Deliver Empathy: Humanize Everything you can and Embrace Continuous Change

When we spoke with Scott Brinker, VP, Platform Ecosystem, HubSpot, to learn about his New Rules of Marketing Technology and Operations, Corona was something you added a lime wedge to, or the hazy border circling the sun, during an eclipse. Now, our days are a blur of shifting information, delivered through our devices, as we sit at home and wonder what’s next. But rather than drown your sorrows, we encourage you to read Brinker’s recommendations. His insightful concepts around marketing technology and operations are as relevant now as in the halcyon days when managing our tech stacks was a top priority.

According to Brinker, the magic of modern marketing technology and operations happens at the intersection of five core ideas: centralization, decentralization, automation, humanization, and continuous change. In our latest Viewpoint, Brinker, who is also Editor of and Program Chair of MarTech, discusses his five new rules for harnessing technology in a constantly changing environment:

  1. Centralize everything you can
  2. Automate everything you can
  3. Decentralize everything you can
  4. Humanize everything you can
  5. Embrace continuous change

Deliver Empathy

If you’re scratching your head wondering how you can centralize, decentralize, automate, and humanize everything, we were right there with you! In his literary way, the Bard of MarTech unpacks these seeming contradictions as follows: “F. Scott Fitzgerald said, ‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind and still retain the ability to function.’ In marketing technology, Brinker argues, “there are cases in which one begets the other. For instance, content marketing systems are inherently centralized systems…yet content management systems are usually implemented to empower a decentralized set of people across the company to contribute and leverage content.”

When explaining automating in conjunction with humanizing, Brinker explains that we automate to make things more efficient. The key question is for whom are we making things more efficient? Are our efforts aimed at the company or the customer? Ideally, both. And, he adds, “there are some instances when things can be inefficient for the company, but such a great experience for the customer that it may be worth it. These are the moments that build brand loyalty.” Finally, Brinker contends that, “marketers as the champions of customer experience, must empower the company to leverage marketing’s tools and data to solve the customer’s problem and deliver empathy.”

In today’s environment, any positive experiences we can provide our customers are worth it. Here’s to a time when Corona once again conjures images of tiki bars and palm trees, and we can revel in the ability to engage in animated discussions of seemingly contradictory ideas in person. Or, at the very least, listen to Mr. Brinker do it!

Learn from the complete distillation of Brinker’s New Rules of Marketing Technology and Operations, in ITSMA’s latest Viewpoint.


To Make Marketing More Personal, Follow the Leaders

B2B marketers report that the importance of personalization in their marketing will double over the next two years. Thirty-six percent (36%) told us that personalization is critical for their business today, but that percentage will rise to 78% two years from now. Why is personalization so important? Two reasons. First, buyers want and expect it. And second, personalization, when done right, delivers results.

There are a variety of ways to personalize marketing. The methods fall into three basic categories:

  • Demographics. Demographic personalization is based on easily identifiable account and individual characteristics such as industry, geographic location, title or role, age, and top education level attained.
  • Behavior-based. Behavior-based personalization is using current (e.g, web page views, whitepaper downloads) and past behavior (e.g., purchase history) to deliver personalized sales and marketing experiences.
  • Explicit. With explicit personalization, there is no guesswork or interpretation. The individual you are marketing to tells you their interests and preferences for how they want to be communicated with. For example, “I am interested in cloud infrastructure, and I want to receive your monthly newsletter, but not your daily updates.”

The Current State of Personalization

Using demographics is the easiest and most often used technique for personalizing marketing content and delivery. The next most commonly used technique is behavior-based personalization, particularly buyer personas and behavior-based triggered messaging. (Although most of the marketers who say they are using buyer personas are most likely not personalizing based on buyer behavior, but rather on roles.)

Despite the hype, few marketers are currently using predictive, prescriptive, and cognitive techniques for personalization. In the future, these techniques are going to be big! Today, technology offers marketers the promise of personalization at scale, but tomorrow that promise is going to become reality.

Marketing Personalization - demographics

Interestingly, explicit personalization has been around for 20+ years, so we were surprised to see that only half of marketers are using it. The challenge with explicit personalization is data quality, maintenance, and management, and then of course, executing programs based on the data. These alone are major hardships, but then we layer on top regulatory and compliance issues, and the benefits of explicit personalization might not outweigh the challenges.

Personalization Leaders Go Beyond Demographics

The leaders in ITSMA’s recent survey on B2B Marketing Personalization take a different approach to personalization. They are using multiple personalization techniques. Rather than relying on demographics, the leaders are also using behavior-based, triggered messaging and explicit personalization. The leaders also have a head start with predictive, prescriptive, and cognitive techniques for personalization.

Marketing Personalization - Data and Insight

If the goal is to personalize marketing with a personal touch, relying on demographics is not going to get you there. Our advice? Follow the leaders.

For more information on what the marketing personalization leaders are doing, view ITSMA’s survey report, B2B Marketing Personalization Survey: Valuable Lessons from Industry Leaders, or listen to our webcast replay on the survey findings.


Connecting with Executives: What Really Works?

Connecting and engaging with the C-suite with marketing that is more personalized and personal at every stage of the relationship is now a business imperative for B2B marketers.

No one pretends that this is easy. Getting it right demands a well-thought-out approach to researching and connecting with key executives in ways that resonate. The objective must be to engage with knowledge and content. You want to start a conversation and build a relationship with an executive based on the value you know you can offer, not just sell your product/solution.

B2B marketers have an ideal opportunity to get into the C-suite by offering some big thinking and innovative ideas. Senior executives need help as they grapple with the impact of the digital, connected economy on their business models. They are hunting out new ideas and looking for guidance to what can be a fundamental rethinking of their approach to market.

business transformation
Here are five useful guidelines to follow to create marketing to engage the C-suite that is both personalized and personal:

  1. Prioritize data and insight. The amount of data marketers gather in the quest for actionable insights can be overwhelming. Increased application of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics can streamline that process. But at the executive level we need to take a more nuanced approach. Start by focusing on segments and accounts. Then research individuals and their roles, their important issues, and relationships. Concentrate on those accounts that will be instrumental in driving the business over the next few years.
  2. Emphasize “always on.” Personalizing content is a huge challenge. A sustained focus on core themes can make managing the sheer volume of personalized content far less daunting. Pick key issues and, rather than running 12 or 20 different campaigns a year, choose three or four thematic approaches that are literally always on, such as digital transformation solutions or the workforce of the future, for example. With personalized content, the mantra should be: less is more.
  3. Balance online and offline. It’s true that technology is increasingly helping to deliver personalization at scale. But too much use of technology can come across as impersonal and even mechanized, completely missing the mark. And, despite the perception that buyers spend far more time online than offline, the ITSMA How Executives Engage study finds that offline still counts and is especially important for the C-suite. During all the phases of the purchasing process, buyers spend almost the same amount of time offline as online.
  4. Design for personalization. In line with the ‘always on’ approach, create a framework of core content (tied to the business strategy) and modular assets from the start to facilitate customization and ensure its applicability throughout the purchasing cycle and beyond.
  5. Deploy co-creation to strengthen relationships. Marketing leaders emphasize co-creation of thought leadership and solutions to make those personalized connections even stronger. Clients welcome collaboration for new insights and innovation addressing their particular issues. It’s not thought leadership for clients and prospects—it’s thought leadership with clients and prospects. That is the ultimate personalization.

With the increasing involvement of the company’s most senior executives in the buying process for big ticket IT services and solutions, it is imperative for marketers to reach them with personalized, credible content. Technology can help scale personalization, but there is no substitute for human interaction. Nor are there any magic bullets: executives engage with all types of content, in all channels and formats, throughout the purchase process. The choices are going to be different for every account and for every person within the account. To keep marketing personal, you need to know your audience.

Learn more about personalization and how to connect with the C-suite by reading ITSMA’s Update, Want to Engage with the C-suite? This Time it’s Personal!, which dives deeper into the five guidelines to follow for better engagement.

What’s in Your Personalization Toolbox?

Personalization is one of the hottest trends in B2B marketing for a very simple reason: It works.

Personalization delivers business results and impacts the 3 R’s of marketing—revenue, reputation, and relationships. In a recent ITSMA survey on B2B Marketing Personalization, we asked marketers what impact personalization has on their key business metrics and half or more reported that personalization outperforms marketing that is not personalized. Personalization has the strongest impact on client engagement and client relationships. 

Personalization and the 3 R's of marketing

Most marketers today are just getting started with personalization. They are investing in the technology, processes, and talent needed to execute at scale. They are conducting proofs of concept and pilot programs.

Which Personalization Tools?

One question that comes up in every discussion is, “what specific tools do you recommend?” That’s a hard question to answer!

With over 7,000 marketing tools populating the Marketing Technology Landscape, not only is it difficult for marketers too choose, but it is near impossible for ITSMA to make recommendations. What will work for one company, might not work for another. Every company approaches technology differently. No two martech stacks will be the same. Even the way companies choose to illustrate their martech stacks drives that point home. Even if you see the same tool or tools included in companies’ martech stacks, I can promise you that the companies are using and integrating the tools in very different ways. Therefore, marketing technology has to be customized by company.

We suggest starting not with the technology, but with the business needs and objectives. That will help you narrow the field. Then dig into the use case(s) and look for tools that can fulfill multiple use cases.

For more guidance on researching and selecting technology tools, we recommend this ITSMA webcast which goes into more details on the topic:

Tools used for personalization

Learn more about the results of our B2B Marketing Personalization survey by viewing the replay of our webcast or reading our abbreviated summary of the research.


The Most Effective Path to B2B Marketing Personalization

B2B buyers place greater value on ideas that are personalized because they are more relevant and engaging. Therefore, marketers need to continue down the personalization path.

ITSMA’s How Executives Engage research with buyers shows that personalization is most effective when solution providers communicate their deep understanding of the buyer’s industry and business issues.

We asked about the importance of solutions providers personalizing their content via different dimensions. The most important ways buyers want to see information personalized is by industry and their own unique business issues. To a lesser extent, they also want to see personalization based on their role, geographic location, and size of company.How Executives Engage - Personalization

Additional data from the ITSMA study corroborates these findings. Knowledge and understanding of the buyers’ industry is the #1 solution provider selection criterion. And 68% of the study respondents say it is important for solution providers to proactively make recommendations for improvements and innovations based on their knowledge of the client’s business.

How Executives Engage. Knowledge and understanding.

B2B Personalization Best Practices

There has been a lot written about personalization in consumer marketing. All the best case studies come from B2C companies such as Amazon, Netflix, and ThirdLove. We at ITSMA think it is time to shine the light on B2B. We want to know how the best-practice B2B services and solution providers are personalizing their marketing. What’s working and where are the challenges?

You can help us answer these questions by taking the 2019 B2B Marketing Personalization Survey.

Take the ITSMA B2B Marketing Personalization Survey

The survey will enable you to contribute to this valuable industry research on personalization in B2B. To thank you for your time (approximately 8 minutes), we will send you a copy of the report containing valuable insights about how you and your peers are using personalization to market to B2B enterprises.

Click here to take the survey or go to:
We will keep all your responses confidential, reporting only in aggregate. The deadline for the survey is Wednesday, April 3, 2019. We appreciate your valuable input!


B2B Content Marketing: Good, But Can Always Get Better

The accepted wisdom is that buyers of B2B services and solutions are drowning in poor quality, offering-centric content that doesn’t provide value. A 2018 Forrester survey on what technology buyers think about the materials they get from their technology suppliers shows that 57% find the materials useless.

But ITSMA’s 2018 How Executives Engage survey (PDF) of buyers of high-consideration services and solutions tells a different story. In ITSMA’s survey, senior executives who buy services and solutions valued at $500K or more recognize their solution providers for providing valuable content. Sixty-five percent (65%) agree or strongly agree that solution provider content provides valuable guidance, and 64% say the content is of excellent quality.

 HEE 2019 - Valuable ideas

Room for improvement

That’s not to argue that content can’t be improved, of course. Solution provider content is not always easy to consume. Our survey findings show that 55% want solution providers to make the research process easier and 52% state that they are overwhelmed by the volume. These numbers jibe with the Forrester data point, in which 66% of respondents complained that vendors provide too much material to sort through. Although less of a problem, 42% of the solution buyers in the ITSMA survey struggled with provider content because it was boring.

HEE 2019 - content

Make content consumption effortless

So the good news is that solution provider content has improved. But are we using it to our best advantage? Are we consistently and persistently communicating our content—the thought leadership and ideas—through multiple channels, including the web, events, client engagement programs, SMEs, and sellers? Are we making it easy for our audiences to find and consume our content?

Solution providers need to find ways to ease the buyer’s effort. Buyers who don’t regularly engage with a company’s marketing content, executive programs, sales people, and subject matter experts are not likely to buy. We have to make it easier for them to consume our content and buy.


Learn more about ITSMA’s research on the opportunities and challenges B2B marketers have reaching potential buyers and influencers: How Executives Engage: Connecting with Customers at Every Stage of the Relationship Lifecycle.


The Power of Influence in B2B Marketing

More B2B marketers are looking to influencer marketing to cut through the clutter with compelling and differentiated content.

What is influencer marketing? In our latest Viewpoint, leading proponent Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing, explains that influencer marketing involves more than external, one-way communication. It is about engaging both internal and external industry experts who have active networks to co-create and share content for mutual benefit.

In other words, the interaction should be as beneficial to the influencer as it is to you, your brand, and your customers.

Lee Odden on influencer marketing

In this ITSMA Viewpoint, Lee discusses how marketers can employ influencer marketing to have an impact on both brand reputation and the bottom line at a time of tight budgets. As a bonus, Lee provides a number of examples that prove that B2B marketing does not have to be boring-to-boring.

The attraction of trusted sources

Why the surge in interest in influencers? While social media is a factor, Lee explains, the most important reason is that buyers want it. A recent survey showed that 78% of buyers strongly agreed that they are placing a higher emphasis on the trustworthiness of content source, with 65% having higher preferences for content from industry influencers.

Lee cites the example of one software company that wanted to accelerate growth, strengthen its credibility, and increase its own influence. Its resulting, well-received influencer campaign beat its target by 500% and, even more importantly, three-quarters of the campaign content was created by the influencers rather than by the company itself.

Creating a successful program

When looking to recruit influencers for their marketing programs, Lee describes what he calls the five P’s of being a B2B influencer. These include proficiency—they have to know their stuff—and popularity—they have an active network that pays attention to what they say.

TopRank has put together a maturity model to help marketing organizations develop an influencer program based on its experience over the years. Consisting of five key stages, it shows how marketers can create an initiative that meets measurable business goals.

Lee suggests making your program even more efficient and effective by using a modular approach for repurposing content: “Over time, as you collect these resources, the magic is in the planning for the deconstruction and organization of that micro-content for repurposing in the future. I can’t tell you how valuable this is for maintaining the influencer relationships because they keep seeing their names pop up.”


Finding the Right Cultural Balance for Digital Transformation

In today’s B2B environment, organizations grappling with the complexities of digital transformation are being bombarded with an endless array of technological options. According to Michael Keating, Senior Vice President, Global Marketing and IP Strategy, CGI, that can be incredibly distracting and make it hard to find the optimal solution. That is why cultural change and a more personal touch are central to Michael’s powerful message in our latest Viewpoint.

Lessons from the front line

Michael has front-line experience. CGI has been on its own journey for the past few years to double its IP-driven business solutions offerings while at the same time transforming its global organizational and innovation model. That transformation has been built on a strong foundation of combining technical expertise with cultural awareness in marketing and selling complex solutions.

As Michael argues, the current digital transformation environment can seem overwhelming for business development communities and global clients. The danger is losing sight of the cultural change that is at the heart of success for firms and their clients.

Every year CGI runs a program based on in-depth interviews with clients around the world, including business and IT executives. The interviews can take up to two hours, and invariably the topic of digital transformation comes up. And the biggest challenge? They can’t seem to find the right cultural balance to accomplish what they want to do both as clients and as individuals.

understanding client culture grows more critical

Don’t forget the human factor

According to Michael, “When there is so much complexity in the system, there is a great deal of value in simplicity. Clients buy based on culture. Cultural change is our clients’ biggest stumbling block as they try to achieve their own goals. Paying attention to culture when designing the work of marketing and structuring your team is critical. When you think about the culture dynamic first, it enables more decentralized work and makes marketing much more personal.”

At CGI, that translates into following a bottom-up approach. In other words, when the company is deciding how to advance into a market with a given topic or capability, the relevant teams build their campaign based on a deep understanding of local relationships. That calls for having the talent able to interpret these sorts of cultural conversations.

Michael emphasizes the importance of taking a wider view: “When I talk to clients, I learn that when they decide to buy, it’s not because of your collateral, value proposition, or excellent presentation. It’s not about your digital collaboration tools either. All those things are valuable, but they are not the reasons clients buy. They buy based on your attention, your fit with them, and your understanding of what they are going through. This is about people, not collateral.”

Read the Viewpoint to learn more about CGI’s story of how they used lessons learned from their own transformation to help clients manage change by providing for a more personal touch. 


Using Thought Leadership to Engage the C-Suite

Engaging with C-Suite executives is no longer optional for most B2B providers. More than 90% of respondents in a recent ITSMA survey say executive engagement is more important to sales strategy than it was two years ago. Especially in areas such as digital transformation, we need to reach higher in client organizations and engage with new types of buyers and decision makers, such as chief digital officers, chief risk officers, and even board members.

The good news here is that the executives we’re trying to reach are hungry for new ideas as they navigate digital transformation and look for innovative ways to compete. They’re looking for thought leadership and anxious to explore new approaches to growth in the connected economy.

But as more and more companies invest in thought leadership, the competition for mindshare in the C-Suite has become intense. Breaking through the noise requires a well-orchestrated process that goes far beyond simply producing and promoting credible thought leadership content.

ITSMA’s 2018 Thought Leadership Study, Engaging Executives with Ideas and Innovation, documents the approaches that B2B marketers are taking to develop and use thought leadership to engage and strengthen relationships in the C-Suite.

Most important, the study reveals five specific ways in which the most effective programs for C-Suite engagement stand apart from the rest:

  • Relationship Focus
  • R&D Approach
  • Client Collaboration
  • Field Enablement
  • Executive Metrics

I discussed the five issues on a recent webcast with two members of ITSMA’s Thought Leadership Council, Melody Callaway, Director of Marketing at NTT DATA Services, and Eran Levy, Head of C-Suite Thought Leadership at Cisco.

2018 Thought Leadership Study: 5 Areas

1. Focusing on Building Relationships with Executives

Companies that are successful with thought leadership go beyond just working to increase awareness and interest in their ideas and solutions. They focus directly on strengthening executive relationships and collaborating with them to develop new insights and innovations as core objectives of their thought leadership programs.

“If your thought leadership program does not bring your clients in, you’re missing a huge opportunity for relationship building,” says Melody Callaway. Her team focuses on primary research and says making clients a stakeholder in your research process is key to success when the actual research rolls out.

2. Casting a Wider Net for R&D

One of the biggest challenges in using thought leadership to reach executives is creating points of view that are truly differentiated from peers and competitors. Me-too content and presentations are rarely worth executives’ time.

Thought leadership programs typically rely on primary research and internal subject matter experts to help develop new points of view, but the most effective programs cast a wider net.

Sales and accounts teams can add valuable insights, for example, so it’s important to get them involved up front, rather than simply relying on them to present new approaches after they are developed. Eran Levy says bringing sales into the thought leadership program early has resulted in overwhelmingly positive responses, with 94% of the sales team reporting a positive impact on sales goals.

The best programs typically involve a range of other sources in the R&D phase of thought leadership through one-on-one executive meetings, events, and advisory boards, as well as industry events and associations. This broader and deeper approach certainly requires more time and effort, but pays off with better-vetted ideas and new points of view that are more likely to connect with executive concerns and ways of thinking.

3. Co-creating Thought Leadership with Clients and Prospects

Beyond just gathering their insights, leaders are more than twice as likely to prioritize collaboration and co-creation. They focus on using programs such as innovation workshops and executive councils not just to share their approaches but to collaboratively develop new ideas and points of view. It’s not thought leadership for clients and prospects—it’s thought leadership with clients and prospects.

One of the biggest opportunities for co-creation may be in industry-focused thought leadership and account-based marketing (ABM). For example, NTT DATA worked with Hilton Hotels to design and conduct research together about customer experience and customer satisfaction. The project put Hilton customers through their full “customer friction” audit process, and then used the research findings to co-create a better solution for Hilton guests.

Collaborative innovation programs have become an investment priority for many B2B companies in recent years, but they often reside in groups outside of corporate marketing. So, the challenge for thought leadership programs is often more focused on tapping into these programs to support thought leadership development than actually starting entirely new initiatives.

4. Enabling the Field to Reach the C-Suite

Enabling the field is key to bringing thought leadership to the C-Suite. By activating your own executives, sales teams, and business partners, you are able to not only articulate thought leadership insights and messaging, but also fuel more innovative conversations.

As Cisco’s Eran Levy points out, “It’s one thing to publish your research and promote it with digital channels. It’s another to have 20,000 sales people that can articulate the very same message.” Now, when Cisco’s sales reps meet with customers, they don’t just talk about Cisco’s collaboration solutions, but reframe the conversation to speak to the C-level about how those solutions impact company culture, productivity, and employee satisfaction.

The most effective enablement programs combine education and training on how to use thought leadership at the executive level with programs and platforms to facilitate direct personal and small group engagement – briefing programs, innovation programs, executive sponsorship programs, and the like. For the leaders, this all translates into significantly higher numbers of sales people, SMEs, and others that are effectively able to engage in the C-Suite with thought leadership ideas and content.

5. Measuring Executive Engagement and Impact

Most thought leadership programs focus on brand impact. They’re looking to strengthen reputation and eminence in target markets and with priority audiences.

But the most effective programs emphasize and measure all three strategic R’s in marketing: Reputation, Relationships, and Revenue – and do a much better job in the latter two. They are much more effective in building executive relationships and using thought leadership to accelerate revenue. And they are much more effective in tracking, analyzing, and reporting on the impact of thought leadership on executive engagement.

To be sure, this kind of measurement is difficult, especially since many of the most effective thought leadership activities with executives are happening offline, in small groups, and one-on-one. Even for the leaders, measurement quality is not great; it’s just a lot better than what the followers are doing. As Melody Callaway notes, for example, NTT DATA Services is just beginning to test ways to connect thought leadership and executive engagement initiatives directly to sales opportunities and pipeline acceleration.

Interested in learning more about the research and the discussion with Melody Callaway and Eran Levy? Check out the full report and the webcast, and let me know if you have any questions or comments. We’d love to continue the conversation!


Updating the Four P’s of Content Marketing

Last year, ITSMA rolled out the new 4 P’s of content marketing: Personalized, Proactive, Peer Influenced, and Proven. As shown in our 2016 buyer study, The Changing Landscape for Customer Engagement, B2B buyers of high value services and solutions are constantly looking for new ideas and insight. But they are also increasingly demanding of highly relevant and credible content.

As we noted with last year’s study, “the bar keeps rising for content and communication that truly connects.”

Our recently published 2017 study, Understanding Changing Buyer Behavior: Marketing Priorities for Improving Engagement, adds another valuable data set to the conversation.

Long story short, the 4 P’s are even more relevant today (with a slight amendment, as noted below). In the connected economy, B2B buyers want to engage with companies that provide highly-tailored ideas and information oriented to their specific business, industry, role, and situation.


The Four P’s of Content Marketing

4 Ps of Content Marketing

  • Personalized: Buyers want innovative ideas focused on their specific issues and needs. The sources of information they use run the gamut from peers to in-person events to social media. Everyone has his or her own preference, requiring solution providers to execute across multiple delivery channels to personalize the experience.

    In addition to personalizing content and delivery channels, solution providers also need to personalize content formats. Despite the temptation to make all content more snackable, many buyers still relish digging into with a robust whitepaper. In fact, content preferences split fairly equally across short-, medium-, and long-form content.
  • Proactive: New ideas and collaborative innovation are essential at all stages of the customer lifecycle. Some 89% of buyers view content, especially thought leadership, as critical or important during the early stage of the buying process, and they don’t want us to wait to be asked.

    New buyers and existing customers alike find SME points of view and visions for the future among the most helpful types of information. And when making renewal decisions, customers heavily weigh the solution provider’s ability to proactively innovate and add value to the business.
  • People influenced: Although the time people spend researching online is certainly growing, buyers still spend a large portion (43%) of their time during the purchase process offline, primarily with their peers and solution provider subject matter experts (SMEs). We’ve actually amended last year’s “Peer Influenced” to “People Influenced” this year to reflect the broader set of influencers that buyers engage with in the early stages.

    High value B2B services and solutions are still a relationship-based sale, and trustworthiness, an attribute based on personal interaction, is key for deciding which providers make the shortlist.
  • Proven: It’s not surprising that credible proof points are extremely important to buyers. But it remains a great challenge for marketers and sales people to providing the right ones in the right formats at the right time.

    Although engagement between solution providers and buyers is increasingly digital, the most effective proof points continue to reflect the human touch. The most effective proof points include: Subject matter experts who are available for conversations, meetings, and workshops, third-party validation, proof of concept, customer case studies, knowledgeable salespeople, and referrals from peers and colleagues.

The desire to provide highly personalized, relevant, and credible marketing is certainly nothing new. And B2B marketers in recent years have invested heavily in new tools and approaches to market to smaller segments and even markets of once (hence the rapidly growing investments in account-based marketing).  

Amid the rush to full, data-driven personalization, though, a sizable gap still remains between the desired future and current reality.

The quest certainly makes sense. B2B marketers, if anything, should accelerate investments in customer and market insight, as well as marketing technology, to enable increasingly tailored marketing based on priority topics and tactics for each buyer and account.

Meanwhile, though, the 4 P’s provide essential guidance to support those investments and create more effective approaches along the way.


Research Highlight: Cut Through the Noise with Peer Influence


This article is Part 3 in a series that digs deeper into four elements of marketing content that emerged from research we conducted on How Buyers Consume Information. Highlights can be found in Connecting with Customers: The Four P’s of Content Marketing.

Professional peers have always been an important source of referrals, references, and best practice sharing for B2B buyers. But their importance has seemed to wane a bit in recent years compared with other sources, such as solution provider SMEs and analysts. In our most recent buyer study, however, we see a resurgence in the importance of peers as a critical source of information for buyers. Peers are especially helpful to cut through the noise of overwhelming content. The resurgence is stronger among business buyers, but also significant with IT decision makers (Table 1).

We know from this and past research with buyers that people and relationships are key during the purchase of high consideration technology and business solutions. Despite the prevalence and prolific growth of digital channels, nearly half of the buying process (in the early stages) takes place offline. Buyers attend industry events, meet with solution provider subject matter experts and industry influencers, and most importantly, network with their peers.

For marketers, the implication is clear: work even harder to integrate peer-influenced content in your portfolio, and bring clients and prospects together with their peers through customized events, professional networks, community initiatives, and one-to-one connections.

HBCI2016 slide 22

Interested in more details from our buyer research? The full report is available at no charge to ITSMA members and for sale to others. A complimentary abbreviated summary (PDF) provides highlights, as well.


Research Highlight: Infuse your Personalized Marketing with Deep Insight


This article is Part 1 in a series that digs deeper into four elements of marketing content that emerged from research we conducted on How Buyers Consume Information. Highlights can be found in Connecting with Customers: The Four P’s of Content Marketing.

To connect with today’s buyers, marketing needs to be personalized. It needs to go far beyond addressing an email recipient by name or adding a few references to industry or role. True personalization is based on deep insight into the business context, challenges, and imperatives that our buyers face, and not SIC codes.

The data from our latest buyer study is clear: buyers need to see content demonstrating that providers know who they are, their industry, and their specific business issues. Content needs to be informative. What buyers don’t want is a sales pitch.

Fewer buyers are looking to content that is provocative, multimedia, and bite-sized—three things that today’s marketers strive for. Does this mean that these characteristics are not important to buyers? Not necessarily. The data only indicates that they are less important. These things can come after you have eliminated the fluffy “me-focused” content and have delivered relevant, personalized material.

Interestingly, buyers are usually willing to provide personal information to help solution providers create more relevant and personalized content. This is good news. However, buyers expect the solution providers that market and sell to them to speak with one consistent voice. That means every solution provider employee needs access to information on what interactions (both on- and offline) have already occurred and the information exchanged. Failure to do so is likely to result in a loss of confidence and respect.

F027 Slide 10


Interested in more details from our buyer research? The full report is available at no charge to ITSMA members and for sale to others. A complimentary abbreviated summary (PDF) provides highlights, as well.