Trends and Challenges for B2B Marketers – Part I


Trends and Challenges B2B Marketers Pt 1

Next week, Ralph Oliva, executive director at the Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM) and Professor of Marketing at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University, will be sharing findings from The B2B Agenda during the FWD:B2B Conference. The B2B Agenda, composed by the B2B Leadership Board at the ISBM, provides insight from 72 forward-looking CMOs and 30 academic B2B thought-leaders about the ever-changing industry landscape—from commoditization and globalization to new rivals and buying behaviors.

In anticipation of the conference, Ralph took time out of his very busy schedule to answer five questions for us. (Thank you, Ralph!) We will post his responses in a two-part series – here is Part I:

Within The B2B Agenda, you discuss how “technology’s disruptive power could make certain B2B practices obsolete” – referring, in part, to the quickened, real-time pace of buyer interaction, thanks to the vast amount of information available online and through social networks. Based on what you’re hearing from B2B marketers, which practices do you envision becoming obsolete?

In my view, not as many practices as we might think will become completely obsolete. We work in information intensive selling situations, which require deep explanation and detailed applications information. More of that will move from “Just in case” static information, to more “just in time” tailored interactions. Information that can be ported to the place of the offering. With a new emphasis on “the internet of things”, various systems can talk to one another and sense when an operator or a user needs help and call that information right as needed. So managing a warehouse – real or virtual - full of spec sheets, applications notes will be gone –replaced by “curation” of information to be delivered at the right place at just the right time.

B2B Social Media Expert Paul Gillin recently provided a guest blog talking about the gaps/barriers that can exist between sales and marketing. Within The B2B Agenda, one observation is that by connecting marketing and sales technology systems, marketing might gain greater visibility into CRM-enabled customer data which would help break down this organizational barrier. Yet, it’s also noted “marketing technology may be a blind spot.” Do you see more companies embracing marketing automation and other related systems and incorporating them into their sales/marketing processes?

Companies are embracing and beginning to experiment with “marketing automation and other related systems.” It’s incorporating them into their sales and marketing processes that are still in many places experimental. There – in my view - is way to generalize the practice “sales”. This is a spectrum of activities from bringing in new business, to key account management to other sorts of things sales people do - all over the map.

I’ve found that firms that get this connection to work build 3 linkages – language, process, and organization is key to “ending the war between sales and marketing.”

Part of the sales/marketing gap could exist as a result of a (perceived or real) lack of understanding the customer and their needs. That is, marketing thinking they understand the customer while sales is frustrated that marketing doesn’t seem to understand the customer. With customer insight becoming more and more important to marketing, do you have any examples of the most effective ways you’ve seen companies gather feedback from customers or weave it into their existing processes?

The most effective approach I’ve seen are from firms who decide to study the true “Voice of the Customer” process as it was originally forged by John Hauser and Abbie Griffin. Unfortunately “Voice of the Customer” has become a generic term for everything from a chat with a few contact people, to listening to whoever seems to be talking loudest.

A true ethnographic process carried out by marketing and sales together – often improves the connection between marketing and sales, and can generate real opportunities to create new value for customers – if everyone knows their roles, the process, selecting the right customers, and doing it for the right reasons at the right time.

Marketing professionals who want to get better at this might want to pick up a copy of the great book "Customer Visits" by Dr. Edward McQuarrie. Practical wisdom– seasoned with research insights from Dr. Griffin. Tools to better enable sales and marketing to work together heed real insight on customer needs.

Another process which is working well with several ISBM member firms is Dan Adams’ “New Product Blue Printing”. Here too, the roles and responsibilities of the people involved, the interactive nature of the connection with the customer, and the database that results can be quite helpful.

 Insight is also needed as companies look to expand globally. Are there 2-3 key challenges marketers are facing as they strive to support new markets around the world?

Expanding globally – some of the challenges that are being seen are already well recognized –

  • Global markets aren’t simply “elevators” you can step on and expect to grow. They’re growing more slowly, and growing in different ways around the world.
  • Secondly, it’s not as if you’re stepping into a clear field. Indigenous competition is growing rapidly, and is better able – in many cases – to capitalize on their understanding of the local cultures, economies, and laws, and “cultural nuances”, making it difficult to really understand the competitive field. People say they can do “Porter’s 5 Forces” to analyze a market, but really understanding the dynamic nature of competition, substitutes, and other elements is very tricky in today’s global market. Finding the right mix of strategy, tactics, and data is critical. 

The biggest insight for the most success I’ve seen can boil down to one word: focus. Trying to be all things to all people and “going global” has never worked all that well, and is working less well today. With the dynamic nature of what’s going on, focusing on a specific category in a specific market and understanding how to connect your firm’s capacity to the “exact right demand” in that market are critical to success.

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