Best-in-class: What a leading B2B marketing organisation looks like
B2B organisations in Australia are increasingly recognising the importance of customer experiences. Ben Ice analyses the findings of the latest ‘B2B Marketing Outlook’ report.
This article originally appeared in The Intelligence Issue, our April/May issue of Marketing magazine.
The 2017 version of the annual ‘B2B Marketing Outlook’ gives a comprehensive view of the concerns, challenges and focuses B2B marketing professionals face.
The most challenging activity? Customer experience (CX). 95% of respondents to the survey rated it as challenging or somewhat challenging. Refreshingly then, 68% said optimising CX will be significant to their efforts in 2017, and 27% say it will be ‘somewhat significant’. This makes it the third most significant objective for 2017, after generating leads, and nurturing and progressing leads.
Other key findings surround issues with alignment of sales and marketing departments within organisations, and how best-in-class marketers are addressing this and working collaboratively with sales teams.
The way B2B marketers use social media continues to evolve, as new platforms and methods come into play and the best marketers work social media into content plans, sales pipelines and CX objectives.
Millennial consumers are expected to make 75% of B2B purchasing decisions over the next 12 months, and the report offers some insight into what that means for B2B marketers. There’s also a full rundown of budget forecast expectations and ROI – to paint a clear portrait of where B2B marketers are spending their resources, and where they hope to see growth and positivity.
The online survey study was conducted from October to November 2016 and had 335 respondents.
For the survey, 82% of respondents were marketing managers, CEOs or directors, and 88% will have the same or higher marketing budget in 2017.
Optimising CX was a key challenge in 2016, and remains a key focus for 2017. Andrew Haussegger, managing director at Green Hat, is confident B2B marketers will be able to find success in this avenue as they begin to take hints from the world of B2C marketing.
“B2B buyers, they are actually consumers,” he says.
“We’re all human beings.”
So, while the B2B products and services buyers may be hunting for aren’t consumer by definition, they “start to build expectations around what the journey and experience should be like” based on their experience as consumers.”
Furthermore, CX is poised to be a tool with which brands can differentiate themselves from the competition, as it has been in the consumer world.
“That means that in the future, B2B organisations are going to be able to hold onto their customers even when their price might be more, and their product might have less functionality, because the experience they are providing is superior to that of their competition,” says Haussegger.
Nell Norman-Nott, head of marketing for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, ANZ agrees. “As a brand you are no longer just compared to your competition, you are compared to every buying experience ever,” she says.
Only 45% of respondents have a documented social media strategy. Nearly three-quarters of all Australian B2B marketers (72%) say they are actively driving social media for their organisations; 13% participate, but do not publish from branded accounts. Social use is up from 2016, where only 64% were actively publishing material from a branded account.
LinkedIn is still the most dominant channel; however, Facebook is closing the gap. As the world’s largest social platform and, with the introduction of Facebook Workplace and other competitive offerings, it is expected to climb further. In 2015’s ‘Outlook’, it was ranked fourth.
Only 14% of B2B marketers have ‘good’ results and ROI from social media, with a further 64% having ‘some results, but not cost-effective or consistent’, or ‘too early to tell.’
Haussegger puts the lack of positive, demonstrable ROI down to a lack of personalisation, inaccurate measurement and poor content.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is a blast of content,” he says, where brands use social media as a mass media marketing engine. “There’s a piece of PR from a company, and they say, ‘Let’s get it into LinkedIn’ and they post it against the company’s profile, then they ask their sales and marketing people to post it as well. “It’s the same message going out to all… there isn’t enough attention to the segmentation.”
As for the measurement, Haussegger thinks not enough KPIs are in place for tracking social performance.
“The 15% who are getting good results, I suspect, are the ones that are measuring well. The 34% who are getting ‘some results’ perhaps haven’t got KPIs in place.
“They’re pushing it out there, they’re seeing some engagement, but is it good to an industry standard?”
B2B marketers need to clearly understand the role social plays in their sales life cycle to realise its true benefits, says Haussegger. “Don’t look at it as a lead generator. It’s an engagement tool. It’s made to drive inbound traffic. It’s not the converter.
“You could have some lucky wins, but generally you should be tracking visitation to your sites, blogs and content across the different social media platforms. And then have in place an engagement strategy for those people that come and make themselves known to you.”
As more of them enter the workforce, Millennial buyers could account for up to 75% of B2B decision-making and research. This figure has risen from 50% in 2014.
This drives home the fact that Facebook and other social media channels are going to increase in importance as key B2B marketing tools. “Millennials are digitised,” says Haussegger. “They’re the people working on multiple devices.”
Their digital-native persona means they expect a smooth CX across all channels.
The tendency of Millennials to shop elsewhere when faced with poor CX or a complicated sales pipeline has been demonstrated time and again in the B2C world and, as with everything else, the world of B2B sales will no doubt follow suit.
“All these things are going to turn a Millennial off a brand,” Haussegger says.
Millennial buyers are also responsible for a growth in the use of Instagram by brands, with 21% of businesses actively using the platform.
Sales and marketing alignment
Crossed wires or disconnections between sales and marketing departments still result in missed quotas, budget shortfalls and organisational tensions. In B2B organisations, where buying cycles span months and sometimes years, this is especially pertinent.
Sales and marketing alignment was a significant concern for B2B marketers last year, when only 36% of marketers could confirm that more than two-thirds of their leads were followed up, with 13% saying one- to two-thirds of leads were followed up, the rest saying fewer than one-third were followed up, ‘not sure’ or ‘not applicable’.
This year there have been signs of improvement, as 44% of marketers can confirm more than two-thirds of leads are followed up by sales. It’s not just about follow-up and sales, however.
Close alignment between marketing and sales enables accurate illustration of target customer personas, and optimisation of the sales pipeline and CX.
“A close alignment between marketing and our customer-facing teams means that we are able to respond to really valuable insights and data coming directly from our target audience,” says Theresa Lintvelt, head of marketing at Efic (Export Finance and Insurance Corporation).
Best-in-class B2B marketers are collaborating with sales teams to plan a life cycle approach to communicate and streamline lead communication. Integrating this with automation and CRM provides further opportunity to improve the pipeline.
Qualified leads, says Haussegger, “are scored in the marketing system, and when they reach a threshold, they are pushed into the CRM.
“The salesperson, in real time, sees the information come through and, with the rules set in place, is empowered – and expected – to act on it.”
This enables follow-up from the marketer’s side too, as marketers can keep an eye on progress between sales and clientele. “Marketing people can see what is working and what isn’t and, importantly, analyse that journey and drive more prospective leads in the right direction,” says Haussegger.
Deployed correctly, marketing automation can maximise opportunities and transform a business’ bottom line and customer satisfaction. In the B2B space in particular, there remain challenges when it comes to integrating systems with legacy infrastructure. Regarding ROI, 90% of B2B marketers want to better measure it, yet most have yet to optimise their use of automation to enable this. The rate of adoption is on the rise, however.
In 2014, usage sat at 47% and last year this climbed to 51%. 2016’s results show 63% adoption, but Green Hat believes there may be confusion in the definitions
of an ‘automation platform’ and that this number may be overstated.
“There are people who have smart email systems and they’re calling that automation,” says Haussegger.
Smart email, however, does not have the full suite of capabilities to provide sales and productivity gains. If what Haussegger says is right, then there’s still plenty of opportunity for B2B marketers to add real automation to their strategy and realise the benefits.
“Marketing automation allows us to constantly tweak the parameters,” says Paul Robinson, head of marketing enablement, APAC, at Intel Security. “As prospects change their behaviours, we use predictive analysis to put more emphasis on the engagement indicators that matter most.
“But be aware,” he says. “There’s a big learning curve in determining the most important metrics. That’s why it’s essential to test and learn.”
Measurement and ROI
Only 20% of marketers say they accurately measure and communicate marketing return on investment, or ROMI, as Haussegger terms it. “If you’re in this group, you’re 35% more likely to see a budget increase,” he says. “That’s not a coincidence.”
It’s a key area that needs some focus. The fast adoption of technology, both on the brand side and the client side, and the increase in the availability of real-time consumer data have perhaps made reporting and tracking a little overwhelming.
“There’s a lot of data, and trying to put that in place and integrate all of the appropriate technology platforms so you’ve got the analytics in place to actually measure and easily communicate that… it’s challenging,” says Haussegger.
When it comes to technology and data, it’s important not to forget the human element. “Just because we’re good at measuring something, doesn’t mean we’re good at optimising it,” says Malte Weyhe, director, Asia Pacific marketing at Korn Ferry. “Technology and the integration of systems allows us to collect more and more data, but we need to enable people to connect the dots, draw the right conclusions and help us optimise our initiatives.”
Measurement and ROI are also reflected in the field of lead generation and lead nurturing. Leads still form the bread and butter of B2B sales. As the customer journey becomes more fragmented and nuanced, B2B marketers are yet to close the gap between those who list it as a significant priority for the year (97%) and those who find it challenging (85%).
Last year, almost a quarter of B2B marketers said they received no information about lead acceptance and follow-through from sales. Furthermore, 37% admit they are unsure of individual lead cost to the business.
B2B marketers are investing more in content marketing; 51% of marketers expect to spend at least 20% of their marketing budget on content development in the next 12 months and, of all the participants in the study, there was a rating of 2.84-out-of-five satisfaction from content marketing. The channel with the highest rating was website, with 3.05, closely followed by events and email campaigns. Content was fourth.
Green Hat envisions that a move towards dynamic, buyer-centric content will continue, aligned with the groundswell around customer experience, where content that is seller-centric can handicap lead generation efforts.
Content marketing enables brands to attract consumers earlier on in the purchase research journey, generating leads earlier than previously possible. Here’s where content loops back into that key CX focus.
“When we start to think about content in the early stage the buyer is out there looking for a solution to a problem, how are they experiencing your brand, and what initial value are they seeing in it, in those initial stages before they become a customer?” asks Haussegger.
As for the future, it looks as though the B2B marketing space is at a crossroads. Technology has enabled marketers in more ways and spaces than ever, but, internally, many organisations are still working to catch up with the changes.
A shift of focus to shared goals, CX optimisation and measurable and reportable ROI will see any B2B marketer join the ranks of best-in-class.
* * * * *
To purchase a copy of The Intelligence Issue or a subscription to the mag, visit the store »
* * * * *
Image copyright: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo