These days I rely on my smartphone and tablet for absolutely everything. I can do it all and I can do it anytime, anywhere.
And I know I’m not alone. According to various reports there will soon be six billion smartphones, three billion people on social networks and more than 75 billion connected products. The result is a step change in customer behaviour. Todays’ connected customer expects a brand experience centred on their personal convenience, regardless of whether they’re buying on behalf of a business or as an individual consumer. And they expect it will be highly personalised.
So what does this mean for marketers, particularly those in B2B? I believe that, from a digital marketing perspective, we’re seeing a shift that will eventually result in B2B marketing following in the footsteps of B2C marketing. Here’s my reasoning.
The connected customer
Both business and consumer customers typically use five devices or platforms – think email, Twitter, phone – to engage with a brand before settling on a purchasing decision. This connectivity, shaping how customers make choices, is also creating an explosion in customer data. We’re now in the age of the “Internet of Customers” where companies of every size and across every industry can connect to their customers through devices, apps and products. But it’s important to remember that behind every app and device there is a customer, who is an actual person.
B2B marketers looking to get ahead of the curve should therefore make sure the data on their customers is connected across each channel – whether its in-store, on the website or on a social media platform. Only by having a single, cohesive view of the customer can businesses identify, respond and anticipate their needs.
One of the things we're doing at Salesforce is looking at the 1-to-1 customer journey in a similar manner to the B2C customer journey - a highly orchestrated, multi-touch-point personalised outreach plan that really creates a tailored experience.
And a great example of an organisation that’s utilising insights from multiple channels is the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). When investigating cases about a specific firm or topic, the FCA is able to supplement its existing intelligence with social media information captured by Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud. This enables the team to interrogate massive volumes of unstructured data to provide exact actionable, timely insights from masses of data.
The rise of B2I marketing
Cloud-based marketing technology now allows marketers to utilise data sets from multiple channels – helping them engage 1-to-1 with customers in a way that’s timely and personal. In fact, this type of precision B2B marketing is completely unprecedented.
This focus on customer data and personalised customer journeys in both B2B and B2C marketing will, in the end, blur the boundaries between the two and lead to the rise of business-to-individual marketing (B2I). B2I will access a vast wealth of integrated, actionable intelligence in the future, helping marketers deliver a 1-to-1 journey for every customer.
The key to achieving B2I isn’t having massive amounts of data, it’s being able to analyse data effectively - pulling out timely, actionable insights, and getting those insights to the right people within your organisation. Collecting all of these data points will then allow B2B companies of all shapes and sizes to engage with their customers at each stage of their purchasing journey and create a highly personalised experience.
The road to personalisation
Just like consumers, B2B customers increasingly expect a more personalised experience from the companies they do business with. Technology combined with powerful analytics is key in the delivery of this.
If an IT manager at a company is looking to buy new software they may start their purchasing journey online using a desktop, carry out some further research whilst using their mobile before deciding to speak to someone on the phone. A company that sees this whole journey take place can then tailor the customer service they provide at each stage in order to deliver a personalised experience and ultimately forge a better relationship with that customer.
With the number of connected devices projected to reach 75 billion by 2020, there are tremendous opportunities for B2B companies to leverage the data this creates, glean actionable insights and understand their customers on the same level as B2C brands. However, what’s clear is that technology will be a key enabler in ensuring that B2B marketers can successfully use data to shape and influence the individual customer experience. If executed in the right way, the future of B2B marketing could look very bright indeed.
Paul Smith, SVP and GM EMEA at Salesforce Marketing Cloud