It’s an exciting time to be a B2B technology marketer. After decades of reiterating the same old formula of just supporting sales with colourful brochures full of gobbledygook and placing adverts in trade journals, the possibilities for B2B marketers have finally started to look promising. And if you are feeling ‘digitally superior’ to your peers after using Google SEM or creating a Facebook page, hold your horses. The sky is the limit now. But the challenges are monumental too.
The future is not what it used to be
B2B tech marketing is rapidly changing and not by choice, but rather due to the massive change in market dynamics. The enterprise technology procurement journey is evolving.Thanks to the abundance of information, reviews and easily accessible feedback from users and influencers, B2B tech buyers today are doing most of their homework and fact-finding online. According to MarketingSherpa’s Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide, 80% of a B2B purchase decision is made even before contacting a sales representative. Business strategists, specifically marketers, now have to find, reach out, influence and nurture their prospects in this new-age procurement journey. Apart from the procurement process, the technology investment mindset itself is evolving in the case of enterprises across the world.
Due to the unpredictable nature of the global economy, enterprises are no longer comfortable with the idea of taking large bets with massive IT investments. Even large enterprises today are moving their IT spending from Capital Expenditure to Operating Expenditure – Software as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, or Managed Services. On the other hand, CIOs are getting a seat at the strategy table and starting to measure KPIs in the business context: productivity, customer experience, and the like. This shift is forcing tech companies to change their positioning from the ‘technical expertise’ level to the ‘business knowledge’ level. Vertical focus, business process consulting, managed services and outsourcing are becoming essential value-added service capabilities. Marketers are playing a catch-up game to capture this whole shift in positioning.
A technology vendor, a telco, and a channel partner walk into a bar
The lines between the service offerings of different technology vendors are getting blurred. With virtualisation and software-defined everything, telecom companies and ISPs are cashing on their subscriber base, offering managed services, SaaS and IaaS solutions. Infrastructure and networking solution providers are stepping into the server marketplace. Even virtualisation solution providers are trying to encroach on the Data Centre domain.
Relationships between channel partners, system integrators and technology vendors are also in jeopardy. Tech vendors are marketing their offers (cloud and other virtualised products, where economies of scale is the only competitive advantage) directly to end customers, creating a massive channel conflict. Although larger system integrators can draw on vertical-specific business capabilities for the enterprise market, their midmarket counterparts are becoming irrelevant as SaaS and IaaS go mainstream. Marketers from both vendors and channels are facing a monumental challenge to focus on a unique value proposition in this chaotic market.
In a nutshell, it’s getting harder for tech companies to keep up with sales targets and maintain profitability. And it’s getting tougher for marketers to communicate value propositions, generate demand, and capture and nurture qualified leads.
It sounds like a lot of doom and gloom, but it is actually the golden era for all B2B tech marketers. With the plethora of tools and technologies available at their disposal to research, syndicate, and monitor, today’s marketing leaders can implement a robust framework for success. There is no magic bullet to make all the issues disappear overnight. However, with a proper strategic roadmap, a tactical and scalable workflow, and constant experiments on a smaller scale, not only we can get out of this red ocean, we can thrive in a bold new world.
Content first, and second, and third
To start with, we need to invest in industry vertical-focused, business context-centric content strategy and creation. Without a scalable content strategy in place, lead generation and nurturing campaigns are bound to fail. Technology companies are relatively comfortable communicating with technology decision makers. But, as IT investments are getting evaluated in business terms, we need to create, repurpose or curate content for all target personas in our prospect’s buying centres. We need to focus on creating vertical-specific content to be relevant for the target industry.
How many marketers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
None, they’ve automated it.
Most tech companies spend a substantial portion of their marketing budget on top-of-funnel lead generation. Netting new leads is important, but there is no point investing all the budget there without a workflow to facilitate the journey through the funnel.
Most marketers are aware of this issue, but still keep repeating the same flawed tactics, because marketing leaders tend to measure performances quarterly and with wrong KPIs. Changing mindsets is not an easy task, but implementing a structured process using Marketing Automation software might help in the long term.
However, implementing Marketing Automation without the proper strategic mindset and planning has proven to be disastrous for many organisations. In many cases, tech companies are using Marketing Automation solutions to automate mass email, without much planning on workflows or lead scoring mechanisms. There is no ‘build-measure-learn’ loop in place to evaluate and improve the process at regular intervals.
B2B tech marketers need to remember that lead nurturing using marketing automation tools is a strategy, not just another software roll-out.
With no large roll-outs and renewable shortterm contracts, incumbent tech vendors can ensure barriers to entry against competitors only through facilitating increased consumption of the technology. That’s the reason the marketers’ job has now expanded beyond sales, to the realm of post-sales marketing.
In the cases of SaaS and IaaS, the business value proposition of ‘Consumption Marketing’ is clear, but other tech products and solutions can also benefit from such a strategy. Consumption Marketing principles are founded on education and product awareness, the assumption being that product familiarity increases customers’ cost to change.
Tune the channel
Invest in marketing to and empowering channel partners. Get more mind share, educate and engage the channel partners not only to get more channel sales, but also to ensure a better end customer experience.
Vendors assume that their products and solutions are as important to their partners as to themselves. But partners and distributors are only interested in their profit and top line. They often deal with multiple partners and distribute products from many different companies. Grab their mindshare by simplifying their task of selling and supporting your products, and avoid relegating your products and solutions to the bottom of their priorities.
Having clear and effective marketing content also gives distributors the resources they need, when they need it, to sell your products effectively. Bear in mind that your partners directly touch your customers. They have their ears on the ground and direct feedback from your end customers. You can make better decisions by listening to your partners and adapting your marketing strategy based on their input.
The mantra for multinational companies should be ‘plan global and act local’. From the content to the lead scoring mechanism, most tech companies are falling into the same trap of pseudo-homogenisation. There should be an overarching strategy framework to give direction to the content and lead nurturing process, but at the same time, regional and country marketing offices should have enough flexibility to take decisions on a tactical level.
There is no magic formula to get out of the quagmire B2B tech marketers are facing today. At the same time, we now have the resources and toolsets to learn and adapt quickly – unlike our predecessors. While a solid strategic framework and thorough tactical workflow is key to success, marketing leaders need to remember – ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Without a balanced team, ready to challenge the status quo and willing to experiment while keeping the big picture in mind, no big strategy or toolset can save technology marketing.