Gone are the days when B2B deals could be closed over a simple round of golf, or when a tradeshow booth was all you’d need to capture qualified leads. B2B buying habits have evolved, bringing about a whole new era of sales and marketing—one where buyers are primarily digital, self-directed, and harder to engage than ever before.
This massive shift poses a major challenge for those in industries where marketing heavily relies on in-person interactions and where sales cycles are notoriously complex (think manufacturing, life sciences, food production, energy & chemicals, and the like). Now it’s up to those sales and marketing teams to adapt accordingly with modern marketing strategies and technology.
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The modern B2B marketplace
Let’s look at four B2B marketplace trends, in particular, that are accelerating digital marketing transformation:
- Virtual events and tradeshows: The COVID-19 pandemic thoroughly disrupted traditional B2B sales and marketing activities, thanks to travel restrictions and social distancing measures. Tradeshows, events, and face-to-face meetings were either canceled or moved to a virtual format, and marketers needed to fill the void with new digital channels. Though tradeshows are slowly coming back to life, the shift to virtual will likely have a lasting impact. Exactly what form they’ll take still remains to be seen.
- Buying groups of dispersed decision makers: Complex B2B purchases are no longer made by single individuals. Instead, they’re handled by diverse buying groups of up to thirty or forty stakeholders. Each has a say in final purchases—meaning more opinions, more indecision, and more complicated sales cycles. In global enterprises, these decision makers may be scattered around the world. And with remote work becoming the norm in the wake of COVID-19, it’s even more common for these group members to be widely dispersed—making it all the more difficult to coordinate marketing efforts. Digital lead generation tactics that only target individuals (like emails, webinars, and webforms), just aren’t sufficient to drive awareness and engagement among entire groups at each step of the buyer’s journey.
- Anonymous buyers: Today’s B2B buyers are more autonomous than ever and prefer to remain anonymous. They conduct independent research online, rarely volunteer their contact information to access gated content, and often wait to engage with your sales reps until they’ve already decided to purchase. Unfortunately, marketing automation platforms typically limit outreach to known contacts in your CRM, leaving you unable to identify and engage with anonymous buyers early in their journey.
- The end of third-party cookies: Much of digital marketing involves the use of third-party cookies for automated retargeting and behavioral advertising. But by the end of 2023, all three of the top internet browsers—Google, Firefox and Safari—will have phased out third-party cookies due to concerns around privacy and data sharing. So, with the end of third-party cookies looming, marketers are investigating new, privacy-compliant alternatives.
With these trends in mind, I predict we’ll see significant growth in account-based marketing (ABM) initiatives in the remainder of the year and beyond.
Why ABM will set the new standard
ABM presents a powerful way for B2B companies to augment their existing marketing investments, tackle their toughest engagement challenges, and keep up with buyers who are researching on their own for months. In fact, Forrester Research’s Tech Tide™: B2B Marketing Technologies, Q4 2020 report encouraged B2B organizations to invest in ABM platforms, which topped their list of “key emerging tech.”
For those not well-versed on ABM, here’s a quick rundown:
ABM is a strategy in which your sales and marketing teams work together to identify, prioritize and then develop highly relevant marketing campaigns for a set of high-value target accounts. You then serve these accounts directly with personalized ads, tailored messaging and relevant content to guide them along their buying journey.
ABM platforms are available today that offer all the core capabilities needed to make such a program a success. Look for a comprehensive solution that enables you to:
- Rapidly deploy and scale ABM programs globally to guide key accounts through the buyer’s journey and drive engagement among buying groups throughout the entire cycle.
- Use innovative IP-sensing technology to deliver account-based messaging to both known and unknown buying group members. No third-party cookies needed.
- Analyze what’s working and what’s not so you can adapt marketing messaging, share insights with sales and win more major deals.
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ABM in action
One great ABM success story comes from a global leader in life sciences. This company had been leveraging ABM technology for several years, but its investment truly proved valuable when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The company used its ABM platform to send highly targeted advertising messages to key accounts to drive both marketing and sales engagement—immediately filling the gaps in its marketing plans left by cancelled events and on-site sales meetings. As a result, the company has remained nimble and maintained its position as an industry leader despite disruption from the pandemic.
Overall, ABM enables you to strategically allocate resources, fill your sales pipelines with high-quality leads, and shorten the sales cycle to achieve greater ROI from your sales and marketing investments. And while ABM is all about delivering a better digital buying experience to your target accounts, it ultimately puts you—the marketer—back in control of the journey. And that’s exactly what you’ll need to succeed in the new digital B2B buying era.