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How Do You Get Your Arms Around the 'Brave New World' of B2B Marketing? Where Do You Start?

by: Adam Needles (@Silverpop)
08 January 2010

I talk a lot about the 'brave new world' of B2B marketing on this site and in many of my presentations for our B2B Marketing University series and at industry events. You probably already have a sense of the challenges -- more channels than ever, a buyer that is tougher to reach than ever and sales team members that seem to be more out of sync with their marketing counterparts than ever. Meanwhile, there seems to be a new 'lingo' afoot in the world: These days we're talking lead management, MQL, SQL, CRM, marketing automation, social media, inbound, outbound, multi-channel, content marketing, PPC, organic, post-click marketing ... . Your head may be swimming with the jargon -- most of which actually has nothing to do with basic marketing strategy.

The obvious challenge in this type of environment is how to find focus. Where do we start as a B2B marketer? How do we tackle this new world?

Our sales team wants leads and to close deals, and our management wants to know that it's getting real revenue return on marketing investment; meanwhile, our competitors seem to be coming in first in search results and seem to be everywhere on blog posts, media coverage, Tweets, at industry events, etc. And as marketers we may be searching for the magic bullet -- possibly by installing a marketing automation/demand generation platform or by dabbling in social media and search optimization.

That's why I believe the key, more than ever, is to find our 'true north' as B2B marketers ... to return to the basics. In a world of complexity and change, ironically, focusing on the basics makes choices easier than ever. Having a clear sense of the center of our business environment is the key to rationalizing where to spend time and resources as a B2B marketer.

So what are these basics?

I believe as B2B marketers there are a couple of key principles that we can start with -- ones that will help us begin moving in the right direction:

> Get to know your buyer; place your buyer at the center of your marketing: You probably describe your buyer in terms of demographics, budget/company size, etc. But who is your buyer, really? Where does your buyer spend his/her time and energy when considering a purchase? What process does (s)he follow to research a potential solution? What peer and industry resources matter most? It's critical that you be able to understand your buyer more in terms of his/her behavior and relationships than anything else. This may be a change in terms of how you think about defining your buyer's persona. Yet in an environment in which the buyer has more power than ever more choices than ever about channels and information sources, successful marketing will be defined by leveraging the critical path (of actions and information) your buyer follows in his/her buying cycle -- not by knowing his/her company's SIC code! (And this critical-path insight also is critical to underpinning and finding success with marketing automation.)

Meg Heuer of SiriusDecisions explained what it means to shift from thinking in terms of a sales-team-centric sales funnel to one that is entirely focused around the buyer and his/her needs in a blog post on this site this past September: "[I]f you are not understanding how your buyer buys, your sales funnel will always be out of sync," explains Heuer. "The sales funnel is what the buyer wants it to be [not how B2B sales or marketing teams operationally conceptualize it]. Within a given space, you're going to see some commonalities and preferences, but if you're not doing your work to put yourself in your buyer's shoes, your sales and marketing will be out of sync. It will be based on no information."

> Position yourself as a resource to your buyer: In a world where the nature of the B2B buyer has changed, and power has forever shifted from vendor to buyer, it's more critical than ever to make sure our marketing programs are not 'pushing' anything to buyers in an interruptive fashion. What does your buyer want? That's the start of positioning your product or service. And then your pricing, placement and promotions should flow from there and be buyer-driven. Most importantly, your B2B marketing programs and their content should aid the buyer as (s)he goes through his/her process. What information and channels are consulted at each stage of this process? Everything you do should aid the buying process, leading to a satisfied and 'organic' outcome. Not only will this optimize your new-customer acquisition, it also will help ensure your longer-term sustainability my maximizing customer lifetime value.

> Understand the dynamics of your lead management environment ... including seeing the world through sales' eyes: Once you've nailed down the details about who your buyer is and have developed a marketing strategy that will 'serve up' effective resources to propel your buyer through an efficient and buyer-driven buying cycle, it's time to focus on operations. At what points in the buying process does the buyer need to engage live sales resources, and at what points will the buyer prefer to self-educate and/or consult other buyers via digital mediums? Marketing should not only be filling in the details, but it also should be setting expectations for the sales team. And -- by the way -- in order to set expectations of sales team members, you need to be able to see the world through sales' eyes.

Sales team members need to know the state of a lead when comes their way, the past education that should have occurred and how much further that sales team member needs to take the lead before it is closable. This 'holistic' lead management framework is critical to understand and communicate throughout the marketing and sales organization. And doing so is critical to then being able to master and ultimately improve its management -- especially 'upstream' nurturing programs designed to improve a lead's chances at closing downstream.

If you can't get down the basics of lead management, it will be impossible for you to take full advantage of a marketing automation platform. But the more you know about your own lead management needs, the better you will be at selecting a marketing automation platform that mirrors your own approach.

> Embrace new channels ... if they matter to your audience: There is little dispute that e-mail remains the core of successful digital marketing. (In fact, research points to e-mail serving a critical role as the 'connective tissue' for staying in touch with buyers mid-decision-cycle.) It's all the other Web 2.0 channels that marketers struggle with. Blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn ... you are probably already aware of the challenge. There is clear research that points to these channels becoming more important to B2B buyers; so this should not be a point of debate. It's which specific channels that matters. And the ones that matter to you should be the ones that matter to your audience. Are your buyers accessing these channels either to frame their thinking around a purchase or to obtain information critical to making a purchase decision? And at what stages of the decision-making process? Stay focused on the channels that align to your buyer and his/her buying process and don't become overwhelmed or sidetracked by those that don't.

> Keep track of what you do and spend ... and make sure it's accurate: If you focus on your buyer and rationalize your marketing investments against his/her critical path for making purchase decisions, you will find success. But you won't be able to fully articulate how successful if you don't keep track of what you did and what you spent, and you won't be able to shape future marketing decisions without an accurate picture of past results. Marketing measurement and the analysis of marketing results doesn't have to be complicated, but you can't do any measurement or analysis if you don't have anything to measure or analyze. Enough said.

One addendum to this, though: Once you've bothered to keep track of what you've done and spent, it's more critical than ever to make sure that this data is an accurate picture. The further you get down the line in your B2B marketing programs, the more your data will be the critical basis for insight-based marketing decision-making. That means that the quality of your data will become more important than ever. Meg Heuer commented in a recent SiriusDecisions blog post, "Bad data is the root of most marketing evil. ... The curse of past poor data management is its impact on nearly everything marketers want to implement right now, from marketing automation and lead nurturing to better dashboards. Focusing on data as a strategic asset must become a central marketing effort."

> Don't go it alone ... learn from Marketing 2.0 experts: Keep in mind, you're not the first or last marketer to try to get his/her hands around this new world. Rather than spinning your heels, this is where it's worth turning to the other Marketing 2.0 experts out there. I recently published a list of the top B2B marketing luminaries that I will be following in 2010. It's a great list of some super-smart people, and I'd highly recommend following them on Twitter. Speaking of which, I also recently ran across a list of the top CMOs on Twitter. Both are great lists with great experts you can follow easily.


So as you get going with your B2B marketing programs this year, don't let this 'brave new world' overwhelm you. Instead, find your 'true north' by focusing on the basics. And everything else will fall into place.

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