The future of B2B marketing will be built on three pillars, according to panelists at Tuesday’s “Elevate B2B Account-Based Marketing with Data-Driven Strategies” panel at Oracle OpenWorld. Account-based marketing (ABM), programmatic advertising and predictive analytics are “shaping the future of how B2B businesses think of marketing,” according to moderator Niraj Deo, Senior Director, Product Management for Oracle.
While those three topics may not line up exactly (two are technologies, one is a strategy), the panelists agreed they work together to drive more effective, efficient, personalized marketing and marketing automation. And they all rely on accurate data as their foundation.
ABM Bridges the Past, Present and Future of B2B Sales & Marketing
While ABM is undoubtedly the flavor of the month—or more accurately the year—Atul Singh of Dell reminded the audience it had been around for many years, described in different terms, and it will live on. New technologies becoming available now will allow companies to employ an ABM strategy in both a personalized way and at scale.
“The roles and processes are changing,” he said, but not the necessity of prioritizing the right product to the right customer.
Amanda Kahlow, CEO of 6sense, said the next evolution of ABM will take over a key function currently done by sales teams, by automatically identifying target accounts.
“We used to create subjective territories,” she said, making lists of companies of a particular size in a particular industry, for instance, then figuring out how to approach them in a meaningful way.
“Now the data can tell you who to target,” she said, predicting which accounts are most likely to be receptive, and automatically creating target account lists based on their likelihood to respond.
Sales and Marketing Alignment is Based on Mutual Trust, a.k.a. Good Leads
Despite the potential (and proven success) of ABM, marketers can’t take for granted that everyone will share their faith in it. Sales and marketing alignment is often called out as both a requirement and an outcome of a successful ABM program. Singh called it “a common problem for both right and wrong reasons.”
There is a traditional tension between marketing and sales when it comes to lead quality, as any B2B marketer knows.
“Marketing complains sales doesn’t use the leads, sales says the leads are bad,” he said. No matter how excited marketers are about ABM, salespeople will likely remain skeptical until marketing can demonstrate the results.
“We definitely need to fine-tune the outcome marketing is driving to match the actual realities of sales,” Singh advised, “and generate faith in the sales team that the people coming to our site are better educated and can be more quickly and efficiently converted.”
Predictive Analytics Aggregates Data and Provides Actionable Signals
Predictive analytics plays a key role in ABM by solving one of ABM’s biggest roadblocks: innaccurate contact information and CRM records that can’t match people (leads) to the companies they work for (accounts). Predictive also helps ensure a company’s data is ready to drive results, for ABM or any B2B marketing effort.
“With predictive, for the first time you can quantify the value of the data,” Mishor said. “You can bring in new data and signals, and the model will tell you how to use it to get lift. But you need to get the basic data right, or it skews your engagement.”
Customers sometimes rush to find a solution with predictive before they’ve addressed the problems lurking in their own CRM, said Mishor.
“When we talk to big clients about intent and personalization, sometimes we’re talking about building the penthouse and what they really need is to build the first floor,” Mishor said.
“The data in their CRM and marketing automation platforms isn’t just at risk of being outdated and inaccurate, but siloed. It doesn’t work outside the channel it came from.”
ABM Requires the Ability to Automatically Match Leads to Accounts
You can try targeting prospects with other data, but you can’t engage effectively or in a personalized way if you can’t connect people to the companies they work for. That requires a combination of accurate data, signals that go deeper than firmographic info and the ability to perform lead-to-account matching. Without that, Mishor said, every interaction by every prospect in every channel will be scored the same.
“It’s important to remember that no one channel gives you the best signal,” Kahlow said. “What causes people to convert? Which articles are people reading before they buy as part of their buying cycle?” Predictive helps you combine signals and separate them from the noise, she said.
Programmatic Provides Precision, Powers Predictive
The panel called programmatic advertising the third pillar of modern marketing. It continues to generate more and better data, and also provide more signals marketers can use, like online behavior data to determine site visitors’ intent and interest.
Bombora’s Mike Burton cited the big shift in the way B2B decision makers research buying decisions and consume content. In the not-too-distant past, five or six publications supplied the majority of the available research for B2B technology purchasers, he said, which was then supplemented by sales reps and company collateral.
“Then the Internet came,” he said. Site personalization, for instance, lets B2B marketers regain influence over the buyer’s journey, by displaying to site visitors the pages they are most likely to want based on their previous online behavior.
First-party, on-site data lets a marketer know what topics employees from a particular company are reading on your website, but there’s more to it, Burton said. What page are they visiting and spending the most time on? How many people at that company are visiting which sites and which pages?
Not only does this data help make a prospect’s website experience more personalized and effective, but it also provides another data source for predictive analytics platforms to use, to derive more specific, aggregated insights and make them actionable.
Look to the Future of B2B Marketing but Keep Doing What Works
Next generation marketers will be the first to understand where machines can take over, Mishor said, and where marketers should still take the lead. Machines should build predictive scoring models, he said, so marketers can focus on engagement and conversation and creativity.
Mishor was the first panelist to claim the highly-anticipated self-driving car analogy. “You can let the car drive itself,” he said, “but you want someone there to talk to the people in the back seat.”
Expect Incremental Change, and Maybe a Few Upheavals
In the B2B future Kahlow envisions, things look quite a bit different. “The Holy Grail is when sales reports to marketing,” she said, and data supports the velocity and direction of the sales strategy.
Singh provided an inspiring summary of the discussion. B2B marketing may be an established discipline, but that doesn’t mean we’ve reached its full potential, he said. B2B has always been B2C’s boring cousin, but the future vision being painted with ABM, programmatic and predictive will change all that.
“We will unleash creativity in the space that will be unprecedented,” he said.
Burton ended with a word of caution valuable for any marketer evaluating a new technology or tactic. If you want to try ABM, for instance, take it in stages.
“Don’t start by changing your whole sales and marketing relationship,” he said. “Keep doing what works.”
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