Own The Moment: B2B Marketing Trends For 2020

Enterprise marketers must evolve several aspects of their operations if they’re to make worthwhile connections with business customers.

Own The Moment: B2B Marketing Trends For 2020

B2B marketers have traditionally lagged a few paces behind their B2C counterparts when it comes to changing with the times. But lately that gap has been narrowing and will continue to do so in 2020, experts said.

Just as B2C companies have been adopting advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to improve their customer experiences, this year will see more B2B organizations relying on them as well. As Forrester noted in its recent 2020 predictions, business buyers have become more like independent consumers, and “2020 will be a pivotal year as buyers’ demand for a compelling experience increases and B2B marketers strive to own the moment.”

Indeed, B2B buyers are closing more transactions online and dealing less with salespeople, according to Forrester. But at the same time, they want more engagement in their customer experiences, with more relevant content and connection with peers.

Ownership of the moment will require enterprise marketers to evolve several aspects of their operations in 2020 if they’re to make worthwhile connections with business customers.

ABM Comes Into Its Own

This year is gearing up to be a big one for account-based marketing (ABM). According to a recent ABM benchmark report, 50% of B2B organizations have had ABM initiatives in place for at least a year, and another 25% for six to 12 months. In 2020 we’ll see organizations expand, adapt, and restructure the practice to make the most effective use of it.

“There is a lot of testing happening,” said Michael Bird, president of sales and marketing at Dun & Bradstreet.

To date, however, companies are experiencing ABM “growing pains,” according to a D&B survey. Siloed data, lack of alignment between marketing and sales, and a lack of understanding of what ABM can bring are all cited as obstacles, but the biggest hurdle of them all is “an unclear ABM strategy.”

Also holding ABM back from reaching its full potential is organizations still structured around industry segments or channels, but that will change this year. It will be a year of adapting, as marketing and sales continue to learn how to play well together.

“2020 will be a year of inward focus,” said Mike Hicks, CMO at Igloo Software, which provides digital workplace solutions. That includes a greater emphasis on educating and enabling teams with content and internal communications, he said.

That’s already started. As a result, sales and marketing are becoming better aligned, partly because the tools for ABM and the data to show its effectiveness are both available. Marketers have seen a maturation of ABM tools, while sales staffs are seeing measurable results, according to Danny Dalton, a manager in the industry strategy consulting group at Adobe.

“Marketing is finally sitting at the same table with the sales teams,” Dalton said. “Those conversations are happening now.”

Automation Becomes More Ingrained

D&B’s survey found enterprises continue to struggle to transform all their data into actionable insights.

“A massive amount of data is sitting idle when it could be used to architect amazing experiences,” said Mary Pat Donnellon, chief revenue officer at phone software firm CallRail.

Using automation judiciously—to make sense of all the data and better enable customer experiences without bloating the marketing stack—is one of B2B marketers’ goals for 2020, according to those surveyed. Some will likely use it to leverage predictive analytics or for creating personalized user experiences at scale.

Customer data platforms (CDPs) “will be the Trojan horse that gives programmatic, omnichannel marketing processes a foothold in B2B marketing,” Forrester predicts. Its 2020 outlook points out 62% of global B2B marketing decision makers are increasing their data management investments.

“We are already seeing tools like AI and automation step into situations where humans simply cannot make calculations fast enough to be efficient,” D&B’s Bird said. Automation is already used for targeting and segmentation, mapping intent data across the customer journey, and automatically serving up ads, he noted, and those practices will continue to grow.

In a recent interview with CMO by Adobe, Francis Hondal, president of loyalty services, managed services, and labs as a service at Mastercard, noted the company uses AI and machine learning to offer its partner companies help in parsing data and finding opportunities to segment their consumers.

“In 2020, we want to reimagine loyalty strategies by utilizing AI and personalizing consumer experiences to drive more dynamic, data-driven solutions,” she said.

Chatbots: More Than Just Talk

Chatbots are another form of automation that will take off this year. Bots are being used to generate and nurture leads, sort out content relevant to an account, and many other functions.

“Integrating chatbots powered by AI will enable personalization that can help during each stage of the B2B sales process,” said Colleen Thorndike, director of marketing strategy at Valid, a manufacturer of SIM cards and smart cards.

“We’re also seeing things like chatbots used almost as a nurture stream to follow up on cold leads and keep them warm until a rep can reach out,” D&B’s Bird said.

Vendors are already experimenting with chatbots handling personalized offers and calls to action to customers, “but 2020 is the year in which this will reach scale,” said Juniper Research lead analyst Nick Maynard.

Indeed, Dalton noted that Millennial business purchasers in particular show an increased desire to self-serve. Having intuitive platforms to do B2B e-commerce and channels such as chatbots will become more important. Driven by those consumer expectations “we’re going to see these as more table stakes,” he said.

Shopping Like Shoppers

The emphasis on customer experience, which has led developments in B2C e-commerce, will continue to expand to B2B e-commerce in 2020. The D&B survey found 90% of enterprise executives believe B2B organizations need to be as focused on customer experience as consumer marketers.

“Just like someone shopping for shoes will ditch their cart if the process is confusing, a CIO will move on to another vendor if they don’t have a convenient purchasing experience,” said Marcel Hollerbach, CMO at Productsup.

The rise of the Millennial executive—the cohort is now well into their 30s and entering the ranks of management—means more purchase decision-makers will belong to that demographic this year. Dalton noted how Millennials are “drastically” more willing to switch vendors if they’re unhappy with some aspect of their experience.

“You don’t get a lot of chances with these younger generations,” he said. “If your content or your experience or your technology isn’t running … you’ve lost your chance.”

While most research still backs the notion that personal contact is paramount, surveys also find enterprise customers are comfortable online and rely more on digital channels for activities such as browsing information and customer service.

“The emergence of B2B e-commerce is at this early stage, and it’s going to grow very fast,” UPS CMO Kevin Warren told CMO by Adobe.

Contents Under Pressure

The growth of digitally savvy Millennial enterprise decision-makers also means changes in content.

Content plans in 2020 will have to be more on point—and more personalized—than ever, speaking to a particular use case and audience, and delivered in the right format and at the right moment.

For instance, content needs to address values that are important to the Millennial generation. Besides being more skeptical about product claims, this generation also comprises purpose-based shoppers who will choose brands that reflect their values and expect their employers to do the same.

“Younger buyers are a little less price-sensitive, and they’re not even necessarily looking for the very best solution,” Adobe’s Dalton said. “They’ll go with who provides the best experience and who aligns with their values.”

All the while, the volume of content offerings continues to mushroom. According to 2020 benchmarks from the Content Marketing Institute, B2B marketers are planning year-over year increases of five to 10 percentage points in their use of content for functions such as brand awareness, lead nurturing, and building loyalty.

While creating enough custom content for each segment can be a challenge for small teams, D&B’s Bird said, technology can free up the time that was once used in segmenting and targeting and give it back to marketers for use in content creation.

Offering the right content at the right time is a foundation of marketing, Dalton acknowledged, and the tools to do it are now within reach. “The answer is: We need the right content,” he said. “That has always been the case, but the ability to do that is improving.”

Business To Business, Peer To Peer—And Personalized

Enterprise marketing has always been considered a relationship business, but as more data and tools become available to tailor those relationships, personalization is expected to flourish in B2B as it has in digital consumer channels.

Personalization in B2B requires targeting the right individual in an organization that often makes decisions by committee, so automation will be helpful this year. Advances in technology allow marketers to understand who the decision-makers are, when they visit a website or take other actions, and then deploy targeted content to move them through their journey, Bird said.

But personalization isn’t just putting the client’s name in the subject line of the email, said Randy Frisch, CMO of Uberflip. “There’s got to be content at every single touch point throughout the buyer’s journey that’s personalized by audience and use case,” he told CMO by Adobe.

In addition, enterprise buyers are looking at their vendors as more than just product or service providers, but rather partners that help them grow their businesses. This year marketers will focus on getting their clients to share their experiences on peer-to-peer platforms to leverage the most powerful influencers in their industries, insiders say.

“The B2B technology community trusts one source of information over anything else–their peers,” said Elena Filimonova, senior vice president, global marketing and strategy at IT service company CGS. Some more sophisticated marketers will go all the way down the customer journey in 2020, down to the client’s end user in order to build champions for their brands.

“From the B2C world, we’re all used to clicking on reviews and customer ratings. On the B2B side, the equivalent is a customer success story, an analyst report or a customer advocate,” Dalton said. “Those are far more meaningful than anything our marketing team can put out. … There will continue to be an emphasis on that.”