5 strategies to become a more impactful, buyer-driven marketing org
In B2B, the buyer is in charge. It's time to adopt buyer-driven marketing strategies.
It’s fall 2022. We’ve moved past the lockdown and are in a bar with a group of marketing peers at an industry event reflecting on the past few years and all the transformation B2B marketing has gone through.
What would be the breakthrough decisions you made? What changes, bets and/or investments would you have made 12 or 18 months ago that accelerated marketing’s impact?
This is how I try to operate and think. Look through the telescope to envision what the world looks like. Then look through the windshield to see what’s ahead to plan and execute against. And then pull out the microscope to understand the details and nuances that matter.
B2B marketing is changing dramatically
B2B marketing is going through a significant shift in requirements, responsibilities, and expectations. Now is the time to project out to what the world will look like in two to three years and develop a strategy and roadmap. The shift is being driven by changes in buyers’ habits and expectations — all accelerated and magnified by the pandemic. In the B2B world, buyers have become digital-first, doing their homework remotely and making decisions across distributed teams. This has blown-up the traditional buyer-seller relationship and forever changed B2B marketing.
I can’t wait to gather with my fellow CMOs and marketing peers to map the future. Comparing and sharing notes is so valuable, especially when you can do it face-to-face. In the meantime, let’s plot our path forward, starting with strategies to design and adopt a buyer-centric approach that drives more value for your business and your customers.
Go all in on a buyer-driven marketing strategy
80% of B2B buyers want a B2C experience, according to Salesforce’s 2020 annual State of the Connected Customer research. Yet we are still operating based on internal goals and processes. Exhibit A: programs are executed based on our product launch dates or industry-scheduled events, not the buyer’s process or timeline.
Even our marketing teams are organized around our internal programs and functions. We don’t even realize how these siloed internal constructs have us fighting for our buyer’s attention. For example, the events team is inviting pros to the next gathering, the digital team is delivering ads and content, content syndication is focused on generating leads, and the marketing operations team is emailing “leads” attempting single-channel nurturing. It’s all on our internal process and timeline, not the buyers’.
And to put an exclamation point on this inward-focused challenge, we’re using marketing funnels as our primary form of truth about the buyer and the buying process. Funnels are important for measurement, not for driving buying journeys. When we say things like, “our leads are not converting,” it is often because the marketing funnel has been turned into an artificial construct built on our internal, artificial lead focus, versus truly ceding control to the buyers and using our tools to measure for optimization.
As we look forward, what are the key elements to becoming buyer-driven?
- Taking an always-on approach to your marketing and in-market programs versus your internal timeline;
- Using intent and predictive data as a trigger to signal and activate outreach and programs, versus artificial, arbitrary lead scoring models; and
- Ensuring our data models and go-to-market programs are equipped with buyer personalization, buying group orchestration and account readiness signals.
Obliterate the silos across your teams, tech, data and channels
Silos are everywhere in marketing today and they’re crushing our impact, and any chance of becoming buyer driven.
At a time when buyers are craving connection, silos generate random, impersonal touch points that leave buyers feeling empty and your marketing looking lackluster. Silos also have a significant negative impact on the way teams function, on how your technology performs, and on the channels from which you pull your data. B2B’s buyer-driven markets require connected tech, process and channels that align marketing and sales teams and provide a single view of high-value buyers and accounts.
That means integrated systems, data, and metrics –– a single point of truth that drives sales, marketing, team collaboration and better results.
Re-think the role of marketing automation in your revenue effort
A generation of marketers, myself included, grew up with marketing automation as the center of the B2B marketing universe. No doubt, these systems helped us advance marketing’s ability to build a database of prospects, to generate leads for sales, and to measure marketing activity.
While marketing automation can play a role going forward, we must drop many of the bad habits it has created. This includes arbitrary lead scoring for prioritization and activation, email as the primary nurture channel, and measurement systems that are focused on gaining credit, versus delivering intelligence to inform performance improvement.
All of this is not a call to go buy a bunch of new technology. Rather, we need to strive for a buyer-focused, integrated infrastructure — tech stack, data model, program framework — that provides more intelligent ways to:
- Target known and unknown buyers, buying groups and accounts;
- Activate and orchestrate campaigns based on buyer and account activity;
- Connect core systems, data, channels, campaigns and processes, eliminating silos;
- Govern all data to increase performance, to ensure accuracy and to build trust with buyers; and
- Measure to gain insights — visibility for your front-line pros into what’s working and what’s not, reporting for impact, and optimizing to improve performance.
Focus equally on interested buyers, engaged buying groups and in-market accounts
Over the last five years, we have become intrigued by ABM. It makes sense. ABM allows us to align with and better serve sales by generating activity (internally driven again) around a common set of accounts. But ABM alone is not buyer-focused. We must identify and proactively engage known and unknown buyers and buying groups at our target and in-market accounts. The observation that “accounts don’t buy anything, people do” is an essential component of high-impact marketing.
Going forward, account-based strategies are foundational to B2B marketing, but, with rare exceptions, should not be the only strategy. Rather, B2B teams need to be “open for business” and build go-to-market, program, technology and data models that identify and more predictably deliver buyers.
While marketers can support account awareness through target account lists, realize that the best opportunities for maximizing revenue opportunities may not show up on your lists. In fact, intent data tells us that a max of 15% of accounts are in market for your solution at any given time. And if they’re not on that target account list, how will you ever win business?
We must adapt, using an agile, 24/7 approach that enables connections with both known and unknown buyers and accounts — on their timeline.
Build trust, authenticity and compliance into every effort
If we are committed to being buyer-centric, delivering great experiences, and becoming an advanced marketing organization, we must put “trust” at the core of everything we do. We are not waiting around for compliance and regulations to be passed as laws. The most effective marketers have global permissioning and opt-in and opt-out built into their systems and processes (integrated infrastructure).
They authentically show how much they value the buyers’ privacy and their preferences. No long, complicated forms, unsolicited spammy emails disguised as nurtures, or obstacles to opting out (Note: this is also part of leaving some of the bad habits developed from past eras of marketing).
No one cares how large your database is. What matters is how marketable and compliant it is. Data quality is foundational to buyer-centric experiences and impact. It’s the key factor in a relevant customer experience, and it has a big impact on how your teams work together, develop strategies, and compete in your markets. With B2B buyers increasingly relying on digital channels, you must be ready to engage with multiple buying groups on their terms and where they research. It’s critical that you simplify data management by filling your pipeline with validated high-quality, actionable data.
The next few years will be about shifting from internal-focused to buyer-driven strategies. Let’s not wait until fall 2022 to tackle this nor to the next conference to discuss how to make this transformation a reality.