There is another death in the industry. According to Russell Glass’s latest post, RIP, Mr. B2B Ad Campaign. He argues that the traditional B2B buyer’s journey is shifting to an ‘always-on,’ multi-channel strategy, describing how, “prospects search on Google, visit vendor websites, consult product review sites, engage on social media, consult forums and, along the way, encounter myriad forms of digital advertising. They do this all before emailing or calling a salesperson.” We can all attest to this shift, and would mostly concede that the rise of marketing automation, programmatic, and other digital marketing technologies have largely enabled this trend. Whereas before when marketers would devise siloed campaigns and reconcile disparate results into a spreadsheet, now they can create integrated campaigns, view detailed, 360-degree dashboards, and optimize individual ad impressions in real-time. This is all thanks to Salesforce, Oracle, SAP, IBM, Adobe, and others who are paving the path forward to the ultimate marketing cloud stack.
Yet with all the glories marketing technology brings in terms of attracting and nurturing leads down the purchase funnel, unique to the B2B sale is the buyer’s need for domain, or vertical-specific, expertise. This especially applies to the small to medium (SMB) businesses who lack dispensable budgets–they need extra assurance that their dollars are being well spent, and that their partner knows exactly what their business is about. For example, how assured would a boutique, seasonal retailer feel spending on a marketing vendor that touts expertise with Fortune 500 enterprises who conduct business year-round? Marketing automation provides always-on messaging, but technology alone cannot glean the more nuanced requirements of marketing to these two different segments. Only humans could immediately detect these segments’ differing business models, value proposition, sales seasonalities, etc.
This is where adding domain-specific human intelligence, not more algorithms, can significantly lift the bar. From my experience with clients and general B2B trends, here are just a few more examples of industries that need human analysis to further illustrate my point:
- Enterprise Software – According to co-founder of Blitzer Mobile, Indus Khaitan, traditional sales and marketing models for selling enterprise software insufficient for a variety of reasons. Primarily, enterprise buyers are sophisticated buyers who seek thought leadership and educational resources from potential partners, to the extent that they usually wait until they are 60-70% down the funnel before reaching a traditional sales person. Additionally, enterprise platforms touch multiple aspects of the organization, so buyers represent different departments from geographically distributed locations and have distinct roles in the buying process.
- Education – Business schools have clear seasonalities in their budget due to the nature of their programs’ schedule. As most begin in August/September and end around May, universities end their fiscal years during the summer and tend to be more open to spending on new products and services around June and July.
- Healthcare Insurance – Healthcare presents especially hard challenges for marketers as it is constantly subjected to federal and state rules and regulations. As such, legislation can be entirely unpredictable in terms of timing and outcome, so insurance companies develop extensive plans accordingly. For example, healthcare and insurance companies may need to draft multiple responses to match the potential outcomes of legislation and judicial decisions.
As you can see, marketers who continue with horizontal messaging can miss huge opportunities to connect with buyers at a deeper level at the right time. Computers cannot glean these kinds insights and then go on to develop and executive a strategic marketing plan on their own. Marketers who rely too heavily on technology may find themselves wasting valuable budget and resources on the wrong things and end up marketing too broadly.
As a whole, our entire industry would only benefit from marketers’ ramping domain expertise. Brands better connect with consumers (leading to increased funnel velocity and improved conversion rates). Buyers receive more relevant content, allowing them to make more informed decisions and buy with trust. And last but not least, media publishers can run advertising through their site with pride (and charge premium dollars).
In 2002, Steven Spielberg foreshadowed the future of advertising, where always-on technology served Chief John Anderton ads with pinpoint accuracy–to his location, his demographic, historical behaviors, and even his mood. But we are far from the technological advances of the Minority Report. Until then, humans have immense mental capacity for detecting nuances in different business contexts, and making intelligent campaign decisions accordingly. In the B2B world, we should start placing more trust in our own intuition.