and the specifications are already set.

But there’s more. Business buying processes are getting longer, and-most important-involving more parties than ever before. The so-called Buying Circle in large enterprise B-to-B-the influencers, specifiers, users, decision-makers-comprises as many as 21 people, according to Marketing Sherpa.

So marketers have to think differently today. First, you need to take an active role in the early stages of the buying process, to ensure that your solutions are front and center, and that you are in the game of influencing buyers as they educate themselves online. Second, you must gain access to each member of the Buying Circle, so you can understand their needs and interests, and deliver relevant messaging to them as they move from stage to stage in their buying journey.

These developments bring front and center five important areas requiring renewed focus from marketers:

  1. Complete and accurate data on customers and prospects. To influence the multiple Buying Circle members, and get to them early, you need to know who they are. Not an easy task, but more essential than ever. Here are some resources for gaining access to prospect data, and keeping your database clean.
  2. A deliberate contact strategy. Beyond blasting out prospecting campaigns, marketers must move toward a series of ongoing outbound messages, via multiple communications channels, to connect with multiple parties, over time. Here’s where marketing automation becomes an important resource for B-to-B marketers.
  3. Active social media outreach. No longer an experiment, social media has become a must-have element of the B-to-B marketing toolkit. A well-written blog, promoted by Twitter and LinkedIn groups, is a good way to start.
  4. A superb website, the core resource for engagement with buyers at all stages of the process. Enhance its interactivity by adding downloadable content in exchange for registration.
  5. A library of content assets. Populate your website with white papers, research reports, videos, how-to guides, technical documents, archived webinars, all written in objective, non-salesy language, to help educate buyers and help influence them toward your solution. Be sure to title the documents with plenty of keywords.

It’s a different marketing world today. But an exciting one, as long as marketers evolve along with buyers as they change the way they work.

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