What are you putting on the front burner? B2B marketing predictions and recommendations for 2018
To help B2B marketers prepare for what the future holds, columnist John Steinert lays out three trends you should keep top of mind in the coming year.
My overarching prediction for 2018 is that more and more B2B marketers will stop hiding behind vanity metrics like click-through rates and low-cost leads and finally get down to the business of driving real business impact. I say this because I’ve already observed it happening in spades with our own clients.
More than ever before, we’re seeing our clients’ sales teams looking to marketing as a key collaborator. And marketing is responding by focusing more and more on what sales really needs: account-based insights and buying-center-focused support. Over the next year, I think my prediction will become exceedingly visible in three specific areas:
1. Investment will double down on solving root cause issues
Having spent more time in my life struggling with data than anyone should ever have to, my heart goes out to marketers everywhere who keep trying to drive results even as their data problems continue to worsen. A full 83 percent of B2B respondents in a 2017 DemandGen Report survey said their targeting data was “old and outdated.”
That’s the bad news. The good news is that more and more marketers are realizing that there are real solutions out there right now that can help solve their problems.
Old and outdated data creates two fundamental points of failure for marketers. Contact data gone bad for any reason depresses every marketing KPI. And the cost damage only gets worse the further down the funnel and execution chain you get. Bad contact data will kill a well-conceived Account-Based Marketing (ABM) program before it even gets off the ground.
To me, what’s worse, though, is the whole concept of “old.” That’s because ever since the concept of a “hot lead” was understood, marketers have known that recency and frequency of interaction are important predictors of real demand. Our own research efforts continue to reinforce this fact day in and day out.
So it’s no surprise to me that with the new resources out there available to refresh behavioral data on a weekly basis, marketers are investing significantly to target active demand more accurately than ever. They’re putting to bed all the weaknesses in their processes and sourcing strategies once and for all so they can focus their energy on finding and engaging their share of demand in their market.
2. Nurturing will refocus on delivering near-term return
We’ve been working hard over the past year to help our clients make progress with their processes and systems. In my opinion, too many companies have invested too much money in high-powered marketing automation without providing the time or necessary resources to use them to real advantage. As Econsultancy’s State of B2B Marketing Automation suggests, many of us have invested in feature/function before we’ve gotten our strategy and our data sorted out.
When I’m trying to help a client drive ROI in the near term, I usually take a look at how they are doing at leveraging nurturing, which can help generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at 33 percent lower cost, according to Marketo research — when done right, that is. A major issue I commonly find is that clients are spending too much time and effort “nurturing” contacts who have shown absolutely no interest in actually pursuing a purchase.
Now, I’m a strong believer in the importance of continuously engaging your target audience to maintain top-of-mind status for your brand. But it concerns me when this kind of “back-burner” nurturing takes precedence over the focus on near-term value that sales teams everywhere are battling to deliver, and the results are striking. As many as 89 percent of B2B marketers in a recent survey felt their results were only average or worse. On the other hand, 11 percent reported that they were seeing excellent results.
What I’m working with clients to do is to shift more of their energy away from top-of-funnel broad and general kinds of activities toward more and better focus on what I call “front-burner” nurturing. Using their own website and lead data complemented and enriched with frequently refreshed third-party behavioral information, we’re seeing real success with integrated marketing-and-sales plays against the active accounts and the specific people within them who are consuming buying-decision-relevant content.
3. ABM will become the preferred go-to-market
As a marketer who came up through branding and strategy, you won’t find me arguing that marketing should give up carrying the torch for the longer term. At the same time, though, I’ve been around the block enough to know that if we fail today, we’re never going to make it to tomorrow.
Over the course of the past several years, some of the best-performing B2B companies have started to prove that when marketing and sales can truly collaborate on objectives and processes, a new magic is born. Whether you call it something like Target Account Marketing, ABX, ABE, or just stick with ABM, the fact is that working directly with sales on an aligned strategy, wisely distributed task assignments (or “plays”) and a unified source of truth can work wonders for ROI from a specific list of accounts.
Right now, our clients are utilizing more than 2,500 target account lists to focus their combined marketing and sales energies on the accounts they know to be in an active buy-cycle and the individuals within them they can see engaged in pre-purchase research. With marketing’s help to selectively identify and engage the critical buying teams, sales is able to focus its attention on the real deals where their expertise becomes critical to winning.
The productivity gains being realized here are such that, unless absolutely unfeasible, account-focused-first is becoming the preferred way to address topics like new product introductions, new segment penetration, competitive replacement, territory coverage strategies and more. I don’t expect many of these leaders to look back at the old days of broad-based general demand generation anytime soon.