As marketers, we always look ahead to “What’s hot?” or “What’s the next best thing?”. These questions become more pressing as the year winds down. According to a recent SalesForce survey of over 5,000 marketers, the greatest challenge that they face is “how to keep up with trends to drive more higher quality leads”.
To get you started, we have compiled 11 B2B marketing trends we anticipate in 2016. An overriding theme is meeting customer needs and expectations with winning content (ie relevant content via effective delivery). And today’s customer has high expectations and little time or patience for those vendors who can’t keep up.
Look ahead to learn what B2B marketers can expect in the new year…
1) An increasing focus on customer experience
As evidenced by Forrester’s extensive research, customer experience was huge in 2015, but it will continue to evolve in 2016 as customization and personalization become increasingly important. Google Think proposes, “There is no longer a path to purchase, but a Path to Purpose; buyers paths are a constant string of moments intertwined together equaling an experience, fulfilling a buyer’s purpose”. And according to SalesForce, 86% of senior-level marketers say that it’s absolutely critical or very important to create a cohesive customer journey.
Not surprisingly, companies that focus on customer experience throughout a customer’s lifetime see higher growth. Studies show that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one negative experience. And in a world where B2B buyers see 80% of their sales engagements as being valueless, it is a major differentiator for your company to deliver a positive, value-based experience. Prospects will expect to be treated as individuals – anticipate what they need and respond accordingly with a customized solution and relevant content as support.
2) The end of content fragmentation
In the past, many organizations have dealt with content marketing fragmentation. Ad Age suggests that the goal in 2016 will be to “streamline the process of content planning, content syndication, and engagement”. Analyst estimates show that up to 95% of successful sales are influenced by sales content and sales documents. That means it is an imperative sales enablement activity for marketing to get these documents into sales people’s hands.
Sales enablement tools are very effective at sharing content with your sales team and making sure the right content gets used at the right time. Technology, such as Savo, uses real-time data to determine what content is most effective at progressing deals and generating the highest ROI. Marketing can use this feedback to identify where to focus their content creation efforts, and sales can use recommended winning content to drive prospects through the sales funnel. Actionable insights drive business decisions about what content and topics to focus on in your content strategy and to centralize, streamline, and optimize the use of content within the organization.
3) Must-have marketing technologies
Gartner Research suggests, “The CMO will have the largest IT budget in organizations by 2017”, and SalesForce adds that marketers will have a ‘record-high’ number of technologies, channels, and tactics to choose from. So what to do with that budget? Well, it is the role of the marketer to create a seamless experience from your CRM to your marketing automation to your websites to your sales activities.
Marketing is an art, but technology turns it into a science, making your marketing efforts scalable and sustainable. And on that note, sales enablement tools – a relatively new technology – will become even more important than in prior years, offering a great opportunity for your business to jump ahead of the competition. The increasing complexities of the buyer journey and the ever-evolving role of the vendor requires that marketing uses sales enablement to help convert leads into opportunities and then revenue. Sales enablement ensures that every sales rep has the required knowledge, insights, and contents to optimize each engagement with prospects and advance the deal.
4) Further leveraging social media
Consumers want to be able to communicate directly with brands, and as they demand more real-time engagement, social media will become even more important. Social media can help organizations relate to and engage more intelligently with buyers; indeed, 61% of those companies that use it report a positive impact on revenue growth.
5) The continued reign of content
Content is still king, and its importance is not diminishing. A DemandGen report shows that for 65% of buyers, the winning vendor’s content had a significant impact on purchase decision, and 68% have increased the amount of content used to research and evaluate their purchases. Impress1 sums up the role of content marketing as “providing information to current customers and potential prospects in order to build trust, develop the brand, and ensure your brand is seen as an expert in the subject matter”. Organizations that do not invest in creating meaningful, engaging, and insightful content take the risk of being left behind by their competitors.
6) Age of the informed consumer
Today’s B2B buyer is savvier and increasingly cynical – they know you ultimately want to make a sale. They also know more than ever before about your products and services, as well as your competition. Being transparent and demonstrating value will help potential customers make informed decisions and feel confident that they made the right one.
7) The rise of video content
Recent studies suggest that video content will account for almost 2/3 of consumer web traffic by the end of 2016. This development is particularly important in light of Google’s latest algorithms, which take into account ‘dwell time’, or how much time is spent on a page, making engaging visuals a key part of SEO strategy. Pardot research shows, “A consumer can determine if there is value in a web experience within 1/20 of a second – if it is not valuable then they leave”. Videos, and other visual content such as infographics, keep people on your website much longer. In fact, 70% of companies now say video is their most effective online marketing tool.
8) The cultivation of a culture of content
In a transition from ‘silos’ into ‘integrated teams’, content will no longer be a marketing-only initiative – areas such as sales, HR, customer service, and product development will contribute their unique insights and subject expertise. Content will become an ingrained component of an organization’s culture, fueling corporate goals and initiatives and enabling and empowering employees. A study from Altimeter Group reveals, “Companies that evangelize, reinforce, and institutionalize the importance of content throughout and beyond the marketing organization are more successful not only across their marketing initiatives but also with other internal and external success benchmarks”.
9) The dominance of data & predictive
Only 21% of marketers regularly measure the results of their content, and only 44% of B2B marketers are clear about what content marketing success or effectiveness looks like. But that’s about to change – 2016 will be the year of data, an area that we have only been able to start exploring in 2015. We will realize the power of these metrics and how we can leverage this information to make better-informed decisions and to truly understand the effectiveness and impact of marketing efforts. ‘Gut-feel’ will no longer cut it, as content marketing becomes an ongoing process of testing and improving based on data. And the laser-focus that predictive offers means that marketers can know exactly who their targets are, when they are likely to purchase, what content they are looking for, and what problems will need solved.
10) Content saturation
Content may be king, but too much content is a bad thing. 2015 Gartner Research says, “By 2020, there will be 7 connected devices for every person on earth; each device can create and filter the noise”. But despite the increasing volumes of content being produced, your prospects still only have a limited capacity to consume it, which means you are fighting for consumers’ time. This situation stresses the need for quality content that is relevant and can break through the noise.
11) A ‘post-digital marketing world’
The term ‘post-digital’ has been buzzing around the marketing space recently. It refers to a time when ‘digital marketing activities’ are no longer separated from other activities since they should be fully and seamlessly integrated as simply a part of ‘marketing’. ‘Digital’ should not be a separate entity – it is just a different way of doing marketing, often with more flexibility and quicker response. And with its recent mainstream status and increasing importance to marketers, it no longer merits niche treatment.
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