Posted: November 26, 2013
B2B sales and marketing trends for 2014
Use the holidays to think aheadBy Christopher J. Ryan
In the rapidly evolving B2B arena, knowing the key trends can help you refine, adjust or enhance your strategy. For B2B sales and marketing professionals who want to improve their practice and results, one of the best things about the holidays is using some of those slower days to reflect on progress, review the achievements and challenges of the past year, and think ahead to how your strategy can evolve and improve.
With that in mind, we offer a few key trends that will have a big impact on your success in 2014. We have seen these topics grow from mere buzzwords in the past few years to bonafide game-changers whose growing importance can’t be ignored.
Trend 1: Increased Importance of Content Marketing
There’s a reason that you see keyword-driven SEO shops desperately rebranding themselves as content marketing experts: The old search engine-manipulating schemes and keyword games are becoming less effective by the day. With Google’s recent Panda, Hummingbird and Penguin rollouts, simple keyword packing and volume content strategies are giving way to better-written, more relevant copy. Google is attempting to do a better job of mapping content to more complex queries, which means a new frontier of opportunity for companies who can establish a disciplined and sophisticated content marketing strategy.
While the importance of keywords isn’t going away, these recent changes highlight the rise of full-bore content marketing strategies that offer thoughtful, in-depth and targeted content to all key target groups, disseminated through blogs, white papers, case studies, web articles and more. Offering your prospects authentic, high-quality content that helps them meet their challenges, find better solutions, and do their jobs better will be key in 2014. Pull marketing strategies that attract through education rather than the hard sell or keyword packing are producing results and driving down cost per lead for the players who have ridden this wave. We believe that the wave’s crest is still in front of us.
Trend 2: Multimedia and Visual Storytelling
Many gurus stress that the most essential shift in thinking for companies who want to be successful at content marketing is to start thinking like publishers. Your company must have a story that draws its heroes and villains from the essence of your strategy and marketplace position, no matter how broad or narrow it may be.
So if successful content marketers are also media businesses selling a story, why are we just sticking to words? To complement those insightful blog posts and consumer-centric white papers, content marketers are also targeting visual information consumers in their content campaigns. Some of your prospects will want to dive into that five-page white paper while others might be drawn to a compelling infographic. Others still will prefer a short Slideshare presentation that lets them quickly absorb the value and relevance of your offering. If producing content for all types of readers and viewers sounds like a lot of work, it is. But even expert content marketers will be surrendering an edge to the competitor who can think and speak to their audience in the right mix of words and pictures.
Trend 3: Disintermediation of the Field Sales Force
B2B enterprises big and small are still adapting to the sea change that the Internet brought in customer behavior and the buyer/seller relationship. In short, the selling process is giving way to the buying process.
Buyers have access to more information than ever and the playing field has leveled. Procurement teams are coming to the table with much clearer ideas of what they need—and what it should cost. As a result, today’s reps aren’t entering the decision making process until much later in the cycle, when their prospect has already sifted through and done hard comparisons of all the alternatives.
This trend resonates strongly with content marketing trends: Wouldn’t it be nice if your rep, once they’ve engaged with a prospect, has the credibility advantage of coming in for the sale after the prospect has qualified you with exhaustive research that was shaped in part by your online thought leadership?
Trend 4: Mobile Friendly Content
This trend should come as no surprise: More and more people will access your site and learn about your brand through mobile devices. A website optimized for the major search engines is a good start, but you’ve still got a mile to go if your prospect is trying to evaluate your offerings and can’t find what they want because your website is mobile-unfriendly.
The same goes for offers. Did you craft a great subject line only to send your email marketing message to someone on the go who can’t easily understand and respond to your offer? Responsive design that optimizes your website’s layout depending on what device your prospect is using to visit you is rapidly moving from the “nice to have” to “must have” category.
Trend 5: Sales Response Time is Crucial
If the Internet has achieved anything, it has sharpened the human desire for immediate gratification to a razor edge. If I don’t see what I want right away, I click off the page in a second. This process bleeds over to sales response time. We still see companies with healthy inbound lead programs, but the rope has gone slack with the marketing-to-sales handoff. In fact, 51.4 percent of B2B leads are never called at all.
The 21st century belongs to the quick and the nimble. Research has shown that delaying a follow-up call by even 25 minutes can have huge implications for your close rate. This delicate little linkage between marketing and sales will continue to be a critical, and often tragically overlooked, factor for success.
These are the major currents that are shifting how we deliver results for our clients—and with which we will continue to swim in 2014. However, your perspective may be different. What B2B marketing trends are having an impact on you and your clients?
Christopher Ryan is one of the nation's foremost experts in B2B marketing and sales. Author of How to Create an Unstoppable Marketing and Sales Machine (Fusion Marketing Press, 2009), Mr. Ryan is founder and President of Fusion Marketing Partners (www.fusionmarketingpartners.com). Chris Ryan was formerly a senior marketing executive at noted companies like Stellent, Inc., FrontRange Solutions, PeopleSoft, Sybase, and Group 1 Software. Mr. Ryan's latest book can be obtained at Amazon.com or at http://fusionmarketingpartners.com/get-the-book/.