B2B marketing trends for 2020
Warren Moss, CEO of Demographica, forecasts eight B2B marketing trends to watch out for in 2020 in Africa.
Account-based marketing (ABM) continues to thrive
We’re glad to see that ABM is finally growing as more companies are signing off on it as a strategy, including it in their budgets and scope, and we look forward to seeing this trend continue. There are plenty of hurdles to getting it off the ground, though, including eating up hours as companies fumble with the vital process of account selection. Proper preparation is at the heart of successful ABM, alongside the proper alignment of sales and marketing, selecting the right target accounts, creating bespoke content for target accounts, and setting the right key performance indicators for AMB campaigns.
Targeting audiences, not verticals
Historically, when companies created B2B marketing campaigns, they tended to think about those campaigns in terms of which product or service they’re selling, or which vertical they’re serving. We’re finding that more and more B2B companies are reframing this to focus instead on targeting audiences. B2B marketing is going to be more about the purchase journey – thinking about the customer and creating campaigns that speak to them, rather than just the product or service. Putting the purchase journey at the centre of the communication is the future – and we’re pleased to see that so many chief marketing officers are embracing it.
In keeping with this trend, B2B companies are focusing more on the partner experience too. Forrester Research found that 70% of B2B revenue comes from a third-party channel – a distribution partner of sorts. The top B2B companies in the world – think SAP and Oracle – sell their products predominantly through partners, so it makes sense to focus on the experience those partners have when they’re selling your products. Focusing on that element is a differentiator – partners who have a great experience with your product are more likely to choose to support it ahead of those of your competitors.
Switching from sales enablement to buyer enablement
Sales enablement has traditionally been the role of sales teams, but the development of those programmes and assets is increasingly becoming a marketing function in the B2B space. This is on the back of a reframing from sales enablement to buyer enablement – trying to help customers buy better instead of helping sales teams sell better.
Digital event diversity
There’s an increasing trend for companies to move their physical events into the digital space. B2B companies spend a fortune on events, and they do plenty of them – and it’s getting difficult to justify the returns on such a huge investment. Companies are therefore turning to online opportunities, like webinars, and applying frameworks that allow for the proper commercialisation and accurate measurement of these events.
Forward with face time
As much as these physical events are shifting into the digital world, when it comes to the buyer experience, people are increasingly valuing physical face time. While there are now more digital tools than ever before that allow buyers to self-serve, they still have their own jobs to do and many are finding that they have to spend a huge amount of time managing things. Companies are increasingly overloaded with tech – when marketing tech became de rigueur, companies went all in and now they are finding that it’s actually quite hard to make use of all of it. Buyers are demanding face time to help lighten the load, which in turn allows B2B companies to focus on buyer enablement.
B2B messaging apps to the fore
We’re seeing a major uptick in the use of messaging apps in the B2B space, which makes sense, since they’re ever more pervasive in the B2C space, and business buyers are consumers in their own right too. As a result, they expect the same levels of convenience they have as consumers when it comes to making B2B calls.
The immediacy and instant gratification offered by messaging apps and chatbots serve an important need in the B2B space – and it makes sense to engage with people in the way they’re used to interacting in other spaces too.
The rise of influencer marketing in B2B
While influencer marketing is common in the B2C space, it’s still in its infancy in B2B. It’s a lot simpler in the consumer world, where a brand identifies someone with an appropriate audience on their social media platforms and pays them to “authentically” promote their product to that following. In B2B, it’s ethically difficult to approach the CEO of a major company and pay them to promote your product – but it’s important to find other ways to gain this type of endorsement. Direct marketing is one way to negotiate the ethical issue – if the client is an influential person in their professional space and their company is utilising a B2B product that is helping them, why wouldn’t they want to shout about it? By highlighting the benefits they’ve had in using your B2B product or service, they can promote it in a credible manner. The local industry is in the process of creating frameworks for it, but globally it’s already a major trend.
There’s also a rise in social selling in the B2B space as a platform or tactic. There needs to be more authenticity around it – how people do it and why – but it’s definitely growing. My sense is that we’re going to see a lot more of it in the B2B space soon.
Bridging the knowledge gap
B2B clients are becoming increasingly aware of the gaps in their knowledge and they’re turning to partners and agencies to help them bridge them. We find that discovering new opportunities and technologies is simple, but actually acquiring the knowledge of how to run and maximise them is harder. They’re therefore reaching out to their B2B agencies and asking us to help us upskill and train them. An improvement in skills as well as personal and professional development in the B2B marketing capability can only be of benefit to the industry.
Moreover, finally companies are starting to understand what good B2B marketing looks like, and looking for dedicated agencies to deliver it. It means that we’re starting to build a healthy ecosystem for B2B marketing in SA, and the industry is growing, which can only be a good thing.
- Warren Moss is the CEO of Demographica.
The big take-out
Among the trends driving the B2B industry thus year are a greater focus on the customer and the fact that clients are looking to specialist B2B agencies.