ITSMA’s 2015 Research Agenda: From Technology to Engagement
What would you pay for a crystal ball? How about one in marketing, one that would help you predict marketing and business outcomes with confidence?
ITSMA may not have a crystal ball yet, but we’re getting closer to that day with the rise of new marketing technologies, tools, and analytics. Our increasing knowledge of customers and buyer behavior helps, too. Marketers, who have managed the intangible for a long, long time, are on a path to greater measurability and predictability.
This year’s research and event themes cover topics meant to help ITSMA members harness the momentum of change in order to redefine what marketing should look like in the coming years.
Several of our topics examine the ways that marketing technology influences marketing execution: capitalizing on the capabilities of these new tools, improving the way we track and communicate marketing impact, and delivering an integrated, seamless customer experience. Others focus on the substance of what marketing communicates, whether it’s the literal embodiment of thought leadership in the form of subject matter experts (SMEs) and salespeople or it’s redefining how companies deliver products, services, or solutions to customers.
What’s the common thread through all of these topics? Rethinking both the state of the art and the art of the possible.
Capitalizing on Marketing’s New Tools and Technologies
Marketing automation and other technology tools have given us a new window into a world of online behaviors throughout the buying process. They make it possible to track and measure the effect of marketing activities and to identify patterns we couldn’t see before. Rare is the B2B marketing organization that isn’t using a portfolio of marketing technology tools, yet having an integrated marketing infrastructure is still new territory for many.
In our research on this topic this year, we will revisit the subject to examine the objectives, management, and efficacy of marketing technology tools in B2B services and solutions organizations, identifying the level of use and sophistication across the industry and where the current frontrunners are showing the way.
Improving Marketing’s Communication of Impact and ROI to the C-Suite
Marketing tools have also made it possible to put concrete measures on how marketing is contributing to the pipeline from lead generation activities and campaigns. While this ability to measure is a big help when communicating marketing’s impact to management, marketing has a harder time showing its impact on other critical areas, such as reputation and relationship development. Measuring marketing in return on investment (ROI) terms is rife with challenges, yet the C-suite continues to cite its lack of knowledge of where and how marketing contributes to the bottom line.
ITSMA will build on previous work on marketing performance management, but we’ll dig deeper into how individual marketing leaders are improving how they communicate marketing’s impact to the C-suite with or without reference to ROI.
Delivering an Omnichannel Customer Experience in B2B
With all the attention that online activity is getting these days, it’s easy to forget that, as our latest research on how buyers consume information shows, nearly 50% of the buying process still takes place offline. In B2B, personal interaction still reigns supreme, even if a good bit of communication flows through an online channel. The challenge for marketers today is ensuring the quality of those interactions remains consistent whatever the communication channel or point in the buying cycle.
Our goal with this topic is to identify leading practices in maintaining consistent, high-quality engagement, regardless of channel, and scaling them from individuals to accounts and beyond.
Enabling Sales and SMEs for Deeper Customer Engagement
Whether your focus is thought leadership, content marketing, or customer engagement, subject matter expertise is the axis on which the B2B solutions world turns. Establishing subject matter experts (SMEs) and, by extension, salespeople as trusted sources of knowledge, opinion, and advice is central to making any of these marketing strategies effective.
Under this topic, we’ll examine the roles that marketing can and should play in establishing and promoting SMEs while extending their reach by enabling sales to act as facilitators and advisors.
Charting a New Course for Services in Product-Centric Companies
In the age of everything-as-a-service, the line between product and service has blurred, fundamentally changing the relationship between the two in product-centric companies. Cloud services are the vanguard of this change, but the implications extend far beyond these “new” services alone.
ITSMA will look at the changing business and delivery models within product-centric companies and the role marketing is playing in helping with that change and transformation.
We think there’s a lot of good research and insight on this year’s agenda. What’s your take on this year’s topics and themes?
Eight Steps to B2B Solutions Content Marketing Success
Today, you can’t talk about marketing without talking about content. Most of us old-timers laugh and say, “Hasn’t marketing always been about content?” Certainly! But the nature of the content has changed. Buyers have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and we in marketing are now educators. We still position our companies and offerings, but without obviously promoting them.
In this new environment, what are the keys to content marketing success? ITSMA has identified eight steps to ensure that you win more than your fair share of mind and wallet:
Set goals. Establish your content marketing objectives and align your metrics with those objectives.
Marketers are good at setting objectives and metrics, but are they the right goals and metrics? There are two issues to consider here. First, do the marketing objectives align with the business strategy? Second, do the metrics align with the marketing objectives and, therefore, with the business strategy? Too often the marketing objective metrics stop short of business outcomes and instead focus on tactics and execution. It’s the difference between being a content campaign producer versus a business value creator.
Do the research. Know your buyers’ purchase process.
Buyers have become more connected, empowered, and proactive, and they’re hungry to learn. They have access to information anytime and anywhere, yet ironically, buyers are harder to reach. As a result, marketing and selling have become quite a challenge. Nevertheless, with a deep understanding of buyer needs and when, how, and why they buy, marketing can use content to influence buyers at every stage of the buying process. Here’s the catch: buyer profiles based on what you and the sales team think you know about your target audiences is not enough. You have to talk directly to the buyers. Only then will you have the insights you need to create the content that will persuade them to choose you.
Map your content to the buyers’ journey. Create content to answer buyers’ questions and address their concerns at each stage.
Once you’ve done the research, and perhaps created buyer personas, you will know exactly what questions your buyers are trying to answer, depending on where they are in their journey. Create a matrix and fill in the boxes with the content you have available. Then look for the holes to fill. This will result in a mix of content types, including trend analyses, research-based thought leadership, case studies, solution descriptions, competitive comparisons, return on investment (ROI) calculators, online demos, and so forth.
Tell stories. Bring narrative power to your content by incorporating proven storytelling structures.
Storytelling is part of the human condition, part of our DNA. It’s how we represent ourselves, our lives, and our world, both to ourselves and to each other. Stories help us to paint pictures about new possibilities. Ultimately, stories help us to connect. In the war for buyers’ attention, storytelling engages audiences emotionally and can help you win. As marketers, we must understand who the audience is, where they are now, and where we want to take them. Then we can draw from a wealth of plots, structures, and devices to bring our content to life.
Be visual and interactive. Create thought leadership content that engages audiences through a mix of interactive visuals, images, and words.
Nothing beats a visual for communicating information and ideas; think of it as visual storytelling. That’s exactly what 436 buyers of complex, high-consideration B2B solutions told us. Their preferred format for online solution provider thought leadership content is interactive visualizations, such as interactive maps, data explorers, timelines, and scroll-triggered animations. They are also partial to published presentations or slide sets (bullet points and visuals) and even the more traditional text-based white papers, reports, and web copy.
Use a mix of inbound and outbound marketing to create a continuous cadence, not one-and-done, rigid campaigns.
“Build it and they will come” doesn’t work for content marketing. Content has to be promoted. Marketers need to replace time-defined campaigns with multichannel, integrated programs. Online, offline, and people-based interactions need to be seamlessly woven together. Use digital marketing to complement high-touch person-to-person marketing. Add an element of community building and you’ve got a winning combination.
Listen to the online briefing Persuading Buyers to Choose You.
Build relationships. Emphasize the building blocks of true relationships: human contact, insight, personalization, and engagement.
Marketers talk a lot about relationship building and design all sorts of programs to do just that. All too often relationship marketing is a mechanical process of increasingly focused content communication activities: emails, webinars, newsletter subscriptions, seminars, private briefings, and so on. It’s a formulaic progression. But real relationships don’t follow a formula. They’re messy and unpredictable, and each one is different. Marketers must be flexible with their marketing automation nurture tracks. The purchase process is not actually linear. Certainly track buyers’ behavior, but don’t make assumptions about where they are in the purchase process—it could change in the blink of an eye. (Customers will determine their own ideal journey—not us!)
Engage sales reps and SMEs. Don’t underestimate the importance of people as a channel to communicate your content.
Contrary to popular belief, nearly half the buying process for complex, high-consideration solutions takes place offline, especially with people. Therefore your people—your sales reps and subject matter experts (SMEs)—are perhaps your most important channels to promote and deliver your content. During the purchase process, the people your buyers most want to talk to are your SMEs. However, your SMEs only have so many hours in the day. Marketers need to find ways to increase visibility and accessibility on- and offline. And to augment SME ranks, marketers should enable the sales force to be frontline SMEs.
View from the Top: A Sit-Down with Two B2B CMOs
It’s a funny thing in B2B marketing these days: change is everywhere you look. (Speaking of change, have you seen our research agenda this year?) While that brings with it a great many challenges, it also offers a great deal of opportunity. At least that’s what two esteemed CMOs seem to think.
Matt Preschern, executive vice president and CMO at HCL, and Robert Tas, CMO and senior vice president at Pegasystems, offered us their views on some of the big challenges facing B2B marketing organizations today and how they are tackling them. They joined Jane Hiscock, president of Farland Group, who moderated the discussion at ITSMA’s annual conference in 2014.
Though they have different perspectives, Preschern and Tas agreed that their main priority is raising the profile and prominence of their companies. Preschern referred to this as cutting through the “sea of sameness”—a term we think sums it up pretty well.
Perhaps the biggest point of debate between the two was over developing a new set of technology-related skills versus getting back to marketing fundamentals like truly differentiated value propositions. In our estimation, both are squarely on the list of critical skills.
The CMOs did agree in a number of key areas. One is on the necessity of changing mindsets from product centric to customer centric. Another is that change applies not just to the skill sets that successful marketing organizations must develop but also to individual marketers and marketing leaders.
Read more about what Preschern and Tas are thinking and doing in the Viewpoint Marketing Leadership: Change to Succeed.
Leading Your Organization to Change
Let’s face it: we are living in constant change. Whether we want it or not, the digital revolution has changed everything. We’d best embrace it and be prepared to lead our organizations through it. But the leadership skills required during organizational change are vague and unfamiliar to many organizations. Do we really know what we are doing, or is it a process of trial and error?
In the ITSMA Viewpoint Wobbly Steadiness: Leading Your Organization to Change, Bev Burgess and Graham Clark discuss the skills and steps leaders need to take to successfully implement change.
The key is to be authentic. You don’t need to become a yogi to be more authentic (although yoga classes probably wouldn’t hurt!). Realize that people see through those who are trying to be invincible or pretend they have all the answers. People respond to leaders who are honest, communicate a realistic assessment of the risks, and provide a vision.
Moreover, change leadership should not be relegated to just a small group of executives. Successful change should be allowed to emerge and be co-created with everyone in the organization to gain buy in and acceptance. The challenge is to provide enough direction while enabling everyone to own the future. Share the direction you’re going in, and then ask for help in deciding how the change will work.
“Wobbly steadiness,” coined by Paul Houston, suggests that leaders have to provide enough certainty for those around them but must be flexible at the same time, prepared to change as necessary. Steadiness is provided by setting a boundary to make people feel safer. Ultimately, successful leadership will see through the desired changes and, best of all, avoid becoming another Dilbert joke.
Read the full Viewpoint, Wobbly Steadiness: Leading Your Organization to Change, to learn more.
Research Highlight: Marketing Organizations Get Key Skills Any Which Way They Can
One thing that’s clear in B2B marketing these days is that new expectations and priorities require a change in skills and capabilities. The priorities may vary from company to company—some are focused on kick-starting growth while others are just trying to keep up with it—but the levers available to marketing organizations are the same: buy skills through contractors, hire them in, or train for them.
The decision to buy, hire, or train comes down to a number of factors. Using contractors often depends on scarcity of skills, budget limitations, or a combination of both.
Recruiting full-time staff has the advantage of accessing needed skills while offering the ability to incubate and spread those skills within your marketing team.
Training is the underrated approach to gaining required skills. Many companies have cut training budgets across the board in the last decade, a trend that goes far beyond marketing. But marketing training might just be seeing a renaissance.
What really came through in ITSMA’s recent Marketing Talent survey is that overall, B2B marketing organizations use different approaches depending on the skills they need. There wasn’t very much overlap in the top five skills that respondents either buy, hire, or train for.
There are two exceptions: writing and content creation and social media. Writing and content creation is the one skill area that appears in the top five of all three approaches. Our data indicates that this skill is important enough that respondents will use any means available to get more of it. Social media is a skill most respondents seem to want to cultivate in-house: appears in the top five lists of both training and hiring.
One other area worth noting is core marketing. Over half of respondents are training their staff in core marketing skills. This makes sense as marketing departments hire people who may have specialist skills but lack a traditional marketing background. Some of our other survey findings: more than 40% of respondents’ organizations are actively recruiting talent outside of traditional B2B marketing sources. Indeed, recruits today might be trained in journalism or statistics rather than marketing or business. As the backgrounds of marketers get more diverse, a consistent understanding of the fundamentals helps keep marketing teams cohesive.
Each month, ITSMA receives a number of queries through Ask ITSMA, a resource designed to give members a quick and easy way to get insight on important services and solutions marketing questions they face. In this column, we will publish some of our favorite questions, along with excerpts from our replies.
Q: We are undergoing a website redesign and have developed some user profiles (personas light) based on the marketing team’s knowledge and analyst reports. We plan to use these profiles to drive the personalization of content on the site. We are looking for an external opinion or review of these. Over time, we plan to update and refine these initial profiles based on the website analytics that show the true behaviors and actions.
A: These profiles are a great first step at increasing your client centricity for your web content. Kudos to you and the team! That said, there is really no way for ITSMA to validate the profiles without talking to your clients. In fact, I would strongly encourage you to do just that—interview people who you believe fit these profile both to validate and to gain new insights. You mention that these initial profiles will be replaced by the analytics that show “true behavior and actions.” While I believe that will be helpful, it will still leave you with the problem of not knowing what you don’t know.
I am somewhat concerned that you are basing your profiles on:
- An inside-out view (the marketing team)
- Information that any of your competitors have access to (analyst reports)
What’s missing are the profound insights that come straight from your clients that could provide you with a competitive advantage. This is most notable in the section of your profiles entitled “Compelling Messages.” Based on my review, I see very little that is compelling. In fact, they are downright vanilla.
My advice to you is to get started using these profiles as is because they will encourage humanization of your marketing—a huge step in the right direction. But rather than relying on marketers, analysts, and analytics to refine them, refine them with qualitative interviews with your target audiences.
Do you have a sales or marketing question?
Services Marketing News
- The Product-Service Shift—Transforming Your Operating Model
- 6 Stats That Prove LinkedIn Is a Must for B2B Marketers
- 7 Steps Towards an Effective Customer Journey—Part II
For up-to-the-minute services marketing news, follow ITSMA on Twitter: @itsma_b2b.
Upcoming ITSMA Events
Capitalizing on Marketing’s New Tools and Technologies
Road Show – Lunch Briefing
Newton, MA: Tuesday, March 31, 2015, 12:00 pm–2:00 pm Eastern
New York, NY: Thursday, April 2, 2015, 12:00 pm–2:00 pm Eastern
San Jose, CA: Tuesday, April 7, 2015, 12:00 pm–2:00 pm Pacific
Web Briefing: Tuesday, April 14, 2015, 11:00 am–12:00 pm Eastern
Introduction to Account Based Marketing
May 5, 12, and 19, 2015
The 90-minute sessions will begin at 11 am ET.
ITSMA’s 2015 Marketing Leadership Forum
June 2–3, 2015
Communicating Marketing Impact and ROI to the C-suite
June 17, 2015
8:00 am Pacific – 11:00 am Eastern – 16:00 London (Duration: One hour)
Account Based Marketing Certification Program
June 30–July 1, 2015
The Charles Hotel, Cambridge, Massachusetts
(This course will also be run in the UK on 30 September–1 October, 2015)
To view all events, please see our online events calendar.
Recent ITSMA Thought Leadership
In the face of enormous shifts taking place across all sectors, marketing leaders can step up from leading their teams to leading their companies through major change. Marketing leaders have the advantage of expertise in effectively communicating big ideas that spur action as well as the experience of high rates of change in their own domains. Graham Clark, a service operations and change management specialist and a visiting fellow at Cranfield University School of Management, explains why leadership skills are needed now more than ever and why marketers are best placed to lead their organizations. He offers views on how marketing leaders can prepare themselves to take on the challenge.
Read more on this Viewpoint: http://www.itsma.com/research/wobbly-steadiness-leading-organization-change/
ITSMA Infographic: The New Architecture of Marketing Talent
Changes in marketing responsibilities over the next two years mean the skills marketing teams—and individual marketers—need to build in big changes in order to be successful.
Services Marketing Budgets and Benchmarks: 2015 Budget Allocations and Trends, a PowerPoint-style report, delivers a detailed look at the state of the services marketing profession as it exists in early 2015. It provides data on services marketing budgets, budget allocations, and marketing priorities from a range of companies across the technology and consulting industries.
Read more on this Benchmarking Study: http://www.itsma.com/research/services-marketing-budgets-benchmarks-2015-budget-allocations-trends/
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