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Forrester research finds over half of B2B marketers struggle to engage with first time customers on digital platforms

It is becoming increasingly clear that business (B2B) marketing organizations have been slower than B2C marketers to embrace digital marketing, preferring to continue investing in more traditional channels such as in-person events and other traditional techniques. A Forrester Consulting survey noted that this fact is hindering B2B marketers from reaching early stage buyers. And, while it is true that traditional techniques retain their value, the social, mobile and display channels available to B2B marketers are still being overlooked, the report notes.

In conducting the research on 251 B2B marketing professionals at the manager level or higher in the US, Europe and Australia, it was revealed that 79 per cent of the B2B marketing organizations surveyed do use digital marketing with five of the seven most used channels being digital. The biggest challenge, however, according to 59 per cent of respondents is the difficulty in connecting with a first-time potential customer in the digital age. Because the potential customer is more involved in their own online research and takes a circuitous route to exploring solutions and vendors, B2B marketers are grappling with how to make those early connections.

Although 80 per cent of B2B marketers surveyed consider marketing technology comprehension to be a core requirement of their job, the report suggests that only 17 per cent of the respondents are able to take the lead in marketing technology and even fewer can fully execute mature marketing automation strategies.

The report finds that as B2B marketing is following B2C's lead, the business buyers will increasingly research, purchase and engage with products and services at anytime or place they please. This means that B2B marketers predict that about 46 per cent of their sales will be through online channels in 2016. The Forrester report expects that a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.7 per cent in B2B ecommerce over the next five years mean that B2B marketers need to start looking at channel proliferation as the new normal. The report shows that cross-channel responsibility is growing. In fact, on average, 40 per cent of those surveyed said they have a personal and frequent responsibility for a given channel in their job description.

While B2B marketers continue to follow buyers online, the biggest challenge they face is reaching that new customer. In fact, 59 per cent said that creating a personalized experience in the discover phase is more challenging in part because the once coveted information like pricing, customer reviews and detailed comparisons are so widely available on the Internet. As a result, marketers find they have less editorial control over the information that buyers can assess online. For this reason, 72 per cent of the B2B marketers surveyed said that connecting with anonymous buyers is a major challenge. To make matters more difficult, the buyer journey is so complex that 61 per cent said it was increasingly difficult to manage disparate prospect touch points and interactions. This also led the Forrester survey to point out that 62 per cent of B2B marketers agree that not only is early stage buyer identification more difficult, it is also more expensive.

With almost three quarters or 72 per cent of the B2B marketers surveyed saying their role has become more technical, and 76 per cent seeing a boost in actual lead opportunities, it is now increasingly crucial that marketers have technical competence. The Forrester report notes that 85 per cent of B2B marketers admit they need to better understand how multiple marketing technologies and services interact, and 80 per cent said that technology planning and integration is now a key part of their job role. While B2B marketers say they test up to six technologies per year, they implement only half of the technologies they test, stating that fast paced technological changes hinder sometimes more than help.

B2B marketers also agree that marketing technological finesse is elusive. While B2B marketers value technology, only 17 per cent of the B2B marketers surveyed claim they have expertise with nearly 45 per cent falling short with under utilized capabilities for direct response, inbound predictive marketing and sales enablement.

The Forrester report emphasized the need to engage early stage prospects and asked if B2B marketers can benefit from taking a closer look at programmatic ad buying (automation for buying, placing and optimizing media inventory) and retargeting (technology that programmatically presents ads to prospects as they move across an array of digital channels). The report found that although relatively few B2B marketers use retargeting and programmatic display advertising, those who do find them as effective for lead generation as other tactics like search and in person events. In fact, B2B marketers find retargeting and programmatic advertising to be more effective than standalone digital channels like email and organic social. The survey also found that respondents who lead in their use of marketing technology are 48 per cent more likely to utilize behavioral/contextual targeting than their less mature counterparts. They are 31 per cent more likely to see and appreciate the benefits of retargeting when engaging with anonymous prospects. And, with their more mature marketing techniques, they are 37 per cent more likely to rate behavioral targeting and programmatic buying as major benefits to their firms.

In summary, the Forrester report stresses B2B marketers should adopt technology based on a marketing automation strategy. In other words, B2B marketers first need a solid automation strategy that defines key issues and concerns of different buyers. The survey also suggests that B2B marketers adopt technology based on marketing automation, developing an audience management strategy that improves advertising effectiveness and aligns audiences against marketing objectives. Further B2B marketers have to also segment and target prospects across the various channels. Also, demonstrating the effectiveness of marketing technology to the more skeptical shareholders means that you must articulate the cross-channel engagement in business terms.

Laurie Fullerton

Laurie Fullerton is a writer based in Boston, MA with a background in business, sports, community, medical and travel writing. She has been a newspaper editor in the Boston-area, a sports writer covering yacht racing and a community reporter. She has been reporting for The Drum since October 2015.

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