B2B marketers: give us inbound, social, e-mail, marketing automation and content

People have more control over how they communicate, look for information and win advice during the buying process and over the choice of interaction channels to do so. Although there are differences between B2B and B2C marketing, the boundaries between both are fading. Indeed, the B2B prospect or client is a human being and consumer and business man (or woman) at the same time.  
The evolutions in the field of B2B marketing, as MarketingSherpa describes them in a new report, clearly show that people’s changing behavior has an important impact on the way business-to-business companies (should) do marketing.

One of the traditional characteristics of a B2B-environment is that it is easier to build a personal relationship with the client than it is for a B2C-company.

Of course, this is not a universally valid rule. Large B2B companies have gigantic client databases. However, these are nothing in comparison with the number of clients Procter & Gamble has, for example, and B2B marketers are usually better equipped to know their prospects and clients and to follow them throughout their complete life cycle. By the way: the fact that they are better equipped does not necessarily mean that they always use these tools right…

Moreover, B2B-companies are confronted with new challenges. The sales cycle lengthens, for example: the prospect takes more time to inform himself, ask for other people's experiences, and he dominates the sales process. In many B2B-companies one sees an increasing frustration of salespeople having a harder time to get an appointment or conversation with the prospect or the client.

Sales frustrations increase the pressure on marketing

This has an influence on the efficiency of sales departments where, let’s be honest here, often some laziness has set in the last couple of years. While sales people (and I once was one) used to work hard doing prospection via the yellow pages and based upon some vague leads from events or printed advertisements, digital channels have allowed generating more qualified leads for sales people.
However, nowadays, those leads are not that easy to convert to clients as they used to be. In a digital world where the buyer is in command, more intermediate steps are needed to 'prepare' a prospect for the sale. This is reinforced by the communication channels' fragmentation whereby traditional outbound techniques become less efficient in the prospect phase.

The sales department and management’s frustration over the increasing difficulty to reach the prospect and not having enough qualitative leads (thus selling less…), in practice often leads to an accusing finger to the marketing department. B2B marketers experience more pressure to generate qualitative leads through marketing automation, lead generation techniques and especially the right lead nurturing steps, such that it becomes easier again for the sales department to close a sale.

I think this is a good evolution in se because it obliges marketers to think about offering relevant contact moments and content during the sales cycle. The prospect will only get better from this. On the other hand, we could ask ourselves what the sales department’s added value will be, apart from taking orders from nicely qualified and ready-to-buy leads. This statement will undoubtedly generate protest from salespeople. Just take into account that I am generalizing based on practical experience and a debate on the subject is always welcome.

Now it’s time to support these findings with some decent research. Earlier this week, I bought MarketingSherpa's '2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report' and the most important strategic findings from the report are completely in line with all described evolutions.

The most important challenges and tactics in B2B marketing

It already starts with the top three priorities B2B marketers mention for 2011 (in order of importance):

1. Generation of very qualitative leads: 78% (69% one year ago),
2. Generation of more leads: 44% (35% in the previous survey),
3. Marketing in a longer sales cycle: 41% (compared to 39%).

If we then look at the tactics marketers want to use to reach these goals, it is clear that inbound marketing will become more and more important.

1. 69% wants to spend more in management, content and optimization (conversion) of the website,
2. 69% wants to invest more resources in social media activities,
3. 60% will invest more in virtual events and webinars,
4. 60% increases the SEO budgets,
5. 59% will invest more in e-mail-marketing.

The first four spots are thus taken by inbound marketing. E-mail becomes increasingly important (so, no, e-mail is not dead, again) as well and when one looks deeper into the report, a lot of attention goes to optimization and conversion in function of the customer, just like in the first four strategies. And as I often say: e-mail is based on permission and, certainly in B2B, moving more towards triggered and scenarios-driven interactions. E-mail and marketing automation simply have to be part of the mix.

Now, what is key in all of these tactics? Indeed: it is content, further proof of the importance of content marketing.

Who are the big losers in the planned investments of B2B marketers?

1. Print: only 15% will increase his budget
2. Tradeshows: 22% will spend more on fairs and events
3. Direct mail: 24% will invest more.
4. Telemarketing: 32% will increase the budget for this.

So the benchmarks are clear.

The question is where your company will position itself in order to improve the dialogue, lead nurturing processes, content and conversion.