Many of us who have been in B2B marketing for some time know that marketing has been undervalued or plain neglected in a majority of small and mid-sized companies. As Doug Davidoff of Imagine Business Development points out: “as recently as five years ago, it was not unusual for me to meet with companies that were several hundred million in revenue who had no marketing department or focus whatsoever.”
Marketing was seen in some quarters as just a pretty face, a cost center responsible for advertising, PR, white papers, tradeshows, and other unquantifiable expenses. Marketing was staff, not line, so not a revenue generator, and so not particularly powerful.
How things have changed! Now marketing is rapidly emerging as the engine of the company, touching all aspects of the B2B business. In this blog, we will discuss four major trends that are causing this dramatic shift:
- Emergence of SAAS business model
- Value of Internet as a research platform
- Customer success becoming an integral part of Sales, and
- Consumerization of B2B
Let us examine each of these trends in detail. As will be shown, these trends are interrelated, but each one deserves to be evaluated on its own merit.
1. The emergence of the SAAS business model
B2B business used to be all about selling large one-time deals. Once the deal was done, the vendor wasn’t very concerned about the new customer for many years. Because of the large deal sizes, this process necessitated the involvement of certain key people for the successful closure of the deal:
- Top-level executives from the prospect’s side, with the authority to sign off on a big purchase
- A heavy-hitter sales person from the vendor, with the authority to negotiate, to see the deal through
Lots of these deals happened even though the end users of the prospect had many concerns, but the final decision maker was influential enough or powerful enough to make the deal happen.
The emergence of software as a service – SAAS – has changed that dynamic. To begin with, the deal sizes have shrunk dramatically because of the inherent economics of SAAS model. It’s a subscription model, and that customer typically pays only one year’s worth of subscription at a time. The shrinkage in deal size and resulting lower visibility reduced the necessity of the top-level exec and the heavy-hitter salesperson. (Has this contributed to the demise of the business lunch? Just speculating.)
This in return gave more bandwidth (and more seats in the room) for the opinion of the customer company’s rank-and-file in the decision process. More people get to weigh in and are heard. To accommodate this new sales framework, vendor businesses found they need to inform and empower multiple customer stakeholders (end users and decision makers), which marketing is uniquely equipped to do. This need for more communication ensured the ascendancy of marketing in businesses.
2. The role of the Internet as the research platform
Before the advent of the Internet, it fell to sales team to educate a prospect on the benefits of the product or service they were offering. Now with the Internet widespread and as necessary as air, it has impact on the buying process as well. “Today’s buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their journey before they reach out to a vendor,” according to Lori Wizdo, a principal analyst of Forrester Research.
Ms. Wizdo’s insight is corroborated by other studies. According to a report by CEB and Google, “Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete.”
The result of the buyer’s self-education: sales has a smaller, shorter role to play. Traditional sales efforts have been reduced by more than half. Consequently, it has fallen to marketing to educate and nurture that potential customer, while that purchaser is doing the research as part of their buying process.
This requires marketing to create a variety of content targeting different stakeholders and knowledge levels – content including blogs, eBooks, webinars, calculators, and more. Once developed, the content needs to be deployed intelligently through the company website and other channels, and of course, through a marketing automation platform.
Thus the emergence of the Internet medium ensured the ascendancy of marketing as a business engine.
3. The growing importance of Customer Success
As mentioned before, the focus of B2B in earlier times was to sell the “big deal,” with lower (if any) focus on whether the customer successfully implemented and adopted the new product.
In the new SAAS model, the vendor has to take more responsibility in working with the customer so that this buyer first successfully adopts the product, and then takes full advantage of the functionalities offered. (Anything less and that customer is likely to cancel the service mid-stream). While traditional customer support continues to play an active role in this adoption, marketing’s role as a primary communications agent has expanded to educate and empower the customer at various functional levels.
A related requirement of the SAAS model has been to develop communities of customers so that they can learn from each other and derive more value (while also reducing reliance on customer support). Marketing does very well both online and offline in organizing and maintaining customer forums. Just think of the roaring success of Salesforce’s “Dreamforce” annual conference, which continues to be the standard bearer for such initiatives.
4. The consumerization of B2B
We are also experiencing an ongoing merger of media landscapes of consumer and business. B2B spending is on the ascendancy on Facebook and Instagram, which provide alternate, consumer-focused channels to reach B2B decision makers and stakeholders. It’s a new way to prospect within a company or within a community. Marketing is uniquely equipped to identify and deploy such channels, and to help sales with company-approved messaging.
To understand how central marketing can be to a business, one needs only to look at a typical B2C company, particularly an eCommerce business. In such a company (Amazon or Zappos, for example), marketing assumes the role of sales as well as traditional marketing. Thanks to highly attributable channels like Google PPC and affiliate partners, these companies can connect the dots directly between marketing investment and revenue.
Many SAAS companies, especially those with low price points, have moved closer to a marketing-only model. They’ve lowered the emphasis on sales – indicating that the consumerization of B2B business is here to stay.
All these trends and their implications illustrate clearly that we are moving to a golden age for marketing and marketers, as marketing is increasingly seen as a business engine for managing change and driving revenue.
Marketers should see this as an opportunity, embrace the challenge, and go for the risks and rewards associated with it.
For more information on the new expanded roles of marketing, take a look at the comprehensive study from Gleanster and Act-On – Rethinking the Role of Marketing in B2B Customer Engagement, to learn how how top companies are taking control of the full customer lifecycle with new metrics, technology, and a refined focus.