For progressive and tech savvy business-to-business companies, traditional marketing techniques like entire departments dedicated to cold calling potential clients have largely been retired to the trash folder. Instead, these companies are rapidly embracing technologies and practices aimed at increasing productivity, using social media more effectively, and providing engaging and informative content to potential clients. For a deeper look at these trends shaping B2B marketing in 2011, read on.
Quantifying Value Creation
If you're looking to make your case to another business, come with lots of data, says Keith Pigues, co-author of Winning With Customers: A Playbook for B2B. You'll need to quantify your value to customers in terms of dollars and cents, something known as 'customer value creation.'
"Many organizations are finding that some of the more traditional customer satisfaction or customer loyalty measurement systems like ‘net promoter score' are falling short when trying to provide a real financial measure to companies to help them understand exactly, 'how much more money am I making doing business with your company verses Company B or C?,'" says Pigues.
To accomplish this, companies are looking to third parties for help. Among them is Chicago-based Valkre, a technology provider that specializes in helping companies customize and match sales solutions to specific customers, implementing marketing strategies that increase a company's online visibility, and creating daily management plans that use mainstream technology.
Valkre founder Jerry Alderman agrees that the next evolution in B2B marketing involves businesses attempting to understand how the services they're offering truly impact the bottom line of their customers. Valkre has created a new metric, called the differential value proposition or "DVP", which measures the amount of increased profit that a customer can bring in by doing business with one company versus another. Unlike net promoter score, the DVP percentage metric was designed for use specifically within the B2B industry.
Targeting Online Identities
Whittling down to the individual buyer will increasingly be the objective in online B2B marketing, even in terms of broad awareness campaigns, says Steven Woods, the Toronto-based CTO of Eloqua. Instead of generalized marketing initiatives, companies are beginning to analyze the online behavior -- also known as digital body language -- of individuals involved in the B2B industry in an effort to pinpoint the specific buyer whose needs best fit the services of the seller.
Through the collection and analysis of data, companies are discovering ways to link varied online "handles" across social networks to a single individual they wish to target for marketing purposes. "The vanguard will see a lot of people in 2011 figure out the identity management challenge and be able to understand ‘you' across those identities and understand how your activity on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and the various social properties indicates your buying intentions," says Woods.
The goal is to cater marketing content to customers depending on where they are in the buying process. To accomplish this, Tableau Software, a Seattle-based seller of B2B software, uses a method of "scoring" visitors that come to their website. The more that users visit, the more their scores increase, allowing the algorithm to filter them into the programs within the site that speak to their interests. Thus, Tableau targets customers based on their online behavior rather than the demographics provided by their firm or industry.
"The trend of 2011 is that marketers are as interested in delivering relevant content to relevant people, as they are to stopping the delivery of irrelevant content to irrelevant people," says Elisa Fink, Tableau's vice president of marketing. "We don't want to be spammers. Every engagement with a company is really an engagement with a person."
Getting Creative with Content
In terms of the content being delivered, B2B companies are encouraging members of their technology departments to build their personal brand and further the recognition of their company by becoming "expert" bloggers and content creators.
"The winning marketing skill set that is going to be very much recognized in 2011 is not going to be the creative copywriting, artistic skill setm," says Woods. "It's the person who understands numbers, analytics, data, workflow, the operational skill set."
This can be accomplished via the company website, Twitter stream, LinkedIn discussion group, and even the employee's personal blog.
Woods explains that part of this trend is a move in favor of less polished content and faster production times. In the past, all marketing materials were placed under intense scrutiny before anything was put online to represent the company. Now, personal engagement is en vogue, whereby the members of a company with active knowledge about products can engage in two-way conversations with clientele on the fly.
"[The content] might even have spelling mistakes in it. If it's a video, it might just be a very quick, ‘hey, here is how I tackle this problem, here is how I view the latest merger in the industry, or view this latest technological development,'" says Woods.
Some B2B institutions are also beginning to explore new approaches to their chain of command within marketing initiatives. In larger B2B companies, the IT department typically reports to the operations department because that's where the most money has traditionally been invested. According to Alderman, that is now changing. He points to a major player in the industry taking the approach of having their IT department report to their marketing department. By doing this, information regarding a business' technological holdings and services can be more accurately and efficiently marketed to potential clients.
As the Web 2.0 advances into a new decade, B2B marketing strategies will also continue to develop. Indeed, there are an increasing number of digital platforms, like social media, for marketers to explore. In 2011, the winners will be the ones that are best able to target their efforts to their customers' online habits and interests, and provide true value – and be able to prove it – to users.