These Are the Top B2B Marketing Challenges for 2021

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.

We’re all looking forward to 2021. And no matter who your target audience is, they’ve been put through the ringer in some way. (We all have.)

2021 comes with lots of exciting trends and opportunities to meet your audience’s needs, and it brings an equal number of challenges.

While there are no hacks or quick fixes for the top B2B marketing challenges we’ll be facing next year, the more we know about what we’re up against, the better prepared we’ll be. Let’s get into it.

Partnership in Go-to-market Teams

For a long time now, marketers have understood the importance of collaborating well with sales. But now, we’re called to collaborate with other departments too.

Revenue Acceleration isn’t possible without true collaboration between all go-to-market teams, which can include sales, marketing, product management, and often customer success as well.

The magic really happens when you not only align, but also action your GTM teams around the customer.

Unifying your core metrics in this way is necessary to solve the disconnect between marketing, sales, and CS. Once teams have a single source of truth around metrics and data, instead of debating who’s got the right number or why the data doesn’t match up, companies can identify deal risk and upsides, accelerate current quarter pipeline, and accurately predict revenue and forecast future quarters.

– Todd Barnett, Chief Revenue Officer, Drift

So how do you bring leaders in these roles together to focus on revenue in one cohesive GTM team?

revenue-acceleration-model

On a foundational level, everyone needs to be working towards common goals. A chief revenue officer can define the metrics that everyone will track together. This ensures that the GTM team has overarching goals and a shared language, instead of staying in their own wheelhouses and only tracking the micro metrics (like conversion rates or show-up rates). It’s important to track the big metrics together (like revenue and win rate) and then figure out which micro metrics affect them.

With the right metrics in place – and a chief revenue officer or go to market executive leading the multi-departmental partnership – GTM teams can tackle the right initiatives to move the revenue needle.

Being Human

Vulnerability is still 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.

A few ways you can achieve that are by having employees author blog posts, present on webinars, and share company updates from their personal profiles.

When you humanize your brand, potential customers pay more attention to your content and relate to it.

I recently got an email newsletter from Drift’s CMO Tricia Gellman that is an incredible example of vulnerability in action:

b2b marketing challenges

Tricia shares openly about her challenging journey on the path to motherhood. Each subscriber doesn’t have to be a mother to connect with her loss. Everyone likely knows women who have experienced stillbirth or miscarriages or infertility. If not, we’re familiar with other forms of grief.

2020 was a tough year to keep forging ahead as a professional. (Gratitude for just having a job doesn’t nullify that.) The email ends by sharing a resource for managers who want to provide mental health support for their employees.

So this is your template: share a vulnerable story and then connect it back to a takeaway for your audience.

What can you share vulnerably that your audience will really benefit from?

Subscribe to Tricia’s newsletter, The Path to CMO 3.0, right here.

Doubling Down on Virtual Events

Virtual events aren’t going anywhere. That level of convenience is sticky.

All of last year, I heard so many people say that they were able to attend conferences they wouldn’t have otherwise, and I experienced this myself.

I went to Impacting Millions Live. The event would have taken place in Los Angeles, were it not for COVID-19. But if it had been in Los Angeles, I likely wouldn’t have left behind my two small children to attend.

While plenty of businesses attempt virtual events, few pull them off. Here are some of the things this virtual event  did really well:

  • Truly live – There were no recordings or replays, and the event was intended to be truly live. While this was challenging for some based on the timezone difference, it also ensured maximum attendance and created a truly live experience throughout the entire weekend that I’ve never felt from a virtual event before. Around 500 people had registered for the event, and any given session had around 350 participants in the Zoom conference room. You can imagine the live attendance level would have dropped had there been replays, and the entire vibe of the event would have changed.
  • Prizes – At the end of every session, there was a random prize drawing out of all of the attendees. You had to be live on the Zoom conference in order to claim your prize, or someone else would get it. Since there were great prizes (like a Macbook Air), this also increased attendance and made it fun.
  • Stage hype – The conference was run like a live event. There was breaktime music, and when someone was going to “come on stage” (AKA: speak on Zoom), the music would change and then the energetic event host would introduce the speaker. There was an intro reel for each speaker, showing them in photos and videos on real stages, which was played before their session.
  • Breakout sessions – The event also made use of Zoom’s new breakout session feature, which automatically spits attendees into small rooms of a few people for a set period of time (typically 10 or 15 minutes) so everyone could talk about what they had learned. People were also encouraged to connect with their breakout partners in the pop-up Facebook group.

Also keep in mind that your event doesn’t have to be two days. It doesn’t even have to be one full day. It can be a webinar (yes, they still work).

All sessions from RevGrowth: Digital Advertising are now live.

Passing MQLs to Sales Faster

There are tons of problems with turning MQLs into SQLs. Sales might declare that your MQLs are low quality. Or you might be failing to generate enough MQLs. Maybe your benchmarks are unrealistic.

These common issues will continue to plague B2B companies. However, there’s another challenge that will prove even more daunting in 2021, 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:

  1. She views it as a red flag that the company’s operations aren’t up to par and assumes support won’t be either
  2. 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 SLA is Now 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.

Content marketing funnel templates like this one from StoryChief can be easy to execute, but they won’t drive leads without the right content topics.

Source: StoryChief

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.

Winning with White Glove ABM

Account-based marketing is a brilliant way to secure your biggest deals, but too many companies aren’t really treating their top accounts with as much care as they should. Instead, they serve these accounts with the same sort of nurturing materials as their inbound leads receive.

But when you take a white-glove approach to ABM, you increase your chances of booking calls with decision-makers at your top accounts.

A true white-glove experience should include the following:

  • The right campaigns – Create events and marketing campaigns that match the ABM strategy (one-to-one, one-to-few, one-to-many) for that account.

Source: ITSMA, Third Annual ABM Benchmark Study: Moving To ABM Maturity
  • Live insights – Use Drift to deliver notifications to the ABM account manager whenever someone from the target account is visiting your website, so the account manager can reach out to them personally via email or LinkedIn.
  • Digital experience personalization – Create personalized digital experiences using a tool like Optimizely that caters landing page content to decision-makers.
  • The right team – White-glove account-based marketing can require input from a webinar manager, content manager, digital marketing manager, sales reps, BDRs, marketing operations, and field marketers. Pull together the skills you already have in the marketing and sales departments to start targeting specific accounts – instead of just specific audiences.

Grab our book The Art of ABM: A Strategic Guide to Account-Based Marketing.

Attribution

When he spoke at the Growth Marketing Conference, Instapage 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.

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.

Not Getting Distracted

In 2021, 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 year 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.

Final Thought

From building a more humanized brand to personalizing the customer journey, 2021 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.

Tackle 2021’s B2B marketing challenges head-on and get certified in Conversational Marketing today.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated to reflect new information.