“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” wrote Charles Dickens in his oft-quoted opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities. While the story is set in late 18th century London and Paris, that description could refer to the state of B2B marketing today.
B2B marketers face unprecedented challenges, obstacles, and expectations. Yet they also have an incredible and expanding array of tools and tactics to help them meet conquer these difficulties. Here are seven reasons why, in spite of today’s burdens and hindrances, there’s never been a better time to be a B2B marketing professional.
Discovery Beats Interruption in B2B Marketing
Some sales and marketing pros will complain, not without reason, that it’s never been more difficult to get the message to buyers. Ad blockers and corporate email filters render online display ad and email marketing efforts invisible. Organic social media reach and traffic are falling. And no one answers their phone anymore.
And yet, marketers today have an array of channels for reaching buyers almost unimaginable even a generation ago. While old-school tactics like direct mail and live event marketing are making a comeback, marketers also have an incredible range of online tools: blogs, influencer marketing, video, presentations, content syndication and promotion, partner and association websites, and vertically focused sites like Toolbox for IT professionals and Human Resources Today for HR leaders.
A line is almost as over-quoted as the Dickens example is John Wannamaker’s statement, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” For decades, marketing was viewed as an inexact science (when given credit for being a science at all) because of this lack of visibility.
But today, marketers have an abundance of operational metrics to help them understand which channels, topics, and content formats are most effective with each buyer type at each stage in the decision process. Measurement isn’t limited even to specific silos like web, ad, or social media analytics: a separate category of cross-channel attribution solutions has emerged to help marketers understand how various tactics and channels work together.
B2B marketing leaders are under pressure like never before to demonstrate the value of B2B marketing investments and do more with scarce resources. They need tools and teams in place to help optimize marketing budget allocation decisions and quantify the value of those expenditures.
However, the ability to better measure results in both operational and financial terms has given marketing new respect at the highest levels of the organization. Until fairly recently, marketing was widely viewed as a cost center, and hence one of the first places to make cuts when business slowed. Now, CMOs who are able to quantify their contribution to revenue have a data-supported case to make for their initiatives.
Improved Customer Experience
In addition to pressure to show ROI, CMOs and marketing leaders generally face increased expectations for managing the end-to-end customer experience. Marketing executives have more on their plate, with responsibility for results in areas like product design and customer support where they have no direct authority.
And yet, marketers who embrace this development recognize the incredible leverage this provides. Happy customers and brand advocates are exceptionally powerful: both business buyers and consumers are far more likely to trust peer recommendations than advertising. Improving product design to reduce the need for customer service reduces customer service costs without unpopular moves like offshoring or an over-reliance on technology. Creating online communities using customer engagement platforms enables customers to support each other, while providing marketers with valuable insights.
Sales-Marketing Alignment (Finally?)
Sales-marketing alignment has ranked among the top challenges for B2B marketers seemingly forever. Sales people just want leads, the good leads, the Glengarry leads. Marketers bust their tails to produce leads that sales fail to follow up on. And that’s when the two groups can even agree on the definition of a “lead.”
Sound familiar? Yet today, newer tools and tactics are enabling sales and marketing teams to (perhaps) finally get in alignment. Buyers are 57 percent of the way through their purchase decision (or in some cases as much as 70 percent) before they have any contact with sales. This makes content marketing success an imperative, and requires sales and marketing to collaborate on content—but new tools (as noted above) also make results more measurable than ever.
Finally, as noted in Improving Account Based Marketing with Technology and other places, approaches like account-based marketing (ABM) reduce pressure to simply generate leads and support collaborative efforts between sales and marketing to close large deals in targeted accounts.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) as Coworker
On top of all the other challenges and pressures marketers face today (see everything above), there’s also the worry of losing their jobs to technology. Recent studies have reported that “almost half of all jobs could be automated by computers” within the next 16 years, including marketing tasks like writing content.
But other data suggests AI will be more likely to work alongside humans rather than replace them. In 5 Artificial Intelligence Predictions For 2018, Daniel Newman predicts AI will be used to handle routine tasks like simple customer service inquiries, and to generate insights from big data that marketing humans can use to develop more effective strategies and campaigns. Though the technology will continue to get more sophisticated, it’s unlikely robots will be taking marketing jobs any time soon.
Enough of Your Bad Reputation
The marketing profession has suffered image problems over the years. Consumers may see it as manipulative. Buyers (especially technology decision makers) often view marketers as imprecise and under-informed. Even co-workers can misunderstand the role, associating marketing with “fluffy” tasks like choosing fonts and colors for the corporate website. It didn’t help that the term “Internet marketing” came to be associated with dodgy SEO practices, spam, and questionable work-from-home schemes.
But that’s changing, much to the delight of marketers with integrity everywhere. Spam gets filtered out, but content that offers real value makes it through. Link farms and keyword stuffing are long gone; authenticity is now the most important keyword in SEO. Verified customer reviews serve as disinfectant, shining a bright light on bad practices (and good ones as well). Buyers care about brand purpose over puffery.
For B2B marketers today, the glass is decidedly (at least) half full. While marketing as a profession certainly isn’t getting any easier, it is getting more precise, more visible, more respected, more collaborative, and just flat out more interesting.
The original version of this article was first published on V3Broadsuite.
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