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.

3 Organic Search Predictions for 2016

It is always fun at the beginning of the New Year to pull out the crystal ball and make bold pronouncements about what the New Year will bring. I confess my ball is not crystal but, instead, is one of those plastic eight balls that always says “future is cloudy,” or some other meaningless sentiment. This still does not keep me from looking ahead and postulating as to what the future may bring. Here are my three rock-solid predictions:

tm0715_nutsbolts_search.jpgIt is always fun at the beginning of the New Year to pull out the crystal ball and make bold pronouncements about what the New Year will bring. I confess my ball is not crystal but, instead, is one of those plastic eight balls that always says “future is cloudy,” or some other meaningless sentiment. This still does not keep me from looking ahead and postulating as to what the future may bring. Here are my three rock-solid predictions:

Prediction 1 – Google Will Make Hundreds of Changes to Its Algorithm
It is easy to predict that Google will make hundreds of changes to its algorithm during the span of the year, because the search engine regularly claims to make hundreds of changes each year. So why highlight the obvious? The point is that it is pointless to try and chase every tweak and change made by Google. Once upon a time, algorithm chasing was a very much practiced art among SEOs. Most wise practitioners no longer chase changes, endlessly looking for ways to defeat the mighty algorithm. Unfortunately, many of us work with clients who still believe that there is a value to aggressive algo-chasing. As a result, it is one of my missions to dispel this thinking and replace it with a more balanced approach.

Prediction 2 – Google Will Announce Some Big Change
This is another can’t-miss prediction that I am sure will come true. Each year, amid the hundreds of minor changes, Google announces some big change or other that is predicted to have a serious impact on search rankings and their resulting traffic. The real question is whether the next much-ballyhooed change will be another fizzle, like Mobilegeddon or something else. Giving preference to mobile-friendly sites was supposed to be the proverbial Armageddon of search, but it was a bit of a fizzle. The reason it fizzled was that the well-optimized sites – those at the top of the rankings – were already tooled up for the change, and their results did not suffer much at all. An answer appears to be emerging for how to avoid being caught up in responding to the announced and the inevitable unannounced major change like the Phantom Update. The ability to float unscathed above the turbulence of all this change is possible and does not require prescience or magic.

4 Predictions for B-to-B Marketing in 2013

It’s that time of the year when observers can’t resist making predictions about developments on the horizon. I hereby take up that tradition, offering up four random prognostications for where B-to-B digital marketing is headed in 2013. My topics include Facebook, content marketing, personal branding and data hygiene—certainly an eclectic mix. I encourage readers to add their own.

It’s that time of the year when observers can’t resist making predictions about developments on the horizon. I hereby take up that tradition, offering up four random prognostications for where B-to-B digital marketing is headed in 2013. My topics include Facebook, content marketing, personal branding and data hygiene—certainly an eclectic mix. I encourage readers to add their own.

Facebook Is Ready, At Last, for the B-to-B Prime Time
It took a while, but Facebook (FB) marketing is now ready for mainstream B-to-B, in support of branding, lead generation and customer relationship marketing goals for enterprises of all sizes. There are several reasons for this—FB’s universality being one of them. But the critical driver is the recent arrival of the Facebook Exchange (FBX) ad platform, which will allow banner ad bidding and retargeting to specific individuals, based on data matching.

So, while I used to argue that Facebook should be at the bottom of a B-to-B marketer’s to-do list, I am revising my view for 2013. Talking to my pals at Edmund Optics, where I serve on the board of directors, I am hearing confirmation of these developments. Edmund’s target audience is optical engineers and others interested in science and technology. Years ago, I would have advised them to ignore FB and focus on more targeted social networks.

But now, EO has turned its Facebook page into an effective environment for engaging these guys, with weekly “Geeky Friday” offers, and the enormously popular Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide at Halloween, where engineers were invited to design zombie-blasting tools using Edmund products. Facebook is now a top referring source for EO’s website, up 60 percent from last year. I stand corrected.

More and Better Content
B-to-B marketers were early to the content marketing game. In fact, I would argue that B-to-B has been a leading force in this area, in recognition of the importance of prospect education and thought leadership in the complex selling process. B-to-B marketers will continue to excel at creating valuable materials—digital, paper-based, video, you name it—to attract prospects and deepen relationships.

How do I know this? A new study from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, which says that 54 percent of B-to-B marketers plan to increase their content marketing budgets in 2013. Their biggest content challenge for next year? Ironically, it’s producing enough content.

Personal Branding as a Way of Life
Business people and consumers alike are realizing that their online personas have a growing impact on both their everyday lives and their professional careers. Rather than letting their personal brands evolve organically, individuals will make more proactive efforts to build and manage their images online, benefiting from the guidance of an emerging community of personal brand experts like William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson. This means establishing unique brand positioning and developing a set of active and consistent messaging across Internet media, especially social networks, to explain who they are and what are their capabilities. Personal branding is no longer just for celebrities or the self-employed; with the rise of social media, it is for everyone.

Renewed Interest in Data Hygiene
Whenever I give a seminar on B-to-B marketing, I ask attendees to take out their business cards and look at them carefully. Then, I say, “Raise your hand if anything on the card is new in the last 12 months.” Invariably, 30 percent of the hands go up.

The high rate of change in B-to-B—whether moving to a different a company, a new title, even a new mail stop—is obvious. But only recently has it begun to sink in that addressing people incorrectly, or campaigning with undeliverable mail or email addresses, not only wastes marketing dollars, but also means lost business opportunity. So enough about big data. The focus in 2013 will be clean data.

And if you want some tips on how to keep your B-to-B data clean, have a look at my white paper: “Our Data is a Mess! How to Clean Up Your Marketing Database.”

So, those are my predictions. I hope readers will add some of their own. What do you think we’ll be seeing in B-to-B digital marketing in 2013?

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