Revolutionary Thought: Treat Your Customers Like People
Early in each new year, bloggers and influencers attempted to identify trends that are going to be big as the year unfolds. This year, I did a little digging to see what trends people were talking about in the business-to-business marketing space. I was most interested, of course, in finding some that seemed relevant for our own business. Our company helps clients build their businesses through a smart and efficient print supply chain and the most effective use of promotional products. What trends should we be watching to do our jobs even better?
I found no lack of experts providing opinions. Some looked at it from a purely technological standpoint, discussing how things like virtual reality and the IoT were going to revolutionize the B2B sales process. Others focused almost only on the digital word and how social media efforts were going to determine success or failure for B2B marketers this year.
My Picks—the Trends I Think Will Matter to You
After going through all of this, I decided to share what I found by creating a list of my own. I chose some trends because they represented a common theme on several lists. Other trends really struck a chord with me, based on what I have seen in my own experience.
Trend: Expect More and Better B2B Marketing
The marketplace grows more competitive every day. (Shocker, I know.) And many B2B marketers still think that, because they are not selling beer or auto insurance to consumers, they are somehow insulated from that atmosphere. Not true at all.
As a B2B marketer, your prospect pool is likely smaller. But, you, too, face increased competition every day, as other companies (across town and across the world) try to steal your existing customers and beat you any new ones. If you aren’t using the full spectrum of marketing tools from printed pieces to online to social media and more, you are losing ground. And money.
Trend: More Content Will Be Personalized
This one really caught my attention, of course. If you’re a regular reader, you know we just completed a series on marketing enablement tools. And a recurring theme was the importance of providing customized content throughout the selling cycle.
B2B marketers have been slower to embrace this concept, perhaps for some reasons mentioned earlier. But with technologies available that make it a relatively simple process, there is little excuse for “generic” content.
Trend: More Marketing Will Be Automated
At first, this seems to conflict with the previous trend. “Automation” sounds impersonal, and marketing automation as a concept would appear to rule out much personalization. But the technologies referenced above dynamically call up different content based on information from a database or the prospect’s own web inputs.
Automation, itself, can provide a huge boost to the marketing function. Used properly, it can help ensure that leads are processed, managed, and nurtured. It doesn’t eliminate the “human element” I praise above, but it does help avoid the very human error of allowing some leads (or prospect requests) to fall through the cracks and cost you new business.
Trend: Account-Based Marketing Will Become the Standard
This trend is very intriguing, in my view. In a nutshell, account-based marketing (ABM) recognizes that the right accounts, managed properly, are more profitable than going for quantity. Spending more time on accounts with more potential only makes sense. In addition, it fits very well with most of the trends I’ve mentioned above, including personalized content and treating customers as “people” instead of functions.
An excellent graphic in one article caught my eye. It inverts the traditional marketing funnel, which casts a broad net hoping enough prospects will make it through the funnel. The ABM version starts by identifying high-value accounts (the small end of the funnel). Next, where the funnel gets bigger, it shows those accounts being nurtured and converted into sales. Finally, the funnel gets even bigger, to represent the highly profitable long-term customer relationship.
Trend: See Prospects as People, Not Job Titles
This is one of mine. And I know it sounds a little warm and fuzzy to suggest that you “treat customers like real people.” As you’ve already seen, personalization, customization, and lead nurturing get plenty of attention these days. But in most cases, those terms refer to simple variables about the business, such as its size, category, or challenges.
But I believe that personalization shouldn’t be just a clever technology-aided business tactic. It should be a mindset. Technology is a terrific thing. It’s a big part of our success. But relationships with human beings predictor sales success even more effectively.
Your customers and prospects are department heads, procurement managers, or company executives. But they are also Little League coaches, yoga instructors, fanatic (but lousy) golfers and marathon training hopefuls. They get the mail, have a few “must watch” TV shows, and either love or hate certain commercials. When they are not making big decisions for their businesses, they respond to all the things other consumers do.
Another Thing We Hope To See in the Coming Year: You!
In my research, I saw plenty of other trends, as well. One example: you’ll probably hear the terms “customer experience” (CX) or “user experience” (UX) plenty in the next year. Marketers are looking more and more through the eyes of their customers and doing what they can to make that experience as painless and satisfying as possible at every interaction. Makes sense.
Spot some trends I’ve not included here? Get in touch. Let’s talk about it. And if there’s any other way we can help your business in 2018, please let us know. In 2018, we want to see your business trending upward. And we’d sure like to help.