Data drives B-to-B marketing today. And it's a fast-evolving arena. New tools, new technologies, and most important, new buying behavior among businesses—these changes are accelerating the pace and driving new directions for B-to-B data-driven marketing. In preparing my new book on the subject—to be published in June 2015—I had a chance to speak to a variety of brilliant thinkers about where things are headed. Here are some of their predictions.
- The Rise of the Marketing Technologist:
As marketing technology grows in its sophistication and ease of use, marketers will continue to take advantage, shifting budgets and influence away from IT departments, and requiring a higher level of tech skill and experience in the marketing department. Fortunately, the young marketers coming into the profession are by now mostly "digital natives," for whom technology is a given, and not necessarily a special skill set. "These people grew up with technology, from their cribs. They don't give it a thought," notes Ken Lomasney, COO of the agency UMarketing LLC. So the outlook for talent to manage the new technologies in marketing is bright. And CMOs who come from a brand background must develop a comfort with technology like never before.
- Real-time Marketing Gets Real:
We are fast approaching the holy grail of proactive database marketing, built on always-on, in-the-moment customer interactions. Real-time marketing will be real for business marketers, says Russell Kern of the Kern Agency. "Real-time marketing is about using data analytics to mine the flood of live data generated by all this activity, in combination with other direct sales, product and brand interactions."
- Sales and Marketing Symbiosis:
Derek Slayton, CMO of NetProspex, points out that new technologies can only take B2B marketers so far. The next step, he believes, is new organizational structures. Sales and marketing operations will be combined underneath an umbrella that may well be known as the Go To Market operation. Better integration will allow sales people access to necessary data where and when they need it, says John Deighton, professor at Harvard Business School. When a sales rep is in front of a customer, marketing data needs to be easily available on site. And the rep needs an easy way to funnel fresh customer information back to the marketing database.
- The Revenge of the Nerds:
We are able to collect a lot of data, but we are still in the early stages of turning it into business value. "Data is the most important thing in marketing today," says Kathleen Schaub, VP at IDC's CMO Advisory Service. "Marketing is becoming almost like a social science. The number of people in business intelligence functions is rising, but still small. This needs to change in B-to-B, just as it has in consumer categories like retail and gambling."
- No More Campaigns:
A bold prediction comes from Gary Skidmore, a strategic advisor to many companies in the B-to-B database marketing world: "The future lies in ongoing marketplace dialogue," he says. "That means no more campaigns. Sure, you can have a special offer, but it will be part of your never-ending interaction with customers and prospects, across multiple platforms."
- The Merging of B-to-B and B-to-C:
As business buyers roam the Internet, marketers are able to treat them increasingly like individuals, versus company representatives. One outcome of this is the increasing likelihood that B-to-B practitioners can do predictive marketing the way it's done at Amazon or Netflix, and has been done for decades by consumer database marketers. "B-to-Me," is the appealing term for this direction coined by Joseph Puthussery of Cisco.
Jeffrey Rohrs, VP of marketing insights at Salesforce.com, puts a slightly different spin on this matter, with his intriguing point that B-to-C is increasingly taking a page from the B-to-B playbook. "Look at e-commerce and social media," he says. "Just as businesses have long had direct relationships with their vendors, so are manufacturer pulling an end run around their retail channels and building a direct connection with the consumer." In short, consumer marketers are also learning from B-to-B.
Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools around the world. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain's BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.