In B2B marketing, as in B2C, a revolution has been brewing over the past few years as the power of the buyer grows. This power struggle has seen marketers begin to adapt from reaching out to buyers to luring them in. In 2013, the buyer revolution will come to a head, according to research conducted by Green Hat and ADMA, with the balance of power set to reside firmly in the buyer’s court.
Empowered by the ability to research, learn and compare online, buyers are increasingly resistant to push-based marketing approaches, triggering a shift from outbound- to inbound-dominated marketing. A hot topic in marketing circles over the past few years, inbound will break through the line this year, fuelling the use of social media, content marketing and PR as bait to attract buyers.
This in turn sparks another shift: the move from real-world contact to cyber interaction. For the first time the balance of spend in B2B looks set to tip to the side of digital marketing over traditional techniques.
Faced with this chain reaction of shifts, B2B marketers are stuck between realising the buyer is in control and adapting their tactics accordingly. A host of challenges prevent marketers from closing the gap between realisation and execution, as they grapple with problems old and new. However, Green Hat’s ‘B2B Marketing Outlook Australia 2013’, drawn from a survey of around 300 marketers, shows good news on the horizon.
Budget relief is on the way
The budget restrictions that have plagued the industry look set to relax this year (see Figure 1). Firms increasing their spend will outnumber those cutting back by three to one.
Marketing departments are also growing, says managing director at Green Hat, Andrew Haussegger. “The vast majority still have fewer than five team members, but we’re finding that a lot more companies are increasing the size of their teams to five and above… budget on salary is going up.”
While this elicits a sigh of relief in many, working with scarcity and deploying funds wisely will continue to be a necessity for marketers. David Redhill, chief marketing officer at Deloitte, believes budgets are being redirected and more closely managed in concert with other forms of business development. Spend intentions display a clear channeling of funds away from traditional demand generation, forecast to drop by eight% from a high of 36% two years ago, to digital marketing, which looks set to jump three% on last year.
Closing the gap on the buyer revolution
The era of the buyer is upon us, according to Chris Fell, managing director of inbound marketing specialists g2m Solutions. “A big sea change is occurring, underpinning a lot of the changes that are coming in marketing,” Fell says. “Marketers are struggling to figure out how to adapt to the new world that they’re faced with. There is a gap between realising the buyer is in control and changing the tactics and tools in the process.”
But the gap is starting to close. Marketers are realising they’re not the trusted source they once were. In such a climate, ideas are the new currency, says Redhill, noting buyers are increasingly looking past marketing to their industries’ opinion leaders. “When we talk about providers, we’re not talking about the sales and marketing people, because they don’t believe us – it’s the subject matter experts within our business.
Marketers plan to respond to this power shift by adopting inbound marketing in greater numbers than ever before. Last year, 42% said they spent more on outbound than inbound marketing, while only 22% spent more on inbound. This year, 35% will spend more on inbound, while only 31% will do the reverse, shifting the balance in favour of pull-based marketing tactics for the first time.
“Inbound marketing has broken through the line in the plans and intentions of marketers,” Haussegger says, pointing to a knock-on effect for social media, content marketing and public relations. One dollar in every seven will be spent on content marketing this year, Green Hat’s research reveals. Much of this will be deployed online.
The increased focus on inbound triggers another big shift for 2013: marketers channeling even great spend towards digital. The balance is expected to shift in digital’s favour for the first time by next year, if it hasn’t already. Anecdotally, the growth in spend planned for websites, online advertising, social media, SEO and SEM, as well as content marketing and lead management (see Figure 2), points to digital eclipsing traditional this year, Haussegger estimates.
“By next year, based on the trends we’ve seen over the last couple of years, we are certain more will be spent on digital… buyers are online and so the marketers are looking for them online.”
The number one digital tactic marketers will look to invest in during 2013 is websites; with 77% planning to increase spend on this asset. As technology improves, marketers are making websites an interactive place for people to visit, Fell notes. “Blogging, downloading stuff, testimonials, webinars, watching video – people are starting to use websites for places to go to interact with the organisation,” he says.
More B2B organisations are now creating and publishing social media content than aren’t, with incidence set to jump from 34% last year to 52% this year. “They’re either dipping their toe, ankle, knee or the rest of their body in social media,” Haussegger explains, “and the total inbound advocates are fully up to their necks.” Smaller, nimbler organisations are leading the way. “Some of the larger organisations are often more challenged around the rules dictating how they can actually apply their content in social media,” he adds. Only 17% are yet to have any involvement in social media.
Uncertainty over return appears to be holding the others back, Fell believes. “Some are, therefore, hesitant to jump in and commit large amounts of time and money to it.” Green Hat’s research supports Fell’s assertion, with only one in eight of the opinion that their investment to date has been worthwhile.
LinkedIn remains the most used – 82% tap its rich source of information on professionals – while 69% use Twitter (which Fell sees as an untapped force for lead generation), 66% are on Facebook, and others, including Google Plus, remain a blip on the radar. Content is being posted to YouTube by 54% and on industry blogs by 41%.
Being involved in LinkedIn is a no-brainer according to Kimon Lycos, founder of B2B agency Mihell and Lycos. “In terms of lead generation, in terms of sales performance, in terms of brand building, it’s unrivalled,” he says. There’s general agreement that marketers got their heads around LinkedIn in 2012, taking it beyond recruitment into lead generation and brand building territory.
On Facebook, opinions are mixed. Some believe it’s not a place for most B2B brands, while others think it’s a potential gold mine. Lycos sees it as the equivalent of looking at family pictures on a desk. “You’re able to get a snapshot of what their personal interests are, and then you can build rapport based on that. I think it’s also got great relevance with recruitment and demonstrating and displaying a company’s culture.”
Coming in at number five on the priority list for digital tactics this year is mobile enablement, pointing to the market finally getting serious about mobile sites.
Lycos thinks there is a great niche for mobile catalogues and content marketing. “Conferences and events could make much better use of this technology to add more value to their events. I’d like to see stuff like match-making, so I could share the type of people I’m interested in meeting and be matched up with those people.”
Where does that leave ‘traditional’ marketing?
With buyers having migrated online, traditional techniques are failing, Haussegger believes. Once big-ticket marketing ploys are being cut back or, in some cases, stopped altogether.
Tradeshows and conferences, a mainstay of the B2B world, are also reducing in relevance according to Marketing’s sources, an assertion reflected in the data. There’s a belief bigger, longer events are no longer attracting top-level decision-makers, sparking a movement towards smaller, more personalised events.
B2B marketing is about effecting an introduction between a human salesperson a buyer, Fell says, pointing out events are still a strong tactic. Redhill sees events moving to those of greater value: “Seminars, report launches and private briefings are certainly eclipsing hospitality and feel-good event spend.”
Not all traditional disciplines are set to decline, however. Reflecting the shift to inbound, PR has stepped up to the top position for planned traditional marketing spend. Growth in PR is expected to come most strongly from SMBs.
Speed bumps and the road ahead
Automation is the word on every marketer’s lips, with back-office procedures, such as integration with sales or CRM, proving the most troublesome over the past year. Rolled together, 60% of automation challenges selected by respondents reside in the back office, compared to 40% in front.
Automating lead nurturing and management was nominated as the most pressing challenge over the past year. The research found that one in every 12 dollars spent in 2013 will go to addressing this goal.
The age-old challenge of measuring ROI followed close behind, with the disconnect between marketing and sales one of the major factors clouding measurement. Marketers are unsure if sales follow up on around half of leads generated.
When it comes to using data to target buyers with relevance and context, it is still early days, Haussegger says, “But some marketers are on the road towards making one-to-one marketing a reality.”
“You need a lot of content to tailor to the different stages of the funnel,” Fell points out. “The journey takes a long time in B2B, and therefore you have to give them different tidbits at each stage, to accelerate them through the sales funnel, towards being qualified leads that you can then centre.” Interpreting and acting on the reams of data being collected is a further challenge, complicating the progress towards a one-to- one marketing model.
On the whole, however, Redhill thinks marketers are becoming increasingly sophisticated. “Better use of social media, better use of thought leadership and better use of data, they are all intertwined. I’ve seen increasing alignment of social media presence outside the business with brand objectives and use of data in the marketing formula, increasingly organically, so [there’s a] continuous feedback loop.”
With buyers now in control, marketers need to be more agile – ready to respond with what the buyer wants when they want it. “It used to be that business- to-business businesses are sort of like the aircraft carriers of the marketing world,” Redhill concludes. “It takes a long time to check and adjust, to get the market feedback, feed it into the sales model and adjust and change it.” In the era of the buyer, however, B2B marketing is quickly becoming a more agile craft.