The Marketing Strategist:

Five B2B Marketing Trends for 2010

January 6, 2010

  • Commentary
We’re a research organization, so making predictions is fraught with risk. We need to stick to the numbers. But we’ve identified some trends for 2010 that we think will accelerate. Some are sure bets, such as the continuing growth of social media. Others are long shots, because they don’t represent the majority of marketers today—and perhaps never will. But they should. See if you agree: Marketing and sales will share leadership. Okay, so just 17% of the 31 companies we surveyed in ITSMA’s recent survey, Sales Enablement Practices and Trends: Increasing Marketing’s Impact, have marketing and sales report to a shared leader—say, a vice president of sales and marketing, for example. But we think this number is going to go up. It has to. For the past two years, marketers have told us that sales enablement is a top priority. We think that sales enablement consists of more than brochures, data sheets, and tools. It should extend to shared goals and metrics between marketing and sales. The only way to know whether marketing is improving salespeople’s effectiveness is by having them share accountability for revenue and sales quota goals. Yet of the companies we surveyed, just 16% have shared metrics between sales and marketing. Worse, only 25% of companies said that their marketing and sales groups even have an understanding of each other’s goals and metrics. That’s got to change. Especially when you consider that many of the activities that traditionally defined marketing—collateral and trade shows, for example—are going away. Increasingly, marketers are going to become more directly involved in supporting the customer relationship. Some 48% of respondents to ITSMA’s recent Market Pulse survey are going to increase spending on sales enablement, and more than 50% are going to increase spending on lead-nurturing activities such as thought leadership and private events. Social media becomes integral to the buying process. In ITSMA’s How Customers Choose survey, we found that use of social media among IT and business buyers of technology rose 50% over last year and finally pushed to majority status; 55% said they use social media as part of the technology buying process in 2009 versus just 37% in 2008. More important, we found that executives in large organizations use social media more than in smaller organizations and that C-suite executives actually use social media more than their lower-level buying peers. Just 15% of CEOs and directors said they did not use any form of social media at all, whereas 34% of manager/directors and 26% of VPs and assistant VPs said that they ignore the stuff. This has big implications for marketers. It means that social media is taking hold within your biggest, most valuable accounts at the highest levels. This makes sense when you consider what our IT buyers have been telling us for years: that their peers are by far their most preferred and trusted choice for information during the buying process. This year, our research showed that most buyers go to colleagues inside their own companies for referrals of people to talk to about a purchase. No doubt, they would like to expand that circle beyond the company—30% say they rely on peers from councils and communities they belong to, and 29% say they speak to colleagues at other companies for referrals. Within this elite audience, social media is becoming a tool for expanding the circle of trusted peers that they can call on when they’re about to make a big purchasing decision. Marketers can enable these relationships by creating and managing online communities. Indeed, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the percentage of B2B marketers that say they’ve built online communities themselves or through third parties such as LinkedIn and Facebook. In ITSMA’s social media survey in April, 43% said they had built their own communities and 54% had built group pages on Facebook or LinkedIn. By October, the percentages were 70 and 79, respectively. Social media integrates into the thought leadership supply chain. Among respondents to ITSMA’s recent Market Pulse survey, 58% said they planned to increase spending on thought leadership development—nearly as many as the 73% who told us they planned to invest more in social media. We don’t think that’s an accident. Social media is a helpful new piece in the supply chains for both thought leadership development and dissemination. For example, by tracking employee blogs, you may find some new subject matter experts who can help develop and refine thought leadership. Tweets are the raw nuggets that become blog posts that eventually lead to thought leadership white papers. And social media tools are great ways to tease your thought leadership content and lead customers and prospects to other marketing channels, such as events and the Website. In ITSMA’s survey Web 2.0 Gets Strategic, 67% of respondents said that driving traffic to the Website was a primary benefit of social media. The importance of the epiphany stage of the buying process grows. With buyers themselves doing more and more research during the buying process, providers need to make sure that they can be found. Providers stand a better chance of being found if they create content for every stage of the buying process, including the stage that occurs before customers even think about buying. In the epiphany stage, marketers educate customers and prospects about business issues and future requirements, helping them reveal needs (see The Epiphany Stage: The Missing Link in the Buying Process). How should marketing accomplish this goal? By creating idea- and trend-based thought leadership that helps clients discover and respond to the most important business issues they face and by taking clients out of the day to day to collaborate and spark new ideas. The best epiphany marketing also gives sales a reason to call on customers to discuss the content. There’s plenty of opportunity for differentiation in the early stages of the buying process. In ITSMA’s How Customers Choose survey, just 16% of buyers said that their providers are very helpful in showing them the possibilities to solve their business challenges. And just slightly more than 50% of buyers said that providers’ thought leadership marketing is helpful in this regard. Companies that invest in understanding buyers’ business issues and creating good thought leadership around those issues have a tremendous opportunity to stand apart from competitors. Cloud computing and costs will drive partnerships. In our Market Pulse survey, 42% of respondents said they were planning to increase their investments in partnerships. In part, this is due to already lean staffs being unable to shrink further. Even in the darkest days of the recession last January, 43% expected their budgets to remain unchanged or to increase in 2009. The lean staffs and budgets that have been with us since the dot-com crash don’t have much fat left to cut. Marketers are looking to share costs by working with partners. It’s also an inexpensive way to grow when the economy improves. But we think that cloud computing will also drive a need for more partnering. The development of cloud-based platforms such as Salesforce’s AppExchange or Apple’s App Store show how partner ecosystems will become more important for B2B over time—much as the “Wintel” platform redefined provider partnerships at the beginning of the client/server era. What trends do you see coming in 2010?

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