In planning for the future, you have to look at the past. “Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it” as the philosopher George Santayana succinctly put it. In politics, in history, and in business.
On paper, B2B sales seem like a simple and straightforward process. You get a lead, spot an issue, introduce your product or your service as a solution to your clients ‘pain point’, make sure it gets in front of the right people, and close the sale quickly.
On paper. In reality, it is much more complicated than this. There are many more elements that go into making a successful sale. Just look at the number of theories on how should a B2B company market and sell efficiently to understand there is not much consensus on the matter.
A successful company is the one that can keep up with the changing business landscape and the changing relationships between buyers and sellers. A company that can adapt quickly, can innovate, use new methods, technologies, and channels of communications.
What can the past tell us about the future of B2B marketing and sales?
Here is what past research (2010) told us:
Mckinsey & Company, a Global management consultancy, points some of the key trends that are rapidly dominating the B2B landscape:
- Customers are more demanding – They expect more customized solutions designed by experienced teams but also simple, fast, and inexpensive solutions.
- Customers want to speak to specialists – More sophisticated and informed buyers want to talk to someone that knows more than them. They expect a representative that knows the product inside out.
- Customers are more open to other means of communication – As buyers become more comfortable with new forms of communication, they are open to receiving information in other ways.
- Data will be used to streamline the sales process- B2B sales have taken an example from Amazon and using customer data and analytics to predict behavior and drive sales.
The Harvard Business Review, in another study, shows that companies that want to grow usually hire more sales people. Actually, they say, if a company wants to grow and upscale improving the sales process will be a better investment.
- Customization – A seller has to tailor a sales approach for each different customer. Different tasks will need a very different approach. The sale process needs to be updated to keep up with industry standards.
- Understanding customer’s journey – Companies need to understand the buyer’s journey inside his/her company, know at which stage of approval it is, and interact with the appropriate people.
- Turning information into data – The CRM can be a goldmine of untapped information. It behooves companies to use this data to help them make strategic decisions. Ensuring the sales team has the right information at the right time will yield better results than adding another person.
Now let’s look into the actual past, what really worked in B2B marketing in the near past. KOMarketing asked a few B2B marketing executives what marketing strategy worked for them in 2015:
Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group – “The most effective marketing tactic I have seen work for many brands is taking a strategic approach to content marketing. I’ve applied this as I’ve launched my own business. In the process, I have doubled my traffic, tripled my blog subscribers and generated inbound leads I would have never seen. It starts with creating a simple content marketing mission statement. For me, it’s ‘helping brands reach, engage and convert new customers.’ Next, I committed to answering my potential customers’ top questions with blog articles published nearly every day. I built a content experience to focus on gaining subscribers.”
Wendy Marx, Marx Communications – “We introduced a new program this year integrating our upper funnel PR programs with middle and bottom funnel inbound marketing. The result is that we can now tie PR to an ROI rather than be dependent only on nebulous findings like a number of clips or impressions. We anticipate refining this even further in 2016 as we offer a crescendo of visibility and leads to our clients.”
Matt Heinz President Heinz Marketing – “The tactics I saw most often in 2015 aligned and tied most directly to sales pipeline contribution and conversion from marketing were buyer personas, sales automation, advocate management, influencer engagement and account-based marketing.”
Chad Pollitt Co-founder of Relevance – “The biggest surprising trend for me this year was in social – the networks themselves. The amount of innovation, change and new offerings offered by Twitter, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn exploded in 2015 – many of which gave marketers like us, not just better access to social audiences, but hyper-targeted options.”
Dan Slagen, VP Marketing at Crayon Co. – “The most effective marketing tactic has been word-of-mouth marketing. When customers, friends, family, industry analysts, and bloggers say wonderful things about your company and convince others to buy your product, you’ve made it. There is a great amount of debate about how to make all of that happen. For us, it’s been about focusing on the customer, making something they need, and delivering a great product and experience. The happier your customers are, the easier everything else becomes. The math is pretty simple; there will be a direct correlation between the number of happy customers you have and your marketing performance.”
Dianna Huff, Huff Industrial Marketing – “One of my top marketing accomplishments is helping my clients, who are small industrial manufacturers with limited budgets, develop simple but effective tactics. These tactics, which help build trust and credibility and thus increase sales over time, include website, trade show promotions, PR, and e-newsletters. In terms of trends, I believe B2B mobile is an under-appreciated trend that has more traction than data indicates. Although Google Analytics data suggests desktops still rule, I believe this is going to change pretty fast — and much faster than we think.”
Rachel Cunliffe, Cre8d – “2015 was the year in which the hot, and effective marketing tactics seemed to be all about mobile-friendly websites, email opt-ins, landing pages and webinars, video (both YouTube and Facebook) and engagement on Instagram.”
Jennifer Moebius, Founder Moebius Ink – “For marketing and PR teams, 2015 was ‘The Year of Content – Backed Up By Data’. Today, cold media pitches (similar to annoying ads) are despised, many even publicly humiliated on social channels like Twitter. While marketers are seeing huge upticks in conversion rates by simply providing their target audiences with useful content instead of interrupting them, PR leaders are having the same luck with journalists.”
Alexandra Barca, content marketing specialist at Curata – “This year, the Curata marketing team shifted to a data-driven content marketing strategy. We uncovered many insights about the effectiveness of our content and were able to make several changes to our strategy. One example: We used our content marketing platform to analyze data on historical content and found that long-form blog posts generate nine times more leads than short-form blog posts. We now focus almost all of our resources on creating long-form content.”
What can be learned from this about the future? According to Inc. the next few years are going to bring innovation to B2B sales.
- With buyers having greater access to information, they feel less need to ask for help from the seller. Most of the time they have a solution already in mind. This change in dynamic will change sales as well.
- Content marketing will be the key sales driver – More than 70% of B2B sales and marketing executives plan on spending much more on content. Video content is increasingly a popular tool and it will continue to change the sale process.
- Marketing will go into new frontiers – 3D marketing? Virtual Reality marketing? Those are new technologies that will likely be used by marketers in the near future.
- Technology will play even more important role – New technologies and innovation offer more and more opportunities for the marketing and sales teams. CRMs and lead generation tools already give sales people a greater awareness of the buyer’s journey.
- Social selling and increased use of social media are powerful tools that should be fully exploited.
- Online reputation is now more important than ever with buyers going to the internet first and spending more time searching and investigating their options.
The nature of B2B sales is changing and the most successful sales strategies will recognize and respond to it. This changing landscape will help shape the approach that is needed to bring about a change in the sales and marketing departments. Having them work together as a team to define the buyer’s journey, assess what will be the most effective way to interact with the company, what content to offer and when.
And putting in place a system to monitor and measure marketing effectiveness.