As marketers, we’re often incentivized to go for the quick wins. Sure, we have a long term strategy at play, but our need to meet acquisition-focused KPIs means that we keep our heads down and stay in the weeds.
With a new year approaching, it’s time to widen our focus and prepare. 2020 comes with lots of exciting trends and opportunities, but an equal number of challenges.
Hate to break it to you, but there are no hacks or quick fixes for the top B2B marketing challenges we’ll be facing next year.
Vulnerability is trending. Brené Brown (love her) has made an entire business out of vulnerability – teaching us all how to stop shying away from our vulnerability and instead share it with others.
Meanwhile, the B2B landscape is crowded and competitive. The consumerization of B2B solutions has upended how individual buyers research and make purchasing decisions. With very little top-down sales and decision-making, suddenly dozens or hundreds of people in an organization are potential champions and advocates for your product.
In noisy, crowded, and competitive spaces, vulnerability has the power to cut straight through the clutter and make a human connection between your brand and your audience.
Marketers have accepted this truth for years now: People buy from people (yes, even in B2B).
And yet, so many companies still struggle to put all of this knowledge into action. They struggle to humanize their brand and be more vulnerable, even if doing so will help cut through the noise.
Organizations struggle to be human because it’s not how they’ve done it in the past, and they just don’t take the time to implement it going forward. That’s a miss, because this is more than a trend. This is a shift in how people interact.
Some smart ways to be more human as a B2B brand are to encourage employees in building their own personal brands, supporting and growing employee advocacy, and highlighting real people in your content.
Webflow’s recent live streams featured a customer sharing a web design project and an employee going behind the scenes into the company’s user onboarding strategy. Sure, live streams might not be your content format of choice, but having employees author blog posts and share company updates from their personal profiles is equally effective.
When you humanize your brand, potential customers pay more attention to your content and relate to it.
Check out The Modern Marketer’s Playbook to help you build a more human brand.
Passing MQLs To Sales Faster
These common issues will continue to plague B2B companies. However, there’s another challenge that will prove even more daunting in 2020, and that’s speed.
Today’s B2B buyer is active. She’s pursuing multiple options, collecting RFPs, comparing requirements, and reading reviews. She’s self-directed and doesn’t waste time. When a company takes too long to get back to her, there are two problems:
- She views it as a red flag that the company’s operations aren’t up to par and assumes support won’t be either
- She moves on and engages with competitors who are faster to respond
All B2B companies will face competition of some sort. With the consumerization of enterprise solutions, buyers expect to make purchases in a frictionless way. Speed and ease matter.
For companies that have agreed on MQL criteria and are mostly satisfied with their quarterly volume, the next hurdle will be to get MQLs to sales faster. No more leads getting ignored because of operational gaps.
Handing MQLs over to sales shouldn’t take three days. It should be nearly instant.
Check out The Conversational Sales Handbook to learn how to make the handoff lightning fast.
Generating MQLs With Content
We’ve all seen stats that paint content as king. In one study, content marketing was shown to produce 3X more leads than paid search marketing. In another study, content marketing is reported to generate 3X more leads than all forms of traditional marketing, while costing less.
Hundreds of B2B companies have seen standout ROI from their content marketing, but there are still thousands more who have not. For them, creating content seems like a necessary evil—something they have to do in order to stay relevant, even though they’re not able to produce measurable results.
There are all sorts of reasons why generating MQLs with content is still a struggle:
- Highly competitive niches and topics, especially for SEO
- Difficult to attribute leads to content (content might be delivering more than you think)
- Difficult to promote content
- Difficult to convert traffic from content into leads
- Disagreement and confusion over content strategy
B2B businesses want to get to the promised land of having content marketing deliver more leads at a cheaper price than direct marketing or paid advertising. But to do so, they have to identify why they’re not currently getting leads from content efforts and come up with solutions.
Understanding The Individual Customer Journey
Understanding the customer journey as a whole can help marketing teams make better decisions, and find out what part of the journey might be lacking meaningful content and optimized touchpoints.
But even with the most accurate customer journey map guiding your team’s way, you’ll still need to be able to track the journey of individuals and communicate with them accordingly.
Implementing tools like SnapApp, OneSpot, Evergage, and GoSquared can help you collect website user data and automate personalized campaigns, but selecting the right tool is only half the battle. Because individualizing your marketing efforts is typically time-intensive, you’ll need to prioritize opportunities and ideas, group individuals together into smarter customer flows, and likely create new KPIs to help you measure success.
Meeting GDPR & Privacy Standards
While all of the above B2B marketing challenges aren’t easy, they’re at least enjoyable to tackle. It’s a rare person who gets excited about GDPR and privacy standards. (If you have one of these people on your team, treat them well.)
There are a lot of B2B companies that have been putting off adhering to GDPR because they don’t operate or sell in Europe, or because they assume that a regulator will issue a warning before imposing a fine, especially when it comes to small companies.
However, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best isn’t a good business strategy. GDPR fines are given to companies of any size (not just high profile ones), and while regulators might issue warnings first, it’s up to them to decide that.
While GDPR is an EU regulation, even if a small percentage of your customers are located in the EU, you need to comply. For companies who truly only operate in the US and sell to US customers, you need to ready yourself to comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (which goes into effect January 1, 2020 and has been dubbed “almost GDPR in the US”).
When he spoke at the Growth Marketing Conference in 2018, Unbounce CEO Tyson Quick said, “Attribution is the greatest unsolved problem in marketing.” Unfortunately, this is still true.
CMOs might know that 75% of conversions come from direct traffic straight to the home page, but they don’t know how that traffic heard of them in the first place in order to then search their brand name or navigate directly to their website.
With offline events alongside the complex digital landscape, it’s just as hard as ever to attribute conversions and sales to individual campaigns. Plus, it can require multiple campaigns to convert someone into a customer and there can be multiple touchpoints in a single campaign. It takes an average of seven interactions with your brand for a B2B buyer to buy, and you might not even have a lead on your radar until they’re already 57% of the way through the buying process.
The complexity of attribution isn’t going away anytime soon. Instead, marketers will have to create clearer goals for each campaign, based on the customer journey and the buying process.
Not Getting Distracted
In 2020, there will be new hacks and strategies that you’ll be itching to try. You’ll find a tutorial that promises rapid Instagram growth. You’ll read an article that declares that B2B marketers need to get on Pinterest, or that direct mail is back. You’ll want to tinker with AI to help personalize the customer journey.
All sorts of new ideas will be thrown your way. That’s nothing new. But the excitement of a new decade could make shiny object syndrome even more intense, so be on the lookout. You’ll want to document your marketing strategy, follow it, and update it as needed instead of blowing with the wind.
Growing Multiple audiences For Different Customer Types
In B2B, many companies have multiple target audiences. Companies might sell to different user personas, such as a marketing manager and a graphic designer. They might have one user type, such as a paralegal, but also a decision-maker who isn’t the intended user, like a law firm owner. Still other companies market to three or four very different industries (but the same user persona) each with equally good product-market fit.
All of these personas, roles, user types, and industries have their own unique problems. Addressing them specifically and creating content that meets their needs is the key to building an audience. But with content teams struggling to build an audience for one persona or niche, it’s impossible to imagine how to do that for multiple.
It’s a constant juggling act. How do you cater to one audience type without alienating the others? The answer to this will depend on each company: how easily you can sell to various roles and industries, the company’s long term strategic vision, the maturity of each market.
However, one potential answer might be to stop worrying about building an audience altogether. For most B2B companies, building an audience is an unnecessary pipedream. You might choose instead to build a library of SEO blog posts and not worry about how they connect to each other, as long as the keywords are relevant to one or more audience type.
Whether you look at your content like a digital publication that deserves its own audience or like an SEO hub, having different audiences will be a challenge.
From building a more humanized brand to personalizing the customer journey, 2020 will present enormous challenges to B2B marketers. And the most important challenge of all will be to focus on the customer in everything you do.
Dayana Mayfield is a B2B SaaS copywriter and content marketer who lives in Northern California. She loves data-driven marketing and storytelling alike.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post. Interested in contributing content to the Drift blog? Email Molly Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.