The Marketing Strategist:

ITSMA's Eight Big B2B Marketing Trends for 2011

February 9, 2011

Based on conversations with members, our research data, and just keeping an ear to the ground, we see eight big trends for B2B marketers in 2011:
  • Thought leadership will win business.
  • Buyers will continue to push salespeople out of the buying process.
  • Marketers create more relevancy at the earliest stages of the buying cycle.
  • Personal brands will become an important part of the corporate brand.
  • Marketers must bridge the gap between loyalty and trust.
  • A fact-based culture will emerge in marketing.
  • The marketing organization will coalesce around specialists and super-marketers.
  • Partnering will require a new level of intimacy.
In the next few issues of The Marketing Strategist, we’ll tackle each of these trends in more detail. Many of these themes will be covered in our research agenda, so we hope to add some data to support—or maybe refute—our predictions. This month, we examine two big trends:
  • Thought leadership wins business. In 2010, ITSMA dug up incontrovertible proof that good ideas offer ways to customers’ hearts—and their wallets. In this year’s How Customers Choose survey, which we conducted with PAC (a free summary of the survey is available), 30% of respondents said that companies that help them clarify their business needs during the epiphany stage of the buying process and that suggest a solution have a higher probability of winning the business to implement that solution. Even better, more than half of those grateful customers would actually consider sole-sourcing the deal. That’s big. We also found that thought leadership plays an important role later in the buying process, when buyers are putting together their shortlist. Almost 60% of buyers we surveyed consider thought leadership to be important or critical in selecting providers to be on their shortlist. Meanwhile, marketers’ chances to feel the love are better than ever, given the implosion of the B2B trade press and growing demand for content online. Our numbers show that analysts have taken up some of the slack left by the trade press (their stock as trusted sources of information has risen in our research), but services and solution providers have the actual experience and subject matter expertise to make a big impact. Be forewarned: Customers’ tolerance for sales pitches is at an all-time low (see big idea #2). Providers have to guard against accusations of being biased and producing marketing hype if they are going to get into the thought leadership business. Our recent ITSMA Online Briefing, Creating the Ideal Thought Leadership Development and Dissemination Balance, discusses how marketers can get help with developing and disseminating ideas, such as partnering with analysts and forming consortiums with academics and even other providers and vendors to provide thought leadership that has credibility. It also includes a case study from IBM on its internal engine for thought leadership.
  • Buyers will continue to push salespeople out of the buying process. Buyers are more self-reliant than ever. Nearly two thirds say they do their own research rather than waiting for salespeople to contact them. They are pushing salespeople out of the buying process, particularly at the earliest stages. And those early stages are being stretched earlier, thanks to online search and social media. As buyers begin leaving breadcrumbs of their intentions online earlier in the buying process, marketers have an opportunity to initiate a relationship long before salespeople are needed or wanted. Indeed, salespeople are not needed at this stage of the process; it would be like a justice of the peace checking in on a couple during their first date.Anecdotally, we’re hearing that even later in the sales process, buyers would rather hear from subject matter experts, delivery managers, and senior executives—not salespeople. Marketers must step into the breach and build relationships with contacts before they enter the sales funnel by providing relevant content. And marketers need to continue building the level of relevancy and personalization in the relationship after customers enter the sales funnel through the interest and confidence stages.

What do you think? Are these ideas on the money? As researchers, we want to know your opinion.

Want the latest news from ITSMA?

Subscribe to our newsletters and alerts for ITSMA blog posts, research publications, events, and more.

Further reading