Why Real-Time Engagement Is the Future of B-to-B Marketing

5 keys to a successful strategy

eMarketer recently revealed b-to-b digital ads will hit $4.6 billion in 2018, up 13 percent from last year’s $4.07 billion.
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Long gone are the days when b-to-b companies could just poach successful salespeople—with their big Rolodexes of past customers—who then close deals within 12 to 18 months. Today, the sales cycle entails software-driven processes that last only around three or four months.

Not only have things sped up considerably, but the marketing landscape has also become much more complicated. Practitioners need to be adept at targeted online advertising to stay competitive; for instance, eMarketer recently revealed b-to-b digital ads will hit $4.6 billion in 2018, up 13 percent from last year’s $4.07 billion. B-to-b players need to know how to mix ads with well-timed content on LinkedIn, Google and Facebook while constantly becoming knowledgeable about other kinds of emerging tech. Also, marketers’ North Star should be reaching prospects and customers “in the moment,” or during their purchase-oriented decisions.

B-to-b has long trailed b-to-c in digital sophistication, which is why a business-to-business company that we work with is particularly noteworthy. The Fortune 500 brand largely targets SMBs and has 50 million leads and customers, and, in the last few years, it has achieved 1:1 marketing across the many channels most brands now use. The proof is in the pudding: The company’s’ revenues have risen double-digit percentage points in the last couple of years, while its stock price has jumped nearly 20 percent.

How can companies accomplish similar feats? Here are 4 keys for how b-to-b players can be equally successful in real-time engagement:

1. Moments drive growth

After prospects respond to an ad or another marketing effort, time is of the essence. It is expected that within five minutes or less, really in a minute, brands reply to a prospect with a hearty “Thank You, [First Name]” message and then follow up with another thoughtful response. The second reply could involve a digital message that offers more product information or marketplace insights, or it could be a call from a rep who has real-time data about what the prospect is looking for.

If prospects visit a service provider’s digital property and ultimately do not get important questions answered, you can expect they’re heading over to a competitor’s digital property. It is up to b-to-b sellers to personalize the experience and ask, “Were you happy with the ebook that you downloaded?” Or, “Did the webinar answer your questions?” For in-the-moment marketing, this style of attention to detail is everything.

2. ABM pushes the needle

One great way of executing such quick and relevant follow-up messaging is accounts-based marketing (ABM), which is a software-powered strategy that concentrates sales and marketing efforts on a clearly defined and limited set of prospects while delivering the right messages at the right time. To give one numerical possibility about what “limited set of prospects” means, martech tools can help b-to-b players target the best 2,500 prospects with custom messaging instead of 25,000 or 250,000 prospects in a less-than-personal way.

The best prospects will be selected due to important criteria such as a prospect’s growth potential and churn-out probability. Per a study by ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance, 87 percent of b-to-b marketers said ABM efforts delivered higher ROI than other types of marketing.

3. AI make things easier

ABM is increasingly powered by artificial intelligence, helping marketers find the best customers in an ocean of potential ones through machine-learning-based predictive analysis. While extreme opinions are out there, AI is neither a pandemic that will spread and take marketers’ jobs nor a panacea that’s going to perfect them.

The fact of the matter is that AI will strengthen marketers who harness its abilities to do their jobs better. It will free them up from cumbersome chores like A/B testing to focus more on campaign creative. And such freedom bolsters the bottom line: a McKinsey Global Institute survey of 3,073 executives found that the early AI adopters were 3.5 times more likely than others to expect profit margin to grow by up to five percentage points in the near future.

4. B-to-c-styled tactics bolster messaging

Marketing categories, meanwhile, are colliding. Researchers have found that 80 percent of b-to-b buyers demand the same personalized, cross-channel customer journey that b-to-c buyers enjoy. With that in mind, marketers need to start using tactics like text messaging and mobile app notifications to enhance the experience for prospects that opt into to such communications.