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Where is B2B marketing headed now? 7 predictions for 2019

I am adding my voice to the chorus of observers who predict various developments in 2019 for B2B marketing.  My policy is to avoid reflecting on my past predictions, which are likely unrealized and full of errors.  Instead I shall boldly go forth, with my sense of what we are likely to see this year, and damn the torpedoes.  My predictions—7 in all—range from marcomm to data.  Your comments are welcome!

  1. B2B marketing communications become more human. Our field has long focused on selling to entities—accounts, buying groups, with rational, specific needs—and so we tend to stick to the facts.  But it’s time to be more human.  To talk to the buyers as individuals, in a language that moves them.  So Forrester predicts, and I agree.  I applaud Gyro for taking the initiative on some very interesting research around this topic. The study reveals the feelings business buyers seek in response to our offerings, feelings like confidence, optimism and accomplishment.  Let’s give it to them! 
  2. An inevitable backlash against martech. The backlash is already starting, but look for it to pick up. I wrote about this in 2014, saying we must not confuse marketing automation for marketing strategy.  As martech grows, inevitably B2B marketers are realizing that it’s not the silver bullet they had hoped for.  Justin Gray, founder of LeadMD, points out that only about 1% of deals can be tied to MA. We’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.
  3. Marketers will finally supply sales with the help they really need.  My fervent wish, anyway.  Tip of the hat to Gavin Finn, who eloquently explains this need in a recent Entrepreneur article.  If we marketers are not helping sales communicate a differentiated value, producing truly effective content, and developing insight into the detailed needs of the buying group, we should all fire ourselves.
  4. Broaden the use of social media.  Social is no longer a nice-to-have in B2B.  It requires thoughtful strategy, real budget, and a keen integration with the rest of the marketing mix.  Plus continued experimentation with new opportunities.  Video will continue to grow.  And B2B marketers will try new channels, like Quora, a place where people pose questions and get answers from other individuals.  It’s ripe for business problems to be solved. 
  5. Chatbots go mainstream. Perfect for B2B, chatbots serve global customers, around the clock, with fast, accurate and cheap service. This is all good.  But my favorite benefit for B2B marketers?  Chatbots give you a third method for turning your website into a lead generator (after webform-fill and IP address identification). And the AI continues to improve, daily.   
  6. Will CX be the B2B buzzword of 2019?  Like ABM in 2017, and intent data in 2018. I’m predicting a surge of interest in the power of providing superior customer experiences—not limited to digital, but across all customer touchpoints in B2B.  Think about it. We operate with a limited universe of customers and prospects.  We are burdened with long sales cycles, but the payoff is high-ticket sales.  We can’t afford to lose an account.  CX is the next competitive frontier. 
  7. As ever, B2B success is undergirded by data. Marketers will continue to understand, and act upon the need for clean, complete and accurate data coverage of their market opportunity.  This is why Theresa Kushner and I published B2B Data-Driven Marketing, soon to be available via Kindle.  A new study from MX Group confirms: The Number 1 characteristic of top performing B2B firms is “Have good data.”  What’s Number 2?  “Have effective lead follow-up,” of course!

Happy 2019 to us all. 

Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens advises clients on customer acquisition and retention. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, 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 serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is an author and contributor to many notable business publications. Her books include B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results and Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, Trade Show and Event Marketing, and co-author of the white paper series “B-to-B Database Marketing.” Ruth is a sought-after speaker and trainer, and has presented to audiences and business schools in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff Davis, and IBM.

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