Get Started With Programmatic Advertising To Optimize Your Outbound/ABM Targeting

The economics of digital advertising have never been a great fit for business-to-business (B2B) marketers. Unlike our peers in business-to-consumer (B2C) markets, we rely more on targeted and lead-based communications than mass reach. But — as a recent report that I coauthored with Samantha Merlivat has shown — two trends are changing that dynamic:

  1. Account-based marketing (ABM) is driving interest in outbound channels. ABM includes the tactics of reaching out to known and unknown contacts at target accounts with personalized messaging. This is a great use case for programmatic media buying — enabling you to deliver the ad to a specific person wherever she goes on the web (versus traditional advertising, which is about placing an ad where you hope a specific person, or type of person, will visit).
  2. The programmatic advertising ecosystem is evolving to better support B2B marketing. The buying platforms, data providers, and publishers that previously catered to B2C marketers have begun to increase their resources and alter their approaches to achieve B2B-specific goals.
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Speed Dating In Miami — Or What I Learned At The Forrester B2B Marketing Forum

Now that I’m back from Forrester's B2B Marketing Forum in Miami last week, I thought I’d share a few observations. This was my second Forrester event as an analyst, but my first at a B2B Marketing Forum. 

It’s worth noting that my perspective as an analyst is completely different from that of an attendee, because so much of our time is consumed by one-on-one meetings. This means that I didn’t see much of the mainstage proceedings other than the first-day opening and part of one presentation over a hurried lunch on the second day.

If you’ve never been, a big part of the value of Forrester's events for attendees is these one-on-ones, which provide various opportunities: to sit down across the table from analysts with whom you may speak regularly but have never met face-to-face, to make first-time introductions, or to simply reconnect with old friends. The one-on-ones are set up speed-dating style — 20-minute conversations scheduled on the half-hour, starting at breakfast and stretching throughout both days of the conference. And maybe I’m bad at time management or just get caught up in interesting conversations, but just about all of my meetings ran into each other. So it was a whirlwind experience, exciting and exhausting at the same time.

I did my best to take notes, and here’s a few of the major themes I observed, based on my interactions with dozens of B2B marketers throughout the entire event:

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B2B Marketers Should Gate Later And Less To Improve Engagement And Success

Today’s business marketers and their prospects are engaged in a frustrating content “dating” game. To get the content they want – and avoid the inevitable follow-up sales call or nurturing emails – more and more buyers are populating your gating forms with false, incomplete, or non-business information. They get the whitepaper, but all you get is another useless “lead.”

To assess the current state of content gating and uncover innovative solutions to this problem, we reviewed 35 B2B websites and interviewed 15 B2B marketing practitioners across four industries, the results of which are available in my latest report, entitled Unlock Content Gates To Support Self-Educating Buyers. Here are a few of the high points:

  • Gating practices vary across industries, but the pendulum is clearly swinging back to more open access. The early adopters of content marketing have learned the hard way that too many forms too early in the buyer’s journey do more harm than good.
  • Business marketers have reached a consensus on what content to gate and not gate. The dividing line is determined by the buyer’s need and purpose, whether they are in education mode or seriously evaluating your offering.
  • To improve the buyer’s experience, innovative marketers are experimenting with progressive profiling, personalizing content based on form data, augmenting minimalist forms with third-party data, and even profiling anonymous site visitors before they fill out a form.
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Start Making Sense: The 17 Most Important Technologies For B2B Marketers

We've all seen the ubiquitous martech slides: Thousands of company logos crammed into a single graphic that is both useless and illuminating. Useless as any sort of planning or evaluation tool — but also illuminating because it shows what we all know to be true from first-hand experience: The B2B marketing tech landscape is confusing and getting worse every day.

To help B2B marketers make smart technology choices in the midst of such chaos, Forrester has just published the TechRadar™: B2B Marketing Technologies, Q3 2016. In this report, we evaluate the current state and future potential of the business value provided by 17 distinct technology categories, after surveying dozens of vendors and end users and consulting with the entire roster of analysts on the Forrester B2B marketing team.

In surveying the B2B marketing technology landscape, we uncovered a few noteworthy trends:

  • The technologies that drive customer acquisition and retention are thriving.
  • Social has become a tactic for all functions, but ROI is proving elusive.
  • Early adopters see long-term potential in sales optimization.
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Your B2B Prospects Don't Want You To Call Them

So this makes it official: the rite of passage for every new analyst. My first research report, How Self-Service Research Changes B2B Marketing, has just been published.

I covered the premise of this report in my first blog post — but I’ll summarize it here again: multiple Forrester surveys have shown that B2B buyers strongly prefer to conduct their own research, without ever speaking with a sales rep. Forward-thinking B2B marketers will embrace this change and enable the customer-directed research journey with self-service technologies such as contextual help solutions and virtual agents.

Many B2B marketers may feel that this is a risky move — giving up control and resisting the urge to email or call every prospect who lands on your site and guide them along a carefully crafted content path — but after more than a dozen conversations with vendors and their customers to create my report, I’m more convinced than ever that this is the right thing to do. This is true for lots of reasons, which I cover in the report, but the most important one is that we’re all digital consumers now. So the self-service habits we have all learned over the last decade or so are now preferred behaviors — even for B2B buyers, who now just want to be left alone to find the content they need.

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A Practical Approach To B2B Buyer Journey Mapping

After a conversation with my colleague Lori Wizdo the other day about buyer journey mapping, she followed up by sharing the following cartoon – which I thought was perfect:

Perfect because it captured both our perspectives on the topic: Lori’s that buyer journeys are by their very nature hypothetical; and mine that you can never anticipate every buyer’s possible path to purchase.

This is not to say that buyer journey mapping is a futile exercise – or that the way to deal with its limitations is to ensure that your customers stay on the paths you’ve laid out for them, as appealing (and humorously absurd) as that reaction may be for all marketers.

As Lori pointed out in a recent blog post, you need to understand your buyer’s typical path to purchase to build an effective omnichannel marketing strategy that successfully engages with buyers at the right time with the right content through the right channel.

But be realistic in your goals and recognize that you will never be able to anticipate every possible buyer journey. When large companies with a wide range of solutions are documenting dozens, if not hundreds, of discrete paths to purchase, it’s too easy to get lost in the process and proceed well past the point of diminishing returns. 

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How Self-Service Research Will Change B2B Marketing

Greetings! This is week three in my journey as a Forrester analyst serving you, B2B marketing professionals, after nearly as many decades as a practitioner like you. I'd like to start our conversation by sharing an idea I had the opportunity to explore during the interview process for this position.

It was a process I enjoyed tremendously by the way, because it allowed me to connect the dots between several trends I had observed in my most recent role, where I led marketing for a digital engagement platform vendor, and some recent research from Forrester, most notably the Death Of A (B2B) Salesman report that struck such a nerve in the Forrester client base and beyond.

One of the conclusions of that and other Forrester reports that resonated most with me is that B2B buyers now prefer do-it-yourself options for researching products and services prior to purchase. And it’s not even a close call!  The survey conducted for the Death of a Salesman report showed that by a factor of three to one, B2B buyers want to self-educate rather than talk to sales representatives to learn about products and services.

Ironically, we B2B marketers have only ourselves to blame for this dramatic shift. By creating, publishing, and promoting a wealth of content to maximize the results from our SEO, PPC, and marketing automation campaigns, we’ve also made it possible (but not yet easy) for prospects to learn much of what they need to know prior to purchase. This has enabled more than half of all B2B buyers to now develop a set of selection criteria or finalize a list of potential vendors — based on digital content alone — without ever speaking to anyone at those organizations.

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