As digital natives reshape B2B buying process, marketers must up their game states report

As one generation passes the torch to another, B2B marketers have seen that as baby boomers retire and millennials move into and up the ranks of B2B enterprises, they are fundamentally changing the way we do business.

As the millennials are the first generation of digital natives, they are vastly different than their predecessors in that they are the first generation to conduct online research in lieu of talking to someone in the sales department, and expect content to be relevant, easy to find, and mobile-friendly when making a purchasing decision.

With this sea change in B2B decision making, the buying habits of millennials are a constant reminder of the need to upgrade and stay current in all marketing strategies. In a report compiled by B2B Marketing Zone, up to 25 leading marketing specialists talk about how they cope with the ongoing evolution of B2B marketing, focusing on broad categories ranging from content marketing to employee advocacy.

Some of the strategies that are worth considering is targeting more individuals with careful and relevant content, tying marketing efforts to measurable business results that include website traffic, brand preference, and lead generation. Additionally, B2B marketers know they must align more with sales while marketers should also be encouraging more employee advocacy as business employees are the best brand advocates.

By embracing new technology, it is also important for marketers to better manage tools like predictive analytics and marketing stacks, the report notes. Personalized marketing is also a strategy that has been somewhat overlooked and marketers should engage meaningfully with different target audiences by following the ICE formula. The ICE formula includes identifying your buyer persona, creating compelling content and engaging meaningfully with social media.

The study notes that video needs a second look. The study shows that 75 per cent of executives watch work-related videos at least once a week, and video traffic accounts for more than half of mobile Internet traffic.

"It's time for B2B marketers to let go of their obsession with perfect production values in video and just get on with putting good content out there for customers and prospects," according to Elizabeth Williams, principal at Candler Chase Consulting. "Video on site adds more than two minutes of dwell time. But the real magic might be real-time video."

Demonstrating business results is also a challenge, and B2B marketers have to be wary of "vanity metrics" such as Facebook 'Likes' and Twitter followers the strategists note. Marketers have to set more measurable business-oriented goals up front so that if your CEO asks you that question "why are we doing this" the results will show revenue generation, client acquisition and retention and market share.

"B2B marketing champions must start asking the right questions, from the finish goals to the start," says J-P De Clerck, founder of i-Scoop. "They must consider the business and stakeholder goals of the company and take calculated risks that support the goals of the stakeholders. By not taking budgets for granted, they can build the case for higher budgets in function of achieving a goal with numbers in hand. Channels and tactics will come last, not first anymore."

Many of the strategists featured in the report agree that B2B marketers must focus on the right metrics to support business goals in 2016.

"Marketing has to continue to become more accountable for driving business results, rather than just talking about it. B2B marketers will focus more on the right metrics that support business goals in 2016. It's not just vanity metrics that have slowed this down, but the availability of too much data has become the latest distraction,” says Jeffrey L. Cohen, director of Content Strategy at Oracle Marketing Cloud.

Further, a tried and true method for demonstrating business results includes great efforsts to align marketing with the sales department, the strategists say.

"The days of the two disciplines operating like islands are done. With marketing now responsible for helping to nurture and advance the buyer through 70 per cent of the purchase cycle, there are monumental inefficiencies if the sales team is knocking on cold doors rather than closing sales-qualified, warm leads passed by the marketing team," notes Debra Andrews, president, Marketri.

On another note, encouraging employee advocacy offers tremendous potential for increasing brand awareness. This potential requires a delicate balance of encouragement, education and inspiration.

"I expect B2B marketers to better understand how an employee advocacy program aimed and fine-tuned for the sales department will help them amplify their B2B marketing and allow them to contribute even more to the success of their sales," saiys Neal Schaffer, president, Maximize Your Social.

Don’t neglect to use sales as a content distribution channel as well, the strategists say. B2B Marketers continue to devote significant resources to content creation, marketing automation, persona development and mapping the customer journey.

“Over 90 per cent of sales reps say they can’t find content they need when they need it. If you have 30 reps, each sharing just five pieces of content per week that is an opportunity to get your message out the equivalent of 7,200 times, “ says Shannon Pham, VP Marketing, Genwi.

Further, fueled by millennials, leading B2B brands are investing resources to create a workforce of involved brand ambassadors. At the core of this approach are trust, authenticity and transparency - the cultural pillars essential for activating the workforce around social business best practices, the report states.

Managing the customer experience is also essential. Having great content is fine, but the product must also speak for itself. Marketing messages are much more powerful when they come from a buyers peers or trusted third- parties rather than from vendors directly. To be effective in the coming year, B2B marketers must identify, incentivize and build relationships with the most influential voices in their industries, the strategists say. Don’t neglect how important it is to collaborate with industry influencers. Marketing messages are much more powerful when they come from a buyer’s peer or trusted third party.

Additionally, interviewing external thought leaders from your industry and incorporating their commentary throughout your content can simplify your content creation process, adding credibility and new perspectives to your content.

"B2B marketers who want to succeed will understand their collaborative role within the broader transformational challenges in their organizations," adds De Clerck. “They will become bridge builders, collaborating with and learning from everyone who is involved in these transformational evolutions that revolve around customer experience and delivering upon promises, from the call center agent and sales agent to the information manager and broader business ecosystem. There are two keywords here: service and enablement.


Laurie Fullerton

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