Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Lauraramos [Posted by Laura Ramos]

Today marks the beginning of my 8th year at Forrester and my 4th year researching B2B marketing.

I’d like to use this anniversary to start a blog conversation about what I see happening in B2B marketing and to think about what’s next. And, frankly, I am concerned about the future of the business marketing profession.  In particular, for those of us marketing high technology products and services.

First of all, I see four macro trends working against increasing marketing's future value.  In brief they are:

1) Commoditization: software as a service, open source, service-oriented architectures and a number of similar trends make it easier to enter a market and more difficult to differentiate products on features and capabilities alone. As a result, marketers need to work harder to understand, attract, and engage an audience. And it takes multiple touches to involve prospects in conversation and figure out if they are ready for sales to contact.

2) Consumerism and the social groundswell: Buyers are more likely to use information from associates than from institutional sources, like marketing messages and sales people, when purchasing. We found proof of this recently at Forrester when we surveyed business decision makers this year and found 36% of the 2187 who buy networking products and 34% of the 2148 who buy security solutions turn to peers (word of mouth) when researching what to buy. Peers were the #1information source picked in both survey samples. Social computing also establishes more open and authentic communication that will fundamentally change how marketing works – no longer will marketers be able to “spin” product problems or customers concerns away. Look at Dell or Comcast for examples of this.

3) Ad avoidance translates to sales call avoidance. Consumers are really good at avoiding ads. Technology only helps them do this. Tivo lets prospects skip commercials, spam blockers keep email clean, and pop-up blockers keep online ads away. This behavior spills over into the business world where busy buyers turn to the Web to get information while avoiding phone and sales calls until they are further in the buying process.

4) Globalization: Besides needing to address customers in fragmented regional markets, marketers are beginning to face offshore skill competition. Not only do marketers outsource their brains to interactive, ad, and PR agencies, but now outsourcing practices like lead generation and telemarketing are starting to bleed over into core campaign design and execution functions.

Unfortunately, I see marketers focus take a narrow view that causes them to miss seeing the impact of these trends looming ahead. When I ask B2B marketers, “What is marketing’s charter or mission at your company?,” most often I hear “We generate demand.”  This goal is very hard to measure. Why? Because most B2B products are highly-considered sales involving a sales force or indirect channel where marketing gets caught in the middle or brushed to the side. Marketers who simply want to know which tactics work best and which statistics matter fail to see beyond the front of the funnel. Without this broader perspective, marketing will become obsolete as the Web, blogosphere, and social networks let businesses connect buyers directly with product development and bypass marketing all together.

So what should marketers do to avoid this fate?  I’d like to hear from you on this topic.  Feel free to comment or contact me. I will be posting more thoughts on this topic over the next couple of weeks. (Hint: managing demand, not generating it, is a key discipline B2B marketers must improve.)  But I’d like your thoughts first.  What should B2B marketers do to become more relevant to the business and avoid becoming obsolete?

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Comments

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

The same Social Media marketing principles that apply to consumers also apply to businesses. Because, after all, businesses are people too - CEOs and purchasing managers read blogs and join Social Networks. The rise of Social Media may force traditional marketing techniques into obsolescence but it opens the doorway for a much more effecient means of advertising: word-of-mouth.My recommendation to B2B marketers is build a social presence, join the conversations around your brand, contribute unique and insightful content to the web, and become the trusted information source consumers are looking for.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

LauraYes I think the B2B marketing landscape has become more challenging but we certainly aren't going away any time soon.My view is "the groundswell is your friend" - especially in a considered purchase - before all we could do is constantly "shout" at our prospects with email now at least we can have a leisurely conversation with a prospect as they get up the curve of awareness to consideration to purchase.Meantime while they progress so should your lead nurturing efforts (and hence the profiles of these individuals) - lead nurturing brings B2B marketers closer to sales (which is where we need to be if we want to prove real value ie ROI)I think combining the new medias with lead nurturing is a one two punch we all should be using - however a recent Forrester study cited 77% of marketers doing lead nurturing (3 out of 4 are not doing it)Bottom line - I think this is the most exciting time in history to be B2B marketer - there are tons of tools and new medias to master - so lets get out there!

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Hi LauraI think marketers need to look inwards, focusing precisely on those new touch points such as product development, support forums, wikis etc where meaning full interactions are taking place. The marketing message from a CMO perspective is going to get (in Hi Tech, is already) very fragmented with the emergence of enterprise social media investments. Instead of focusing primarily on "lists" or marketing-authored canned newsletters based often on weak segmentation, marketers need to use efficient topic based monitoring and discovery mechanisms that pull content from across all touch points and push the right content in front of the right people, as part of the nurturing process. Participatory media efforts at the enterprise level have largely been measured for brand awareness and engagement. Marketers need to bring hard ROI programs to these investments and focus on what’s in their backyard.This is one way to respond to Globalization and Ad Avoidance and to capitalize on Consumerism. If consumers want to rely on what their peers or other neutral trusted voices recommend, embrace it and make it easier for the prospect to find this and remain engaged until it’s time to ask for the order.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Hi Laura,First, congratulations on your 8th and 4th year anniversaries. ;)I'll share my perspective on your second point.I think a key strategy for B2B marketers (I am one myself) is to understand this shift to consumerism and social groundswell that you mention. As much as social computing and social marketing is taking off as a way to engage customers (B2B and B2C scenarios), there are still many companies, and marketers within those companies, who do not understand the impact of this shift. That the way to attract and retain customers is about building relationships.Even if peers are the number one influence on purchase decisions, you still need to sustain relationships with your customers by listening to their needs as they change over time and providing support where required. Social media is a way to do this.Then they should look for ways to act as an enabler to get their company ready to embrace these social conversations with customers. It's no longer about marketing to your customers but about building relevant dialogue.I hope that makes sense. ;)

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Laura,The tools may change, but the basic tenets remain the same:1) Be the thought leader: publish/deliver solid information that the market needs to become a more intelligent professional. Stow the opinions, and deliver well-researched data and reports.2) Improve the quality of leads: slow down on delivering every single inquiry, and focus on delivering actionable leads by deploying a range of tactics from digital, e.g., personalized microsites, to taking over the Inside Sales function.3) Test, test, test: there's absolutely nothing holding anyone back from doing this.4) Ongoing optimization: everything from continual process improvement to landing pages to inquiry workflow.5) And something that seems to have gotten lost: customer research. Your market is never wrong.Akin to turning the double play or blocking 'n tackling, its about focusing on your basic tenets. What are your tenets??

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Laura:B2B marketing is about relationships. As long as people are involved there is going to be a continued need to maintain relationships with trusted contacts, and to facilitate introductions (i.e. referrals) to other potential partners, clients, etc.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Laura --Great to re-connect with you in this forum! Time flies -- 12 years? Nice thought-provoking post, and while I should start to panic and reconsider my career choices, I guess I would echo Joe's and other's comments above.Challenges bring opportunities. The engagement model for B2B marketers is changing. It will require a different non-traditional approach to lead management and prospect engagement.The dominance of social networks influencing buying decisions and the advance of sales and web intelligence tools to help further shed light into a prospect's interest BEFORE they are engaged in a conversation helps create a better buying/selling experience for everyone.I think it also forces marketers to think differently about lead generation and lead management --not as a static, linear process. Because prospect's come to the table better informed and knowledgeable, marketers and their sales counterparts will need to work together more closely to engage prospects in a meaningful way.I think this dynamic alone will start to fuse marketing and sales functions in a more productive way.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

B2B Marketing is there to stay but the methods will change. For example, methods like online marketing and sms marketing will complement traditional marketing methods.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Congrats on 8 years at Forrester!As a B2B marketer, I agree with your findings but see the conclusion and natural evolution of things going in a different direction. Perhaps this is the optimist in me, but I see opportunity in this new B2B environment as the rules of engagement change, namely:1. Rather than serve as a somewhat isolated forefront to sales, I see marketing becoming a more integrated component of the entire company - quantifying customer-centric innovation, providing product specs to development, and thanks to Web 2.0, gathering much more detailed information about a company's buyers, etc.2. In response to the change in B2B buying behavior, here is what we are doing. I have found that most buyers go through a few stages before they are ready to talk to a sales person. But because they generally distrust marketing messages, we needed a way to bring together our best customers and prospects online together. The answer we found was combining an eLearning platform with an online community (mingled with some heavy duty analytics and reporting services). We call it a social learning community. First we bring our clients to the social learning community (SLC) by using the eLearning tool to provide formal instruction on the technology they have purchased from us - helping them better understand all aspects of the tool. Then, we use the community to allow our clients to learn from each other how to use our technology strategically. Now that we have an incentive for our clients to come back to the community with excellent consistency, we then open up the community to the market. With the eLearning tool, we are able to provide the educational materials that our prospects need to become sales ready. However, since we know they are likely to distrust our messaging, the community provides a way where our customers can validate our messaging as true. Rather than having prospects call our customers for references, this is now happening online in the community. And when we integrate all of this with a CRM like SalesForce, we are able to collect great information about our prospects like what content they are watching, what comments they are making in the community, what questions they are asking of our clients, etc. The end result is a well qualified prospect this is now ready to talk to our sales staff. And best of all, the consumer drove the entire time in accordance with the new buying behaviors in the B2B market.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Laura,Congrats on your 8th and 4th year anniversaries.If you consider all four forces -- which I agree with -- at a macro level, the shift becomes relatively clear: b2b marketing is becoming more of a holistic business function that is everyone's job, versus its former status as a standalone, well-defined, tightly controlled business unit. As head of marketing at a b2b Web software company, I see this plain and clear. My leadership role is evolving to one of inspiring and defining frameworks, whereby the power of my team is less about direct reports, and more about lateral contributions and coordination across all other business function -- i.e., product development, sales and customer experience functions. One example where this becomes plainly obvious is on our team blog; it has become one of our most important venues for driving our reputation, communicating with customers and upholding humility and transparency (the latter a major competitive advantage). But it's about far more than recruiting and editing posts from our business unit leads. It's about giving all of them the tools to be active, accountable contributors to the marketing function.I'm excited about these changes, and I think they're long due. But the thing that really keeps me up at night is being disciplined about creating accountability frameworks, and better visibility into how this new type of marketing leadership directly impacts our corporate goals and bottom line. You touched briefly on that -- it is very much my fundamental concern as marketing lead. To quote Albert Einstein: "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." But quantifying and qualifying is pretty damn important, regardless!Finally, I'm sure the four forces you note above also are threats to Forrester's syndicated research business as well. It would be extremely valuable to hear Forrester's own experience in how these shifts are changing the way you do business and market to potential customers (I guess I'd fall into that bucket, based on calls from your sales team). I'm finding that potential vendors we do business with are the ones who can talk very openly with customers. With so much choice, that's often what stands out the most. It's not about where a company product is today, but how dedicated it is to confronting risk, friction and other challenges -- and constantly improving in partnership with customers.Regards,Max

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

As a marketing services provider leveraging social networks and a SaaS delivery model, some of these trends are working in our favor. However our technology oriented clients like Microsoft, CDW, and Synnex, as well as our other B2B and B2C clients are using three techniques to counter-attack:1. Personalized offers based on highly accurate purchase probabilities at the account level2. Multivariate testing of offers and targeting, now finally available to ordinary mortals with the advent of expert systems to do the math for you3. Virtual marketing, where what-if analysis predicts the results of marketing campaigns before launch; it’s been working for automobile, computer, and even golf club design, so why not for marketing campaigns?The technology you describe does make it harder for B2B marketers. If you can’t beat them, join them, and use technology to fight back.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Wow. Great post ... very provocative. You nailed it at the end when you "hinted' that B2B marketers need to be focused more on lead management or nurturing. Way more focus and attention has to be on the harder task of building community for a given solution provider's target audience.As a sales & marketing consultant, I work mostly with SaaS/on demand SW clients and find that the ones that are leading in their respective markets are very good at building community. In that effort, they are good at taking a problem/solution (thought leadership) approach vs product/promotional approach. I am speaking at Software Business 2008 and intend to interview as many SaaS execs and market watchers to see what trends they are seeing in the marketing>sales process.I have had an on-going discussion with a good friend and colleague who also has been CEO/SVP Sales & Marketing for several SaaS companies and we have come to the following conclusion: we see that most SW today is being bought with discretionary spend, so the competition within a company is who gets that money - who can make a better case for spending that scarce $. So "solutions" (to problems - not product promos) that can radiate in the buyer's mind and provide gratification in a relatively short timeframe (time-to-benfit), are more likely to succeed in this market. Who makes the better case.That means B2B marketers have to focus their programs and content on making buyers feel better about the probability of success. A marketing program that connects and makes them a part of community vs just creating a relationship with the SW provider, will win.I have one client with a user forum that is very good (very enthusiastic clients/users), but their marketing and inside sales processes don't connect prospective buyers to that forum. I agree that WOM and peer-to-peer referrals and references are driving purchase behavior now more than ever. This is why B2B marketers need to be far more aggressive in playing a roll in that behavioral aspect of the purchase decision. Getting more involved in the various new social medias and MUCH closer to the sales organization is the key to success.I still see most B2B marketers following tactics that are completely missing the boat because they have not developed a client acquisition strategy that starts with a deep understanding of their target audience> What problems are most important to them and how they typically evaluate and buy technology/SW solutions - the buyer persona concept. The use and development of buyer personas is still restricted (mostly) to the product marketing/management folks for R&D and NOT being used by marketing for leadgen/management. Of course there are many exceptions to my comment, but I must be in the prospect DB's of over 25 companies and very few approach direct marketing efforts in what I call a "Relationship Marketing" model. If you go back and read your relationship marketing books from the 80's, the idea was to get close to your clients and develop a deeper understanding of what problems they want solved above all others. We need to apply the RM model to prospective buyers the same way we did for clients.Also, Laura your audience has not taken to heart what you and Elana Anderson have been preaching the past 3-4 years. Most are still skimming the surface. I see too much emphasis in the "tips & tricks" aspect of various lead management tactics and not on gaining the deeper understanding of buyers and content that attracts and involves buyers. IMHO, the results to date speak for themselves.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Laura,I wish you 8 more good years – with an option to renew.Thanks for an interesting and challenging post. A few observations about your observations.1. Humanity - B2B customers are people, too. And outside of the need to be a bit more rational about their purchase decisions they behave a lot like they do in their B2C lives. At the very least they look for rational reasons to support their emotional decisions.2. Commoditization - Features and benefits can be copied and usually are. Service, support, and customer focus are opportunities for differentiation. They can generate a lot of leads and references in a world where product has become commoditized.3. Consumerism and Social Groundswell – “advice of a friend” has been the key driver of purchase decisions for most of the past hundred years. More people cite it than any other reason. Getting good references and advice passed along is an important marketing goal.4. Ad avoidance – People don’t hate advertising. They hate being interrupted. And they hate being treated as prey. In fact, people turn to advertising, online, in print, wherever they find it, to sort through the profusion of products and offers that come their way. What marketing must do is offer then help rather than try to ‘sell’ them.5. Globalization – Forget Thomas Friedman. Marketing needs to be globalized inside the business. That means two things. Breaking down the silos that house the various functions that create and distribute product. And, bringing the customer inside the process where she can influence every part of the process from design and packaging to customer support. Who’s going to align the goals and foster conversation among the silos in the customer’s interest? I nominate marketing.The 20th century enterprise developed products and sold them into the market. The 21st century enterprise will have to start with the market and develop products to serve it. The difference between products is going to arise from how well they meet the market’s needs and how well they’re supported.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Hi Laura - I'm not fully on board with your views here, and certainly don't see the profession of B2B marketing going away anytime soon. Certainly, we will continue to evolve and go through the ups and downs of popularity. But, the adoption of technologies such as SaaS, web services, SOA, etc. I don't associate with commoditization, but rather these technologies translate into more options for customers, and require more decision making sophistication as well as end-buyer education. Our company has been early to market on all these fronts, and as such must continually educate our market, who drags behind, on why these things will ultimately give them the software system integrations, interoperability they have so desired for years. There's now more to know, and I must support my sales teams, and provide more tools, better messages in order to create demand for such offerings.Regarding consumerism and the social groundswell, I think the statistics you reference are reflective of that particular buyer, where networking and security buyers will rely heavily on peer influence. But that behavior should not be generalized across market segments and vertical market solutions, where the buying behavior weights heavily on web-based research, and yes, information from vendors. Referral/references are still key, but later in the buying process. Not all technology buyers are as sophisticated or as far down the technology adoption curve as those buyers of such hard core IT products as networking/security.Congratulations on your 8th year at Forrester.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Great question.I can see the points you make, disagree with your conclusion though. I say let us concentrate on what interactive has promised long, many people know but we have a hard time implementing.Internet is pull, not push. We don't hunt, we fish - and we need a usp as bait. Away with all that marketing fluff, concentrate on customer centric messaging of the real usp of your product, service. And this is not different for consumer or commercial, if it is even stronger in B2B.Everyone hates marketing fluff, and if you see 100% Cranberry juice on the front of the bottle and see on the back there is mainly grape and applejuice in it, it SUCKS. (sorry for that.) And we do this all the time.People turn to social media and network, because companies' marketing has been proven to be not helpful at all in decision making. We change that, and people will listen.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Some marketers I know sense, on a gut level, that the marketplace has experienced a significant shift in power. No longer are just vendors hunting prospects. Prospects, now, are experienced marksmen too.So… what now? What does this mean for B2B marketers? Should we change professions? Retool our company’s marketing?Wait and see?I'm not sure if those commenting here have already seen mention of this, but Laura has an upcoming Forrester teleconference, “Why B2B Marketing Risks Becoming Obsolete” on Wed, October 29th, 8-9 am PT.Having been to many a marketing seminar since 1995, I was impressed when I got a sneak peek at the material for this Forrester teleconference. The insights are fresh – and my expectations were high.I’ve started referring to one of the charts in client meetings. And Laura’s graphic illustrating B2B marketing 2.0 is worth 1,000 words.More at:http://www.forrester.com/rb/teleconference/why_b2b_marketing_risks_becoming_obsolete/q/id/5224/t/1

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

I believe that, more specifically than "buyers ... turn to peers", buyers turn to trusted sources of objective information. It's really not a "peer" thing, its a "trust" thing (after all, they don't turn to ALL peers). As suppliers we need to earn our customers' trust. It has always been that way - but these days its getting easier to see.B2B Marketing has ALWAYS been about trust - and it always will be - even a hundred years from now.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

You nailed it. We have become very good at blocking out traditional marketing techniques.We have caller ID that screens our calls.Spam protection on our emailsSirius Radio in our cars.And TIVO for our TV.I don’t get a newspaper delivered; I subscribe to several newspapers through RSS feeds and only read what I want, with no advertising and the sources I trust most are bloggers.In B2B it's all about search, content and thought leadership. Content that editorializes and educates until a company is ready to buy aligns best today's buying life cycle.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Dynamite questions to Laura Ramos and me on this morning's Forrester teleconference on this topic!Qs that I noted included (paraphrasing):- Won't folks "see through" biz use social media & resent it?- HOW should b2b marketers measure ROI now?- What @ PR with traditional media -- still worthwhile?What do you think the answers are to these questions?

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

As the Web, blogoshere, and social networks begin to connect buyers directly with product development, marketers need to help guide the consumer through the minutia to gain perspective on the true value and benefits of the product or service. Embrace the social networks, utilize them to create a stronger connection with your potential customers, and provide them with a forum to connect with others they trust. As customers seek ways to deepen their relationship with their favorite products and brands, marketers have an opportunity to increase loyalty among all customers: potential, new, and loyal through this direct connection that social media has facilitated.Customers are much more knowledgeable than they have ever been. Marketers need to embrace this and leverage it to connect on a different level. Become the trusted advisor, not someone that is pitching the latest software or technology. Use the knowledge, analytics, and insights you have gathered over time to inform these potential customers. Don’t underestimate the power of the blogosphere in business to business marketing. As more of your target audience goes online and seeks information from their peers, it is critical that you as a marketer have an active role in this space and are part of the conversation.

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Globalization has caused a cold war between businesses. One business tries to protect itself while the other one is sending off its business to a cheap Nation to get shody work done for a cheaper price.This has created a "what are they doing"? Rather than networking and helping each other out. I think Gloabization has ruined business in general

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Globalization has caused a cold war between businesses. One business tries to protect itself while the other one is sending off its business to a cheap Nation to get shody work done for a cheaper price.This has created a "what are they doing"? Rather than networking and helping each other out. I think Gloabization has ruined business in general

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

Globalization has caused a cold war between businesses. One business tries to protect itself while the other one is sending off its business to a cheap Nation to get shody work done for a cheaper price.This has created a "what are they doing"? Rather than networking and helping each other out. I think Gloabization has ruined business in general

re: Will B2B Marketing Become Obsolete? (Part I)

In the short term there are still plenty of B2B marketing opportunities. Looking down the road according to Zeitgeist http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NT-2fenmLnc all of this could change (advertising and marketing will be eliminated all together)if we move to a resource economy instead of a money economy. The name of the game is relevance. This is why the power of having a strong network is important as you state. People buy from people, most of the time.