marketing_lessonsIt’s been an interesting year for B2B marketers.  Technology is evolving faster than ever before, buyers are increasingly calling the shots, and economic conditions continue to drive uncertainty.  All that said, some of the nation’s best B2B companies and marketing leaders are still on point to make their number, and do it with fewer resources and less attention from prospects & customers.

So what did B2B marketers learn this year?  What are their lessons for marketers heading into 2014?  I asked several marketers working on the front lines this question over the past couple weeks.  Here are a few of their responses, in their own words.

Kevin Hawkins, vice president of communications & marketing, Imprev
#1 takeaway: Don’t stop asking questions, no matter how well you think you know your target audience. Primary research remains vital as you’ll find out you really don’t know as much as you think you know. I’ve been in the real estate industry for over 25 years and have spent nearly of all it working closely with brokers and agents. I know this market deeply. Yet with every survey of brokers and/or agents, we find incredible surprises, things everyone misses. For example, this year we learned that despite the fact hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually by brokers and agents to acquire online leads, the most valuable leads an agent gets is organic: from their own offline marketing efforts, often from their own list. I mean by a factor of 10x. We never would have known this had we not asked the question directly to the people doing the business.

Yvonne Brandon, campaign manager, OpenText
My greatest lesson involves the incredible effectiveness of content syndication. We have created or repurposed whitepapers, videos, and other collateral and have placed them on sites that attract our desired audiences. As a result, we have attained more than 50 percent of our total marketing qualified lead (MQL) goal in only four months.

Meagen Eisenberg, vice president of demand generation, DocuSign
Three things:

1. Social for B2B: I learned how to harness social to fill the B2B funnel. My prior hang up was getting contact information for Sales from social. Social platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn are a goldmine to marketers because the accounts are self-maintained regularly and the level of accuracy is much higher. Companies like Social123 are now giving marketers the contact information they need, such as phone number, title and email address, to be able to reach out and nurture the relationship into a sale. The ability to market to our partner and competitor followers and customers is powerful.

2. LinkedIn programs: I ran a lot of programs with LinkedIn Sponsored InMails. I think LinkedIn Sponsored InMails are not well understood, but can be a great low-noise channel to reach our targets in B2B. The key is to have the sponsored InMails come from your customers that are “peers” to your targets. At the end of the day, LinkedIn is a peer-to-peer network and a message from a peer is less intrusive than a sales pitch from a company.

3. Lead scoring 2.0: Traditional lead scoring models look at firmographic and engagement data covering a dozen attributes typically. Lead scoring 2.0 now incorporates predictive analytics that can look at not only these captured form fields and activity, but also up to thousands of attributes by harnessing big data held in many other services and databases on the internet as well as other fields in your CRM. Companies like Lattice Engines and Mintigo have made lead scoring a lot more effective by delivering next gen lead scoring models and insights using the web and exterior databases to gather more relevant information than possible to collect on a short form.

Uri Bar-Joseph, director of marketing, Simply Measured
B2B marketing success starts with sales operations. B2B marketers that don’t fully understand the mechanics of their sales operations will forever struggle with demonstrating success. In the last couple of years we’ve seen marketing and sales come closer, and the walls that previously separated the teams are now almost gone. Great marketing organizations take more (and are also asked to take more) responsibility and ownership on “sales-enablement” tasks. In 2013 I learned that my path to success goes through the sales team.

Brian Kardon, chief marketing officer, Lattice Engines
I always thought that the biggest time waster for a salesperson was time spent doing administrative things, like T & E reports. It’s not. The biggest time waster is time spent with a lead that will never close. Marketing’s job is to get the right opportunities in front of the sales team and keep the poor ones away. Fortunately, companies doing lead scoring, and now predictive lead scoring, are using data science to prioritize leads. The result? Faster cycle times, higher win rates and better aligned marketing and sales teams.

Cynthia Schultze, marketing manager, GM Nameplate
As a marketer, you spend a lot of time developing ways to target prospects and customers. However, communicating with your own staff can be just as important. Whether you are asking your sales team to make phone calls after a campaign, soliciting feedback from product managers, or ensuring that customer service can respond to FAQs, getting support from your staff can have a huge impact on marketing success. In the past, our marketing department has worked in a silo and this year we have made an effort to ensure internal stakeholders are aware of marketing campaigns, understand expectations, and feel included in the marketing process. While the strategy is still a work in progress, we have already made great strides in terms of campaign success and valuable feedback.

Eva Jelezova, marketing manager, Littelfuse
1. The gap between B2B and B2C marketing tools and tactics is closing. Typically B2B marketers tend to silently roll their eyes at the latest B2C marketing trends, dismissing them as irrelevant but that is changing.

2. Marketing gets a larger role in the beginning of the funnel (similar to B2C). Traditionally, in the B2B world that was sales’ responsibility (ie. finding and qualifying customers, etc) but now with digital these roles are shifting. This is not necessarily a 2013 trend because it has been in transition for a while but I am seeing it more and more.

3. Realization that we need to invest in infrastructure. With the crisis far enough behind us, and the proliferation of digital, data, etc the need for infrastructure becomes more obvious. This is as fun as upgrading your furnace but I think B2B marketers are realizing that it has to be done or be left out in the cold (couldn’t help the terrible pun).

Carmen Arnevik, senior marketing director, Dreambox Learning
My biggest learning in 2013 was “where there is effort – there is outcome”. Basically we shifted our effort toward content marketing / inbound marketing and lead generation and that is where we saw our greatest results. Another thing related to this is “where there is measurement – there are results”. In other words where we mapped out our expected outcome and measured throughout the year is where we found the largest impact and the areas where we didn’t clearly outline our goals and metrics for success we didn’t deliver nearly as positively. I am right now working on my goals for 2014 and we are making sure every media, campaign, channel etc. has clearly defined goals so that we can be sure we get the positive outcome we want for 2014.

Jim Williams, vice president of marketing, Influitive
I’ve learned that it’s so much easier than most marketers think to get happy customers involved in nearly every aspect of your sales and marketing processes. Every B2B marketers seeks validation from their customers in the form of testimonials, case studies, videos and event speakers. But now that peer referrals and recommendations in B2B purchasing is pivotal, it’s more important than ever to go beyond these initial efforts and mobilize advocates to help at all stages of the revenue cycle. Once you identify a few additional areas where they can help — whether it’s with providing referrals, authoring original content, or sharing content– all you have to do is ask. That’s it. Not everyone will say yes, but many will, and those advocates, fans and evangelists will validate your marketing and sales messages in a way that you could never do yourself.

Kristin Connell, senior manager of corporate marketing operations, Deltek
My most important marketing lesson in 2013? The full throttle optimization of the buyer and customer journey experience by interweaving key digital technologies to drive revenue and customer loyalty. During our 2013 planning, we reviewed our marketing technology roadmap – which included (primarily) CRM, MAP and CMS – identified gaps in our current insights and began adding key technologies to our stack: a video marketing platform, MAP-driven sales enablement tools, a more sophisticated data management solution, a live web chat tool, a predictive analytics platform, a customer advocacy platform and a content distribution tool. But simply adding the technology wasn’t enough – the key to “full throttle optimization” has been collaboratively leveraging the data from these technologies to help build actionable insights which have enabled our sales and marketing teams to (ultimately) drive revenue and customer loyalty. And we’re now working through the same process for 2014 (it’s a #MKTGnerd’s dream).

What about you?  What’s been your greatest B2B marketing lesson this year that will most directly impact your 2014 strategy & execution?

  • bobscheier

    Superb, intriguing, and in some ways surprising list. I was struck by Meagen’s suggestion to use LinkedIn emails from peers, and Jim’s comment that it’s easier than most folks think to get customers involved in marketing. My clients seem to think it’s getting harder to get customers involved, what with PR/Legal involvement. More details on how to leverage current customers would be most welcome.

    • Michael Marks

      In my last job, we found our customers quite eager to record a short YouTube video explaining the innovative ways they were using our cloud platform to launch new services to their market. The promotion helped both us and them. A cheap flip-cam, a couple of key talking points, and off you go!

  • chorenf

    Hi Bob – the best way to do this is to create an advocate marketing program which Jim has done at Influitive. Kristen mentions this above as well. At Influitive, we use our own tool to mobilize and motivate our customers. Not to toot our own horn but check Influitive.com out for more details.

  • bob london

    I’m so numb to the constant blizzard of posts recommending marketing tools and tips, but this one was worth reading. Thanks for posting.

    • http://www.heinzmarketing.com Matt Heinz

      Thanks very much Bob!