Innovation in the marketing industry is moving faster than ever before, according to Greg Ott, chief marketing officer at Demandbase, Inc. Vendors have backed out of traditional marketing-to-sales funnels, and the landscape is transforming dramatically, says Gerry Murray, research manager for the CMO Advisory service team at IDC (International Data Corp.). "Marketing is no longer a long-cycle and event planning and collateral building and annual cycle process," Murray says. "It's now happening minute by minute through Twitter and Facebook and all the other social media channels, and it's kind of blown up the whole model." Expectations, too, are changing. Marketing has become about forging deeper and more personalized relationships, Murray says, and engaging prospects sooner.
Online marketers have been moving away from targeting individuals to targeting the companies that are most likely to bring in revenue. Effective B2B campaigns require that marketers use IP addresses and visitor data to de-anonymize those who come to their websites and to personalize individual web experiences.
Unlike B2C marketing, most B2B visitors aren't return visitors, Ott says, so cookies and IP addresses are not the right tools to acquire visitor data. Internet cookies risk being inaccurate and can quickly go out-of-date, he adds, and IP addresses' principal use is geotargeting. "You can't just rely or bank on [a] plain vanilla IP address lookup to do good personalization," Murray says. "We need to go way beyond that."
Most B2B corporate websites have a generic, one-size-fits-all message, which Ott calls "a missed opportunity." If companies can unlock a corporate identity and compile their own databases, he continues, then their B2B strategies will be more efficient. This will also enable companies to know when anyone from their top accounts comes to their website, and they can customize the message for each client, Murray says.
The objective of B2B campaigns, Ott says, is to entice visitors to start a conversation by "talking about the problems that [buyers] face and ... giving [them] something that they're going to want to engage with." Giving web visitors "the right message at the right time" enables vendors "to position their product or solution to uniquely meet the needs of that web visitor," he adds.
The end goal is to get the visitor talking to the company's sales team. "If you can accelerate that time, or shorten that time, because you're giving them a much more personalized experience all the way through, you're going to start seeing the results on the other end, which is where your sales team's making the sale," Ott says. This strategy has led to Demandbase's own customers, he continues, seeing a "massive increase in engagement," namely in click-throughs and visitor-to-lead conversions.
Murray acknowledges that de-anonymizing web visitors is a tough problem. B2B marketing's greatest challenge is that its sales are low-volume, high-value, Ott states. While clients are worth more to a company, there are fewer of them. Typically, B2B initiatives target "sweet spots" as opposed to "spraying" to a broad audience, making it difficult to profile people most likely to become revenue, Ott says.
This approach also asks B2B marketers to spend more money without wasting any, but it's harder for them to attribute the impact of their marketing dollars. There is also a lot of pressure to come up with more and better leads. "The role of the B2B marketer is undergoing a massive transformation," Ott adds. Companies have been hiring people with strong publishing backgrounds to run their marketing operations, Murray says, as well as those with strong technical skills. "[B2B marketers] need to be internet marketing experts and understand the power of content marketing, of search engine marketing, of social media, and they've really got to become much more data-driven marketers," Ott says. "They've got to be able to dive into the metrics and understand what's working ... and then use that data to better connect their efforts to what's driving revenue. ..."
The ratio of inbound to outbound techniques also puts B2B marketers "between a rock and a hard place," Ott says. Outbound is an inefficient and massive expense, he says, but it provides targeted results, whereas inbound is highly efficient and scalable but not targeted. Murray finds outbound to be the preferred strategy because of its measurability. The unidentified visitors that inbound drives leave a lot of unstructured data, which then requires analysis, he says. Inbound relies on content to engage prospective clients. Therefore, content has to be relevant to their interests-their challenges and goals; the focus isn't on promoting a company's own offerings. Inbound marketing aims to create earlier awareness and turn that into a brand preference and, ultimately, into leads and revenues, which Ott says will happen much more easily with unobtrusive techniques.
"Sometimes, organizations will actually divide the team between inbound and outbound marketers, and then they compete over budget," Ott says. A company's website is the "critical touchpoint" of these two strategies, according to Ott, and the key is to de-anonymize web visitors. As the buyer behavior moves online and toward the website, Ott says, marketers can do a much better job of tracking marketing's impact on engagement and of moving a visitor forward in the sales funnel. Real-time identification technology is "a very unique approach to unlocking better efficiency from your marketing spend," Ott says, and companies that unlock this opportunity will win over time. "Because your future revenue is on your website right now, if you can start to identify these people who would otherwise be anonymous and make their experiences more effective and more measurable, you're going to get better bang on your marketing spend."
It's important for companies to put identification systems and sources into place first and optimize them later, Murray says. Ott adds that marketers should focus on making their engagements more effective before "running off on all these new projects, trying to find new customers or new visitors to [their] website." However, companies need to act quickly, as B2B marketing drives an "instinctual competitive reaction," Murray says. If a brand is not engaging with people, it will lose market share to its competitors.
It's a long road to marketing optimization, "and you've got to do the fundamentals first," Ott says. "Companies have to be able to play to the strengths of their company and what they have on their team as well as what is relevant to the market they're selling into." He advises that marketers prioritize their opportunities and "take them one step at a time to move ... forward on this marketing maturity journey."
(B2B image via Shutterstock.)