6 Under-The-Radar Trends Shaping B2B Marketing & Sales Strategy in 2017

William Wickey

February 28, 2017

What are the big-picture trends shaping the market? How are those trends affecting my team’s strategy?

Every marketing and sales leader should regularly ask themselves these two questions.

Over the past year, predictive analytics and account based marketing – for example – have dominated the focus, imagination, and budgets of B2B marketing and sales teams. These trends stick out like a sore thumb.

While Predictive and ABM are certainly major trends in the market, there also other forces at work – all instrumental in shaping business needs; some more subtle than others.

Below is an overview of the 6 B2B trends that are quietly shaping the sales and marketing landscape for 2017 and beyond.

The New CMO

As marketing budgets continue to rise – up to 12% of revenue, according to Gartner – the scope of the CMO and marketing organization’s role continues to expand. The CMO, more than ever before, is expected to move beyond traditional responsibilities and optimize marketing’s contribution to overall business revenue and goals.

With these new demands comes the need for an updated skill set from marketing leadership, as well as increased scrutiny from CEOs. Among their varied responsibilities, CMOs are being asked to optimize sales and marketing alignment, quantify the impact of high-level messaging and branding, report on pipeline performance, supply sales with educational content, and manage full-funnel marketing teams, which extend beyond acquisition to include product marketing – retention, upselling, customer happiness, even user experience.

To accomplish these goals, CMOs will need to spend time and money in 2017 to educate themselves and their teams. Those CMOs who are able to make the shift will see success, while those that aren’t will fall by the wayside: according to Forrester, CEOs will fire at least 30% of CMOs in 2017 for not mustering the blended skill set they need personally to pull off digital business transformation, design exceptional personalized experiences, and propel growth.

Customer Experience Becomes a Unifying Force Across Departments

2016 was no stranger to a focus on customer experience, but in 2017, customer experience will be the defining element in marketing and sales strategy. And to design a successful customer experience, B2B companies will need to accomplish three things:

  • Guide prospects through a coherent and deliberate buying process
  • Create feedback loops for communicating with customers and implementing insights
  • Turn one-time buyers into repeat buyers and advocates

This increased importance in creating seamless CX, driven by the underlying need to more effectively link customer data with business data, will push companies to align not just marketing and sales, but all revenue-generating and customer-facing departments – including customer success and product. According to Forrester, 72% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is their top priority in the next year.

Vendors Begin to Consolidate

Anyone who has taken a look at Scott Brinker’s State of Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic knows that B2B marketing technology stacks have been getting progressively heavier. In 2017, B2B marketing and sales teams have finally reached critical mass when it comes to new technology adoption (siloed new technology adoption, that is).

With this state of affairs, the integrations, mergers, and partnerships made by vendors this year will have a particular impact, with consequences that will shape the landscape for the next decade or more.

Ultimately, B2B marketing and sales organizations need platforms that can communicate with one another and boast cross-departmental functionality – in this scenario, the combination of different technologies can be a force multiplier. Marketing and sales leaders will be on the lookout for new technology additions that strengthen and streamline the stack, instead of bogging it down.

Account-Based Marketing Grows Up

It’s common knowledge that account-based marketing is an old concept that has experienced a recent resurgence – thanks in large part to the proliferation of new B2B technology and the rising need for more targeted paths to outbound customer engagement.

And if 2016 was the year that ABM was on the tip of every marketer’s tongue, then 2017 is the year it will truly be put into more widespread practice by B2B organizations – and there is plenty of room for growth:

“From a percentages point of view, despite massive buzz in the B2B space, multiple surveys indicated that adoption for ABM hasn’t reached its tipping point yet. Some 47% of US B2B marketers currently have an ABM strategy in place, according to August 2016 Demand Gen Report research.” [eMarketer]

The same survey found that 32% of B2B marketers were planning to put ABM programs in place within the next 18 months (as of August 2016), while a 2016 SiriusDecisions survey reported that more than 60% of B2B and B2C companies plan to invest in ABM technology.

The reasoning is sound: when implemented correctly, ABM promises major benefits – among them personalized messaging to multiple decision-makers in a scalable way, a shorter sales cycle, and the ability to maximize sales efforts across revenue-generating departments.

The Currency of Trust

Consumer trust in digital marketing methods and vendors has been dropping in recent years – as an example, a December 2016 survey conducted by MarketingSherpa found that 80% or more of respondents trusted print ads or TV ads, but only 39% trusted online banner ads or mobile ads [eMarketer].

In this landscape, consumer trust has become a currency – and a key differentiator for marketing technology vendors looking to rise above the noise and emerge as leaders amongst the competition.

For martech vendors in particular, there are three key areas to focus on: the first of these is customer service. In a study conducted by Zendesk, customer service was found to be the most important factor affecting consumers’ trust in a company. Those vendors that can improve their customer service processes to be timely, personable, and relevant will separate themselves from the pack.

Beyond that, building consumer trust is key because marketing and sales leaders rely heavily on peer recommendations when it comes to selling, particularly in the B2B arena – a recent G2 Crowd study sponsored by Blanc & Otus found that 86% of respondents stated word of mouth from peers was the most influential factor in their decision to speak to a particular B2B technology vendor, and another 83% stated that word of mouth was one of the top drivers of final selection of a vendor [AgilityPR].

And of course, technical products require reliable support and education in order for consumers to feel comfortable using them and bought into the benefits of that technology. Supplying customers with the touch points and support they need to build trust across security, data quality, usability and beyond ensures high customer retention rates, which is a huge win for businesses:

“…in industry after industry, the high cost of acquiring customers renders many customer relationships unprofitable during their early years. Only in later years, when the cost of serving loyal customers falls and the volume of their purchases rises, do relationships generate big returns. The bottom line: increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.” [Harvard Business Review]

Machine Learning Software Starts to Learn

Over the past few years, many companies have been incorporating machine learning technology into their platforms, with marketing leaders hailing it as the next big thing. Take this quote from Bob Stutz, CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud:

“Relevance is the currency of the digital economy, so it’s no longer just enough to deliver personalized customer experiences — those experiences need to be smarter, faster and in the right context. Artificial intelligence (AI) powered by machine learning will be crucial in delivering these next-gen personalized experiences for customers, and as the conductor of the customer experience, marketers need to embrace this in order to succeed.” [Forbes]

Plenty of platforms currently in use by marketing and sales teams have or are developing predictive capabilities. The issue, however, is that many of these companies currently lack the data volume and/or quality needed to truly use those predictive capabilities to their maximum potential – in other words, opportunities are hiding in messy or incomplete data.

In 2017, we will turn the corner and companies will have gathered enough data to finally make machine learning a true value add. With machine learning, marketing can fulfill its promise of delivering dynamic, personalized customer experiences at scale. Plus, it allows marketers to prioritize properly and focus on high value tasks first and foremost (for example, with the help of predictive lead scoring to identify higher value prospects in the pipeline).

Taken together, these six trends paint a picture of a B2B marketing landscape that is evolving past traditional modes of operation and learning how to sell more effectively in a world filled with rapidly changing customer needs.

For more on this topic, check out the 2017 Trends & Tech Guide for B2B Sales & Marketing, a free guide by Prezi, Ambition, and LeadGenius.

William Wickey

Senior Manager of Content & Media Strategy

William Wickey leads Content and Media Strategy at LeadGenius. William is an expert in growth strategy, crisis communications, and lean marketing.