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The Evolving B2B Marketing Landscape

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B2B is a very complex environment in which to market, made all the more so by the pace of change along so many different fronts. In this excerpt from The Complete Guide to B2B Marketing: New Tactics, Tools, and Techniques to Compete in the Digital Economy, Kim Ann King looks at each of these forces at work.
This chapter is from the book

B2B marketing, also known as business-to-business marketing, is simply businesses selling at scale to buyers in other companies. In doing so, B2B marketers must define their target market, target accounts, and ideal buyer; create products and services to meet the needs of those buyers; and correctly position, price, and promote their products and services in the marketplace.

If only it were as easy and straightforward as it sounds. Marketing supports sales, and in the B2B world, these sales can be large, complex deals that involve multiple buyers, users, and influencers across several departments, including legal, procurement, and others, making the process convoluted and complicated. Meanwhile, marketing is tasked with several key roles within the organization:

  • Strategic Partner—Guiding the company in making the best decisions to market its products and services
  • Brand Protector—Monitoring usage and enforcing guidelines
  • Revenue Creator—Generating leads that turn into net new revenue
  • Service Provider—Supporting other departments with creative and editorial services

On top of that, today’s B2B marketer is dealing with forces that make successful planning and execution even more difficult. To provide context, this chapter examines the following trends shaping marketing today:

  • A rapidly changing buyer
  • An exponential growth in data, often siloed and out-of-date
  • More channels and platforms, splintering reach and confusing strategy
  • A growing responsibility for revenue
  • The ability to do more with less: an increasing scope of functional responsibility, typically without additional personnel or budget
  • The need for speed and agility in creating and deploying campaigns and producing results
  • New tools and technologies, evolving more quickly than professionals can adapt

It adds up to a very complex environment in which to market—made all the more so by the pace of change along so many different fronts. Let’s look at each of these forces at work.

A Rapidly Changing Buyer

Not so long ago, buyers had fewer choices to make and smaller problems to solve. Today we see that B2B buyers are affected by the same ground-shifting complexities that impact vendors:

  • Buyers are trying to fix big problems such as improving revenue, creating efficiencies, and managing more work (which vendors are trying to help them do).
  • Buyers have many options in solving their problems (which creates competitive pressure for vendors).
  • Buyers can research their options firsthand long before contacting a vendor, and are savvier in understanding their potential choices (which makes it difficult for vendors to differentiate and get heard above the clutter).
  • Buyers are increasingly mobile—using smartphones and tablets to research and consume information (which vendors must consider in their marketing mix).
  • Buyers’ expectations have changed in that they expect to engage in two-way communication with vendors (not just be marketed to) and they expect marketing outreach to be personalized and consistently relevant (approaches to which vendors must adapt).
  • Buyers are connected with each other such that it is easy to tap into the wisdom of the crowd as well as be heard via social media (which vendors must monitor and respond to).

Because of this evolving B2B buyer behavior, marketers today have to be more technically adept, be more sensitive to context (for example, understanding the differences between mobile and desktop ads, e-mails, and websites), and offer a truly differentiated product via messaging that resonates with buyers. Marketers must bring a keen emotional understanding of the job of personalizing outreach such that it is appropriate 100% of the time—which is not an easy thing to do. And marketers are expected to listen to the social media conversation at all times in the hopes of gleaning insight into the wants and needs of the marketplace, understanding sentiment about their industry, and using that information to add value.

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