For us B2B marketers, the world is changing about as fast as we can stand. My head spins at the speed with which new tools, applications, and approaches arrive on the scene. Where does this all come from? The Internet, of course, whose impact on business buying behavior has changed the game. It’s a platform for communications, for selling, for just about every element of the marketing arsenal, and it’s is forcing marketers to think more carefully about customer and prospect data. Okay, we’re in the maelstrom. But what is on the horizon for data-driven marketing? Here are some predictions, culled from interviews with a bunch of very bright observers.
- More power and influence for marketing.
The sales function has traditionally held the primary B2B revenue responsibility, leaving marketers with a history of frustration at their exclusion from a seat at the senior executive table. That is changing fast, as new tools and measurable communications techniques enable marketing not only to demonstrate financial results but to take on revenue responsibility. “Salespeople are no longer the only rainmakers,” says Thad Kahlow, CEO of the digital agency BusinessOnLine. “Marketers today have serious revenue targets hanging over their heads.”
- B2C provides the inspiration.
B2B marketing is rarely the leader in advancing data-driven marketing techniques. But it is adept at watching and taking up the new ideas from consumer marketers that apply to business buying, observes David Myron, editorial director at CRM magazine. One example is experiments with unstructured data, like that from social media, where consumer marketers are making headway. B2B marketers will likely search and analyze nuggets not only from social media but also from phone conversation content and email content, to identify buying intent, competitive interest, and other actionable insights.
- The end of the database “build.”
Digital marketers today are taking greater advantage of “real-time” data, delivering immediate responses to interactive behaviors between customer and marketer. Increasingly, the ability to manage such data points efficiently will make the traditional marketing database too stagnant and unresponsive to be useful. We are not there yet—the idea is still experimental. But the “always-on” future is beginning to be visible, where your storefront is always available for any kind of customer interaction.
- A simpler technology picture.
Most marketing technologies claim to make marketer’s lives simpler. But at this point, marketing technology has become dizzying in its complexity. In the future, says Nitin Julka, product manager at LinkedIn, more and more of the complexity of running marketing campaigns is going to be automated, in a simpler way, so that marketers can focus on what truly matters—their target audiences, buyer’s journeys, and messaging.
- A sensible balance between data, insight and marketing strategy.
“You can have all kinds of customer data, and still not understand how to communicate persuasively with customers and prospects,” notes Howard J. Sewell, president of Spear Marketing Group. “Software and analytics can’t tell you the what and the why. We need to respect and harness what the data tells us, but also put it in its place.”
- Data is the business.
The appreciation among stakeholders for the importance of customer data will continue to grow. “Data isn’t something we just have stored over there,” says Frank Cutitta, CEO of the Center for Global Branding, and professor at Northeastern University. “Data is the business. Companies that understand this are ahead of their competitors.”
The Internet has been with us since the early 1990’s, and by now it has impacted every scrap of B2B marketing. But the next stage of its evolution will be to simply go away as a thing in itself. Digital marketing will become so mainstream that it will be called simply marketing. We will no longer make a distinction between online and offline. We will understand and interact with customers from all sides, in a seamless whole. And the data will be the enabler of that relationship.