Natalie Cooke
Nov 29, 2016

B2B: All the gear, no idea?

Don’t forget about human creativity and insight in the avalanche of shiny new tools and platforms.

Natalie Cooke
Natalie Cooke

By 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human, according to Gartner predicts.

It’s a statistic that all B2B marketers will have seen bandied around marketing events, articles and case studies. A statistic that excites the technologists and digital natives amongst us but undoubtedly creates a fair bit of anxiety amongst client sales and marketing teams.

It is already now pretty much the reality, thanks to the exponential growth of data and marketing technology. This has created the need to further upskill and invest in resources on both client and agency side. Our B2B audiences have evolved. They are younger and empowered by technology, and a high proportion are millennials, strongly influenced by culture. The lines between their work lives and personal lives are completely blurred.

As marketers, we have even more opportunities to influence their decision-making. We have the ability to engage with them at the most relevant times, with more precision than ever before. Something that we should all get really excited about.

So whilst marketers feel truly empowered through a multitude of ever-expanding B2B marketing tools and platforms, there are two critical pieces of the jigsaw that we absolutely cannot afford to ignore. Human creativity and insight.

Which means remembering that whilst rational, data-driven insights can paint some of the picture, the closer you move data to the heart of your planning, the clearer it becomes that human insights and creativity need to sit right alongside it.

It is crucial that whilst brands increasingly leverage sophisticated targeting and data-driven communication platforms, they must continue to focus on driving engagement through true innovation and creativity if they really want to stand apart.

A good example of when this creative use of insight and data can be extremely effective is IBM’s ‘Dispatches from the Wimbledon Championship’ campaign. Taking insight from research that showed it wasn’t perceived to be at the cutting edge of technology amongst IT influencers and decision-makers, IBM came up with an incredibly creative use of that data to demonstrate its strength to the various audiences. Creating impactful animations that brought the statistics around players' performance to life across highly targeted media channels.

We’ve seen here in Asia Pacific the proliferation of marketing automation. Our clients are investing in platforms to generate more qualified sales leads and more effectively manage and allocate their marketing budgets. In theory the efficiencies created through using these platforms should save time and drive measurable commercial results. So investment in a marketing-automation platform is surely one of the keys to B2B engagement?

Whilst there’s no denying that marketing automation doesn’t save time and create budgetary efficiencies, the reality is that to actualise commercial success it still needs a human driving force behind it. We need to ensure that it is leveraged as more than just a personalization engine for content, to blast out emails or invite people to events.

The vast amount of data generated by the tool can lead to strong customer insight and a deeper understanding of the “moments of truth” within the purchasing journey, but merely plugging in a prospect list and then running the weekly campaign reports won’t cut it.

Having an in-house data analyst sounds like a good idea, but that analyst must understand the campaign objectives and share the key insights with your purchasing, marketing, sales and customer-experience teams. Otherwise their efforts can be futile.

The alignment of sales and marketing teams should be made easier by the wealth of data insight through not just marketing-automation platforms but the increasing analytics and account-based marketing capabilities we all now have at our disposal.

From an acquisition perspective, this must mean that marketing teams can now seamlessly hand off qualified, hot leads, and that sales teams therefore have a much easier conversion job. Or do they?

The truth is that marketing teams are frustrated that sales teams are still dubious about leads that are passed to them, or indeed don’t act upon them. While sales teams feel that marketing just doesn’t understand how difficult it can be to convert.

Rather than providing even more product information to their customers, their role has evolved. They are still key influencers but they need to constantly try to compliment the knowledge that their customers already have. Pushing the leads into the funnel and even measuring what happens to them isn’t the real challenge, it’s conversion that matters.

Conversation starters are needed that aren’t solely product-focused, which emphasises the need for a rich participative content strategy. For example, for Samsung we created a platform called Samsung Backstage, which features revamped training courses, competitions and a fun and intriguing way to show achievements and earn rewards. The content is kept fresh and up to date so that there’s always a new reason to participate with the brand.

Navigating the rapidly changing B2B landscape doesn’t just mean re-aligning internal sales and marketing teams. The challenge for our clients is that it is no longer a landscape that can easily be supported by a traditional B2B agency model.

The relationships and work are becoming fragmented. In the worst cases, content specialists, marketing automation and planning expertise can be split across multiple agencies or even divisions, within the same agency. Obviously this leads to siloed thinking and a hell of a waste of time.

It also runs they very real danger of people losing sight of the two crucial pieces of the jigsaw again: human creativity (the engaging and compelling idea) fuelled by some real business and human insight.

Natalie Cooke is the business director at Iris Worldwide

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