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5 B2B Marketing Trends for 2012

(This is a guest post by Patrick Spenner of the Marketing Leadership Council, our sister program for heads of Marketing.)

Each year, the Marketing Leadership Council (MLC) surveys our members about their top challenges looking ahead.  As we read the tea leaves in this year’s survey results, here are our thoughts on what’s creeping into (or storming) the B2B marketing consciousness for 2012.

1) Voice-of-Customer 2.0. Marketers are grappling with what kinds of customer data are most important to collect and how to make hay out of the data. Early hypothesis from the MLC team: marketers are over-investing in collecting and analyzing data about the customer, and not enough in gathering information and insight about customer context, which is critical for generating commercial insight (see #5 below)

2) Skill Set Reset. There’s a creeping sense among B2B CMO’s that their marketing teams are in need of a capability overhaul.  With the rise of “no man’s land” in the mid-funnel and rapid changes in how buying centers are making purchase decisions, out-of-date marketing skill sets are being laid bare.

As one example of B2B marketing teams aggressively managing the skill set transition, consider the example of Cisco starting to “badge” and reward its marketers on their social media impact.

Ask yourself: how sweet/spooky would it be for 20% of your pay to rest on your social graph?

3) Disruption. Uncertainty is the lurking leviathan swimming beneath the surface of commerce these days (cheery, no?)  This came through in our survey loud and clear, as the third most popular topic was how to manage risk in changing customer buying behavior, emerging markets, technology and the like.  All we can suggest here is to build your house out of bricks, not sticks.  In commercial terms, that means delivering insight to customers (see #1 and #5).

4) Going Global. I wouldn’t call it new, but the Global Marketing topic continues to be a top priority for the half of the MLC membership that doesn’t see a continued growth run in Western economies.

(SEC Members, check out our new resources on assessing your global readiness.)

5) Content Marketing Hits the Breaking Point. As marketing automation, segmentation and targeting continue to evolve and penetrate marketing activities, there comes a tipping point at which creating version X+5 of an email for sub-segment Y  to be delivered at trigger Z in the lead nurture program simply becomes unsustainable.  We believe many marketers on the content marketing train will hit this point, to be followed by a period of navel gazing, to be followed by a period of content rationalization, to be followed (depressingly) by content proliferation again.

Smarter angle: the answer isn’t more content, it’s commercial insight.  Cut off the long tail of content creation (those white papers are languishing out there, anyway) and re-invest the time and energy into insights that can fuel Commercial Teaching.  Commercial insights trump relevant messaging all day long as drivers of loyalty and purchase in the B2B space.  This is the rocket fuel of successful go-to-market strategies these days, and it’s the heart of what makes the Challenger Sale work.

Mobile! Just kidding.  Not ready for primetime for most B2Bs…yet.  We’re seeing more near-term value creation from mobile as a sales tool than for marketing purposes.  Maybe 2013…

(SEC Members, see our newest work on using iPads and tablets as sales tools.)

Any others that you would add to the list? If you want to share your point-of-view on B2B Marketing in 2012, drop in a comment below.

SEC Members, be sure to also review our list of the ten trends shaping sales in 2012.

Comments from the Network (2)

  1. Craig Oda
    on December 13, 2011

    Patrick, can you provide more more information on what you mean by “No-mans-land” in mid-funnel. Can you describe the current state of the funnel and what has happened to create this no-mans-land?

  2. Pat Spenner
    on December 14, 2011

    Hi Craig, thanks for the question! The “No Man’s Land” in the mid-funnel is a result of customers delaying their contact with Sales reps. Our recent survey of over 1,500 B2B buyers found that customers are, on average, 57% of the way through their purchase decision making process BEFORE they engage Sales.

    Sales can’t get in the door until later in the game (when customers are already in the evaluation stage of the funnel), but Marketing is typically still focused on early funnel activities like enabling awareness and early information gathering. So that opens up a gap – “No Man’s Land” – that is essentially uncovered by either Marketing or Sales. The customer is still doing research and gathering information during this time, but frequently from non-supplier-owned sources – which can make it tough for the supplier to convince the customer of its unique differentiators and superior value. Both Marketing and Sales have to make changes to deal with this reality and close the “No Man’s Land” gap.

    MLC members can learn more here:

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