The Marketing Strategist:

ITSMA’s 2016 Research Agenda: Five Pivotal Themes of B2B Services and Solutions Marketing

January 14, 2016

  • Commentary


Marketing is becoming the central hub for customer information in the company, much like the central nervous system in the body. I’m sure most marketers would never claim that they coordinate and influence the activities of all parts of the company, but marketing is moving down that path and has a significant opportunity, especially those teams that build the right information systems, implement agile processes, and leverage sophisticated analytics tools, supported with the best talent.

Marketing Resolutions

ITSMA’s key research and event themes for 2016— insight, digitalization, agility, innovation, Account Based Marketing (ABM), and strategy—capture the new vision for marketing. Gathered from our members, advisory boards, surveys, Insight Sessions, and custom research, as well as from informal conversations throughout the year, the themes focus on how marketers can drive revenue, engage with customers, and design the customer experience.

Building an Insight-led Marketing Engine: The Data, Systems, Processes, and People You Need

ITSMA’s marketing talent survey, published in the first quarter of 2015, revealed some surprising trends. Shifts in buyer behavior mean new priorities for B2B marketing organizations. In 2015, marketers cited brand and positioning as their top responsibility. By 2017, marketers predict it will be understanding buyers. This will require deeper capabilities in market research, data management and mining, predictive analytics, marketing automation and tools, and customer segmentation and intelligence, including developing buyer persona. Success will depend on finding the right balance of systems, processes, and people.

In 2016 we’ll look at best- practice companies that have figured out how to leverage information to unlock the insights to drive marketing strategy and planning.

Creating a Digitally Enabled, Agile Marketing Organization

2015 was the year that Uberize entered our lexicon. New digital business models have the potential to level entire industries. In this environment, companies have to move fast, and marketing has to move faster. Borrowing from the software concepts of Scrum and Kanban, marketers are adopting new workflow management techniques characterized by shorter iterations and cross- functional collaboration. According to the blog Agile Marketing by Jim Ewel, agile marketing is:

  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Rapid iterations over big-bang campaigns
  • Testing and data over opinions and conventions
  • Numerous small experiments over a few large bets
  • Individuals and interactions over target markets
  • Collaboration over silos and hierarchy

Ewel writes, “The goals of Agile Marketing are to improve the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.”

No one would argue with the need to improve the speed and adaptability of marketing, but how to do it? ITSMA’s research will dig into the details behind this very significant aspect of marketing transformation.

Enabling Sales and SMEs to Engage Customers in Collaborative, Thought Leadership−Led Innovation

ITSMA’s groundbreaking How Buyers Consume Information Survey shows that during the purchase process for high-consideration services and solutions, buyers want to talk to people. For even the most digitally savvy buyers— the B2B social buyers— half the buying process takes place offline. Therefore, your salespeople and subject matter experts (SMEs) are important, credible communication channels.

Further, ITSMA research shows that client collaboration programs are gaining prominence. Customers want to work with solution providers that understand their businesses and are therefore able to bring industry insight and data analysis to solve their business problems and innovate.

Marketers have started to work with sales and SMEs to enable them to communicate thought leadership more effectively. The next step is to empower them to engage and collaborate with customers in thought leadership−led innovation. This is where we will focus our research efforts this year.

Delivering Account Based Marketing Results at Scale

In 2015, ABM emerged as the hottest trend in B2B marketing, but confusion abounds. What many describe as ABM is nothing more than well-executed, technology-enabled targeted marketing and online advertising. ITSMA has been researching, training, certifying, and advising marketers in ABM techniques for over a decade. We have developed models and frameworks, tracked the trends, catalogued the best practices, and addressed the challenges. Based on discussions with ITSMA’s ABM Council, the current top-of-mind challenges in ABM are:

  • Using technology help to scale ABM
  • Managing the demand for, and the understanding of, ABM in the business
  • Maintaining sales engagement and ABM account consistency
  • Finding the right ABM management model: global or local
  • Measuring ABM impact

As ABM evolves, ITSMA will be there, as always, to guide you with the challenges.

Our 2016 research will show you how to implement your next- generation ABM initiative to take advantage of new technologies and techniques to achieve superior results.

Charting a New Course for Services in Product-Centric Companies

Service business models at technology- product companies are going through an incredible amount of change. Gartner predicts that by 2020, more than 80% of software vendors will change their business model from traditional license and maintenance to subscription. This change impacts all aspects of hardware and software providers’ businesses but probably puts the greatest demand on the service and support organization, as customers will need help transitioning to cloud or hybrid cloud models. As ITSMA member SAP put it, “We are moving from Value OF Maintenance (reactive/proactive protection, enhancements, etc.) to Value FOR Maintenance (business value from using maintained software).”

Along with significant changes to the services portfolio, marketers in product-centric companies are engaging new buyers outside of IT in new channels, with new marketing tools, and with more personalized content and communications. They are also changing organizational models, introducing new metrics, updating skill requirements, and digitizing marketing. All these factors add up to services in transition at product-centric companies. We will explore these developments in 2016 to help marketers chart the new course with insight, ideas, and examples.

These key themes represented in the research agenda will drive our events and conversations with members in 2016. The research will set the stage for marketing as the hub for customer information, igniting process and culture changes that permeate throughout the organization. The temptation to chase shiny new objects must be avoided. Technology alone is not the solution. Incremental change won’t get you there. Instead, marketers must embrace new roles and processes to become insight-led, agile customer experience architects and relationship builders.

Let me know what you think are the most important themes in B2B services marketing this year.

Want to learn more about what 2016 has in store for B2B services and solutions marketers? Join us for the ITSMA’s 2016 State of the Marketing Profession Address on January 21, 2016 (also on January 20, 2016), when we will present high-level findings from the survey, along with ITSMA’s analysis and recommendations. For more information or to register for the briefing, visit our event page.


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