“Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window,” said Peter Drucker.
Or – if I may offer an abridged version of the quote – it’s almost bloody impossible.
The practice of how B2B companies market themselves to their buyers is undergoing a huge transformation. Even the last 18 months has shown that what can be true one day can look very different the next.
However I enjoy a challenge. And after spending almost a year creating content on a daily basis on how B2B marketers can do better, I thought I’d have a stab at predicting one of the main trends I think is just around the corner.
(Disclaimer – this list isn’t designed to be definitive and I may very well look back on it at some point in the future wonder how the hell I missed the mark so badly)
What do you think? Send me an email – I’d love to know.
Revenue Generation > Lead Generation
Ask any salesperson the number one thing that marketing is good for and odds are you’ll get the answer “lead-gen”.
For a long time, business leaders have been sold this idea that filling the pipeline with prospects for a sales team to chase after is the core objective of any good marketing team.
This makes sense. Putting a quantifiable, business-centric goal around a marketing strategy is the correct way of measuring success.
Problem is… lead-gen is the wrong goal.
Why? It incentivises marketing teams to invest in tactics to bring in a contacts that most likely will never become paying customers.
Only 5-10% of qualified leads successfully convert for marketers. That’s a horrible conversion rate.
But we don’t care as long as we hit our target. That is until our budget gets cut because the company fell below revenue target as sales didn’t have the right people to speak to.
What’s the solution?
Change the goalposts and focus on marketing-sourced/influenced revenue.
B2B buyers just don’t do their research in the same way they did a decade ago. They’re on social media, listening to podcasts, engaging in micro communities – yet we continue to pump out white paper after white paper just so we can hit quota.
Why? Because doing anything different hurts our attribution. We’re going after leads remember? And measuring ROI from a podcast is damn near impossible.
That is until you forget about leads, focus on delivering high value content across the channels your customers are actually spending any significant time and measure your impact on revenue via business that originates from your website.
Not only does this save your teams valuable time, energy and resources, you’ll benefit from higher conversion rates, shorter sales cycles and a less customers pissed off to be receiving cold sales emails every time they fill out a form.
I believe we’ll begin to see more B2B brands start to recognise the benefits of this shift in mindset and rebuild their internal structures and activities to meet the new reality.
How to Prepare
IMO there’s two essential things a company needs for marketing to start being fairly judged against company revenue.
First, a system. Technology and processes that allow the capture and nurture of customer demand from marketing channels AND accurate tracking of the customer journey to the point of sale.
This means one CRM for all parties – marketing, sales and customer success.
Second, tolerance. Companies that have already gotten used to receiving a list of leads each month need buy-in from all stakeholders that any conversation about attribution should only focus on whether marketing has contributed to revenue.
Essentially, everyone needs to agree that how we got there is not important; only that we got there.
Employee Profile > Brand Profile
Did you know that your employees will be connected to 10x the number of people across their personal social media profiles than your brand account?
And that content shared by employees receives 8x more engagement than content shared by brand channels?
And that an employee advocacy programme costs 1/10 of paid advertising?
And yet… many B2B brands still don’t have a formal EA programme in place.
But I believe this is set to change.
Why? Millennials and Gen Z workers account for at least 40% of the workforce today. On the buyer side, 74% of 21-40 year-olds have influence over the purchasing decisions of their companies.
These folk are social natives. They know how to use the platforms, both in their personal and professional lives. And their numbers will only increase over the next ten years as boomers retire out.
Some of common barriers to entry for EA include things like employees not wanting to share work-related content, not understanding what is or isn’t allowed, and little motivation to post when seeing leadership quiet on social.
But marketers who can overcome these challenges and build influencers from within their ranks stand to benefit greatly.
How to Prepare
In my experience, there are seven steps for marketers looking to get an EA programme off the ground. These are:
- Objectives. You need to be clear upfront on what it is you want to achieve if you’re going to convince the board to sign-off on next years’ budget.
- Content Plan. Your colleagues need a steady stream of pre-approved content. Things like company news, employee stories, educational content, etc.
- Guidelines. In essence, these are your rules of engagement – the dos and don’ts for your colleagues to follow.
- Support. Colleagues have to know exactly how and to whom questions should be escalated to.
- Platform. The mechanism in which you provide content ideas to your employees for them to share. This could be a specific tool or even just a Slack channel.
- Incentives. Prizes like gift cards or company swag work a treat. Make it into a game by offering a leaderboard with your best performing influencers.
- Pilot Group. Ideally, no more than ten people already well on their way to building a personal brand. Start small and grow slowly.
You can read more detail about each of these steps in my article 7 Steps to Starting a Kick-Ass Employee Advocacy Programme.
I’ve also just interviewed the amazing Claire Kennedy on her work setting up an EA programme at Forrester Research over the last three years. Check out the episode here.