This October Forrester had its B2B Marketing event, which featured the latest research and thought leadership on the subject. We live in an era of unprecedented change in B2B marketing — a field that had generally been consumed with advertising and outbound mailings (electronic and otherwise). The shift in marketing is creating big opportunities for B2B leaders to be heroes. Here are 3 reasons it’s a great time to be in B2B marketing:
- B2B buyers are starting to act like B2C buyers.
As consumers, it might not always feel like it, but the customer is in charge. This didn’t happen because our friendly retail outlets wanted it that way — it happened because the internet happened. The ubiquity of information has cut into the age-old practice of price discrimination. For example, shopkeepers could once raise or lower prices depending on the sophistication of the customer. Now when a tourist walks into a dingy store in Manhattan to buy a camera (people still use those) the price isn’t adjusted to the buyer’s knowledge. Now, every customer is sophisticated because they all have access to reviews and comparison prices.
The B2B world has always been — and will continue to be — more complex. Still, B2B buyers expect to be better informed, and they are. Marketing and sales enablement professionals have to adjust accordingly. The “first call deck” — the traditional presentation introducing the business to a prospect — is becoming a relic of a bygone era. In fact, according to a study by CEB Global, the average B2B buyer is 57 percent through the purchase decision before even engaging a sales rep.
B2B buyers, who are used to researching products they buy in their personal life, are starting to bring that approach to their work life. Forrester Research in their annual B2B Buyer Channel Preferences Survey asks buyers to respond to the statement “I find gathering information online on my own superior to interacting with a sales representative.” In 2015, 53 percent answered “Yes.” In 2016, that number jumped to 64 percent. Similarly, for the statement, “I do my research online and prefer NOT to interact with a sales representative as my primary source of research,” 59 percent said “Yes” in 2015, and 65 percent in 2016. Clearly, B2B buyers expect the ability to self-educate.
- A closer relationship between sales and marketing.
Last year, Forrester Analyst, Andy Hoar, produced an infamous report titled “Death of a (B2B) Salesman.” In it, Forrester forecasted that 1 million US B2B sales people will lose their jobs to self-service ecommerce by the year 2020. Despite the title, of course, B2B Sales is not completely going away. The great shift, though, is from B2B Sales Reps who are “order takers” to ones who are “consultants.” According to Mary Shea, B2B buyers now want sales reps who 1) integrate customized data and insights, 2) help them learn something new, 3) show how their product or service impacts their business and 4) can pivot the discussion to what they want to talk about. All of this requires a new type of sales rep, but also, a closer relationship between the rep and the marketing department. The wall that has separated sales and marketing is beginning to melt away.
- Marketing departments have access to better technology.
Marketing technology is no longer just better ways to spam prospects. Technology vendors are starting to build technology for the modern B2B buyer. For the last few years, Salesforce has been extending its offerings beyond traditional CRM and the sales funnel. Community Cloud, for example, can be used to build a community for B2B customers to find information, log cases, and connect with each other as well as with the sales and marketing teams. Likewise, Marketing Cloud can help marketing teams share content specific to where the customer is in their customer journey. And of course, it’s not just Salesforce. A host of technology firms are building solutions for the new world of marketing, like Mediafly for guided selling. The recent partnership between Brainshark and Highspot also promises to deliver intriguing possibilities for marketing and sales teams.
The world of B2B marketing is changing, and this is a good thing. Marketing departments that give their buyers power through clear and honest information will gain market share and make new marketing heros. And we all need heros.