As 2016 gets into full swing, many b2b marketers are embarking on new strategies, programmes of activity and partnerships. We are pleased to note that many b2b markets are embracing some of the sophisticated, forward-thinking digital and marketing techniques now available, especially in scientific, technology and industrial sectors, that themselves are driven by innovation. The perception gap between b2c and b2b is finally closing, with pioneering campaigns no longer being the preserve of ‘big bucks’ b2c boys. With that in mind, here’s a low down of six key trends that we predict will influence b2b marketers in 2016.
1. The tug of war conundrum – should we push or pull?
B2b marketing has been pushed from pillar post over the last decade or so, having shifted from a predominantly ‘push’ mentality, to a predominantly ‘pull’ one. But many are starting to realise that they might have been pushed too far! The rise of digital has encouraged b2b marketers that ‘inbound’ or pull marketing is much easier than before, so why bother pushing messages and materials out if you can make audiences come to you instead?
The reality though, as some are finding, is that due to the amount of information that’s now out there in cyber space, it’s becoming much harder to generate inbound leads. Savvy b2b marketers are realising that a clever balance of push and pull is going to achieve the best results. And that taking the eye off the brand was never going to result in long-term success. So, it’s time to dust off those media space negotiation skills, bring back brand building and give your audience a gentle shove in your direction once again.
2. Marketing and sales finally wed… Brangelina style
Marketing and sales in b2b industries have been slowly getting to know each other better and we are delighted to see that some are now finally taking the plunge and uniting. The boundaries have been blurring for some time, and now, ‘Smarketing’ – or integrated sales and marketing – is taking off in b2b.
Given that sales and marketing both exist for customer acquisition and nurture, it’s obvious that they should collaborate and align. The relationship, like any other, takes effort and time, but gone are the days of departmental silos, or at least, so they should be. If marketing and sales integrate, the benefits are immense and include:
- Insight-based decision making
- Better measurement and evaluation
- Resource efficiencies
- Greater agility
- Improved customer satisfaction and retention
- Overall competitive advantages
Ensuring the foundation, tools and strategy are in place to optimise the relationship will garner success. In scientific and highly regulated markets, integration of technical or regulatory teams or specialists is further strengthening the customer interface.
3. CX stops being swept under the carpet
CX or customer experience should be at the core of any good marketing strategy. However, An Accenture Strategy report, 2015 B2B Customer Experience, which surveyed 1,350 b2b sales and customer service executives in ten countries, found that only 23% thought they were achieving a strong return on their CX investment.
As many CX technologies, strategies and tools are now available to b2b marketers, the barriers in their way appear to be a lack of confidence, skill or perceived value. More than three quarters of the survey respondents were fearful that higher customer expectations for tailored b2b solutions would have a substantial impact (78%) on their business and that customers are now more knowledgeable, self-directed, and continually evaluating suppliers (76%). New research by B2B International found that only 14% of B2B marketers say that the customer experience is ‘ingrained in the fabric’ of their company.
Aligning customer experience with brand positioning and external marketing efforts is the best way to ensure customer satisfaction, loyalty and referrals. Making it central to the entire marketing strategy is the smart thing to do. As soon as organisations loose sight of their customers and focus on themselves and what they perceive to be important, they are going to struggle. In complex industries where multiple stakeholders influence or are involved in the purchasing decision, capturing audience insight to provide tailored customer experiences is even more critical.
4. Digital departments die off
These days, everyone involved in sales or marketing has to be digitally savvy. We have always ensured our people are continually trained on digital marketing tools, techniques and strategies – as almost everything we do now has a digital component. We expect more b2b organisations to integrate digital teams with marketing and sales. The skills that marketers need are evolving and adding things like data analytics or SEM knowledge to role descriptions will ensure digital hires just become good marketing hires. The analytical and data-driven research skills of those involved in scientific sectors puts them in good stead for future marketing success.
5. CRO encroaches on SEO
Conversion rate optimisation is a newer term in some b2b circles, but we predict it will be the talk of the town by this time next year. CRO is the discipline of increasing the percentage of visitors to a website that convert into customers, or take any desired action on a webpage. If you get it right, CRO can maximise business growth and transform marketing effectiveness. But like SEO, it can seem overwhelming and too sophisticated for many b2b organisations.
To simplify it, these are some of the main elements you need to develop a great CRO strategy:
- A well built and optimised website
- Good data analytics
- An agile digital marketing plan which allows you to try different things quickly
- A culture that embraces experimentation
- Integrated IT systems (website, CRM, marketing automation)
- Website personalisation tools
- Ability to launch usability testing and surveys
6. b2b becomes more agile
Although it was referenced in the previous point, we felt that agility warranted its own mention as a key driver for change in b2b marketing. In a digital world, it is rarely possible to be sure that any marketing strategy, tactic or tool that you try is going to achieve the desired results. Developing strategies that are based on audience insight and past experiences are a great starting point, but being willing to accept that they may not work and you may need to shift focus or resource mid-campaign is still a struggle for some marketers.
And it’s easy to understand why. In b2b we sometimes spend months planning our activities, getting sign off, allocating budgets and detailing out every last aspect of our plan. Being brave enough to focus on goals and not tactics – and having the flexibility to evolve our plans might sound risky. The reality is that the opposite is much riskier. If you have the tools and resource in place that enable you to learn from live data and continually tailor your activities to meet changing needs, behaviours or trends – we believe that only then can you begin to realise and prove genuine return on your marketing investment.
2016 is sure to be an exciting year in the world of scientific and technical b2b marketing and we look forward to challenging the norm with our inspired integrated marketing and sales programmes. For more information about how we could help you realise your goals in 2016, contact us today on +44 1477 539539 or via [email protected].
By Louise Reid, Director of Client Services at The Scott Partnership