The state of B2B marketing in 2019: it’s a jungle sometimes

The B2B scene is evolving faster than ever, and the onus is increasingly falling on marketers to ensure businesses keep up. Josh Loh picks apart the findings from Green Hat’s annual ‘B2B Marketing Research Report’ for 2019.

This article originally appeared in The Truth Issue, our October/November 2018 print edition of Marketing magazine.

Truth Issue cover 200This year Green Hat returns with its diagnosis of the Australian B2B marketing landscape, taking stock of how marketers are doing with their objectives from 2018, examining their greatest challenges in the year ahead and observing shifting preferences and advancements in technology, social media and strategy. The ninth edition, ‘B2B Marketing Research Report 2019: The B2B Jungle’, surveyed 478 participants – a record response for the annual report.

 

Proving marketing impact and ROI remained the industry’s greatest challenge in 2018 (listed as a challenge by 49% of participants), followed by the struggle to optimise customer experience (46%) and implement marketing technology (43%). The top objective for B2B in 2019 will be generating and managing leads (68%), closely followed by proving marketing impact and ROI (67%). The hype around customer experience (CX) also seems to have died down, at least for B2B marketers; this year CX optimisation slipped from second to fourth priority in terms of marketing objectives.

Green Hat B2B challenges

Every year the report also offers a contrast of how ‘best-in-class’ marketers are approaching the scene.

This year Green Hat is defining these marketers as those who reported success in customer empathy, developing customer journeys and buyer personas, sales and marketing alignment, having a strategic partnership and shared focus on growth, and technology adoption, effectively implementing a marketing automation platform. According to Green Hat, ‘best-in-class’ marketers are more likely to be ‘astute planners’ across all areas (including content and digital), effectively measure and communicate ROI, and adopt an account-based marketing approach.

In 2019 the gap between best-practice marketers and the rest of the bunch appears to be widening. “The leaders plan more effectively across all areas surveyed, with the major gaps being in lead generation/nurturing marketing, marketing technology/integration and content marketing,” the report reads.

Andrew Haussegger, managing director of Green Hat, says the smartest marketers are seeing that a strategic approach to the customer is paying off, “Why is the gap widening? You have to pull three things together. You’ve got to have the right processes in place (which are related to your plan, your lead management processes and your customer journey) and then putting them in, you’re activating them through the use of some processes and flows supported by technology. If you’re missing one of those areas, it’s going to be difficult to succeed.”

The proof

This year, only 17% of respondents were able to report that marketing ROI is “clearly measured or communicated” within their business. This should come as little surprise – over the years B2B marketers have consistently reported this area as a difficult one to improve on. “In a way, marketing has been the last bastion of measurement or accountability in companies,” says Haussegger. “Marketing has hidden behind the curtain a little bit, not just in B2B, in B2C as well.” According to Haussegger, there may have been a time when marketers got away with not being made accountable for results, “but that has been progressively changing over the last five or 10 years,” he says.

“It would be a naive marketer that thinks that measurement and proving their ROIs is not important. If a marketer was operating that way, doing what I call ‘B2B breakfast and brochures’, they’re probably not going to have a long-term career in marketing.”

So where then lies the challenge? B2B marketers know that measurement is important and the clock is ticking for those failing to address the issue. According to chiefmartec.com, quoted in the report, there are more than 6800 documented marketing technology solutions available on today’s market – so it’s not a lack of supporting technology either. “That creates two situations, one is complexity, knowing what tools to use, and the bigger issue is integration,” says Haussegger.

“There’s too much data; it’s like we’re trying to drink from a fire hose. The challenge that the less digital-data-savvy marketers are having is really getting their head around a strategic approach to joining the dots here.

“Half of them today are saying the challenge in proving the impact of marketing ROI is first a need to measure. That’s the famous Peter Drucker quote: ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’.”

Green Hat’s report found that best-in-class marketers were three times more likely than the average marketer to have clearly measured and communicated ROI. According to the report, this best-practice bunch are more likely to focus on end-to-end measurement that includes pipeline performance reporting, sales qualification/close rates, campaign attribution and customer engagement. Best-in-class marketers are also able to juggle multiple data sources and resolve complexities with platform integration for effective measurement – a common challenge among larger companies operating on legacy systems.

A simple first step would be to look at the composition of the marketing team, says Haussegger. “If you’ve got a marketing team that are awesome and creative – they come up with the best messaging and visuals – but aren’t able to execute that with effective digital data, systems and support, they’re not going to be winners.”

CX strikes back

Green Hat’s research shows a rise in respondents seeking to understand their customers. Seventy percent of B2B marketers have developed either customer journey maps, personas or both. Nevertheless, CX optimisation remains a primary challenge. B2B marketers still have a long way to go in converting the learning from their friends in “consumer land”, as Haussegger calls it.

“If you asked for the one word that describes the key driver for your customers, I think a lot of them would talk about emotion and emotive buying, drawing on emotions.

“It’s not as prevalent in B2B, but it’s still there. What have we learned? There are going to be small steps along the way. If someone were to ask, ‘how do I get started on improving my B2B experience for my customer?’ The first thing I would be asking is: do you understand how your customer buys? Customers have changed the way they buy, but many of the sellers haven’t changed the way they sell. What I mean by that is, the internet has changed everything, or it’s the one key determining factor. It didn’t happen on a particular day; we didn’t wake up one morning in B2B and say, ‘Look what’s happened!’,” explains Haussegger.

“It’s evolved. Most of the information a B2B buyer needs is available to them at their fingertips, without needing to speak to the vendor – meaning the B2B buyer can engage the seller much later in their buying process.

“What does that mean? That means that the B2B sellers and marketers cannot now sit back and just rely on what the B2B salespeople tell them.”

Hook, line and nurture

Lead generation and management topped this list for B2B marketers’ objectives in 2019 (68%), nurturing and progressing leads followed shortly after (66%) and yet less than a third (32%) report having a documented lead generation/nurture strategy.

Haussegger attributes much of this to complications with marketing/sales alignment (more on that later). “Here is the point. About half of the respondents [47%] said there is a strategic partnership in their business between sales and marketing. The fact that less than a third have actually got a lead plan is not a good sign, because typically a lead plan would be something you’ll develop with sales.”

The report advises that more marketers need to be planning lead process flows for the buying journey and implementing lead management processes. This helps minimise lead ‘leakage’ and puts rules in place to address lead ‘lag’,” he adds.

Technology also stands to play a significant role in getting B2B marketers back on track. According to Green Hat, best-in-class marketers benefit from process improvements in lead managing and nurturing as a result of careful automation implementation. Best-in-class marketers are also twice as likely to have connected their marketing automation platform (MAP) to their customer relationship management (CRM) platforms.

Why can’t we be friends?

According to research performed in 2017 by global B2B research firm SiriusDecisions, B2B organisations that are aligned across product, marketing and sales achieve up 19% faster revenue growth and 15% higher profitability. Just under half (47%) of Green Hat’s respondents say that within their business sales and marketing are “strategic partners”. Other data, however, suggests that much more can be done to further this alignment – only 20% of respondents report having an agreed lead management and lead scoring process, only 30% have an agreed definition of a marketing-qualified lead, just 35% have all marketing leads followed up by sales and just over a quarter (26 percent) don’t know whether leads are followed up at all.

“It’s very alarming,” says Haussegger. “The reality is, at the end of the day, why are you marketing? You’re marketing to work with and support sales in growing revenue. Marketing is all about the top line, not the bottom line. Marketing is all about growth, market share, winning new segments, launching new products, growing share of your market and growing your top line. To do that, marketing has to help. There are a whole lot of parts to it, but, ultimately, it has to be helping in this pipeline.”

Unfortunately, Haussegger says marketers aren’t tending to make a lot of progress in this area, and the existing data doesn’t seem to offer a sufficient explanation. “The power base between B2B companies is with sales, they have the stronger voice. Marketing often can be seen as a service arm or support arm to sales – not in all cases, it’s a generalisation, but yes, it’s a subservient supporting arm.

“It takes a brave and courageous marketer to stand up and say, ‘The buyers have changed the way they buy, we need to realign these functions and work more closely together and get a brand in place to make ourselves more competitive in the marketplace.’”

Rat race

The review of social media use was positive on the whole. In terms of ROI, 82% of marketers reported seeing “good/some results” from their activities across platforms. For the first time though, it seems LinkedIn’s stronghold as the B2B marketer’s weapon of choice is seeing some serious competition. Though it still holds significant favour among the report’s respondents, LinkedIn fell two percent in active usage from 2018 to 86%. Facebook, however, saw a surge, gaining nine percentage points to reach 73%, meaning Facebook is now only 13% off LinkedIn as the leading B2B social platform.

Does Haussegger expect to see Facebook taking over the reins anytime soon? “I’d be surprised, over the next five years. There’s too much rich information on LinkedIn. I think, there will be issues with Facebook; it’s losing cred in the marketplace.”

Green Hat credits Facebook’s increased employment to two factors: increased usage of B2C techniques – where Facebook excels – within B2B marketing and a potentially lower cost-per-lead, compared to LinkedIn. Haussegger continues, “LinkedIn is expensive. You could be paying $10, $15 a click, so you want to know that the person that’s clicking on that is actually someone who’s relevant to you. When we were asking about social media five years ago, there was daylight between LinkedIn and everyone else… massive. I think actually Twitter was the second platform at that point.

“In some segments we see Instagram picking up a bit of space and YouTube will always be there as well.”

Download Australia’s most comprehensive report on B2B marketing, Green Hat’s ‘B2B Marketing Research Report 2019: The B2B Jungle’,  today »

 

 

 

 

Image credit:Kyle Loftus

Josh Loh
BY Josh Loh ON 5 March 2019
Josh Loh is a newswriter and editorial assistant at MarketingMag.com.au