Monday, October 06, 2008

Is BtoB Marketing Dead?

Forrester has released on its blog an article questioning if btob marketing will become obsolete. The marketing profession is experiencing great changes with the arrival of the Internet, which offered customers new way to interact with each others, with the brand, and also modified clearly the landscape of traditional media (especially TV).

Here is the detail of why BtoB marketing might disappear, according to the author.

"First of all, I see four macro trends working against increasing marketing's future value. In brief they are:

1) Commoditization: software as a service, open source, service-oriented architectures and a number of similar trends make it easier to enter a market and more difficult to differentiate products on features and capabilities alone. As a result, marketers need to work harder to understand, attract, and engage an audience. And it takes multiple touches to involve prospects in conversation and figure out if they are ready for sales to contact.

2) Consumerism and the social groundswell: Buyers are more likely to use information from associates than from institutional sources, like marketing messages and sales people, when purchasing. We found proof of this recently at Forrester when we surveyed business decision makers this year and found 36% of the 2187 who buy networking products and 34% of the 2148 who buy security solutions turn to peers (word of mouth) when researching what to buy. Peers were the #1information source picked in both survey samples. Social computing also establishes more open and authentic communication that will fundamentally change how marketing works – no longer will marketers be able to “spin” product problems or customers concerns away. Look at Dell or Comcast for examples of this.

3) Ad avoidance translates to sales call avoidance. Consumers are really good at avoiding ads. Technology only helps them do this. Tivo lets prospects skip commercials, spam blockers keep email clean, and pop-up blockers keep online ads away. This behavior spills over into the business world where busy buyers turn to the Web to get information while avoiding phone and sales calls until they are further in the buying process.

4) Globalization: Besides needing to address customers in fragmented regional markets, marketers are beginning to face offshore skill competition. Not only do marketers outsource their brains to interactive, ad, and PR agencies, but now outsourcing practices like lead generation and telemarketing are starting to bleed over into core campaign design and execution functions.

Unfortunately, I see marketers focus take a narrow view that causes them to miss seeing the impact of these trends looming ahead. When I ask B2B marketers, “What is marketing’s charter or mission at your company?,” most often I hear “We generate demand.” This goal is very hard to measure. Why? Because most B2B products are highly-considered sales involving a sales force or indirect channel where marketing gets caught in the middle or brushed to the side. Marketers who simply want to know which tactics work best and which statistics matter fail to see beyond the front of the funnel. Without this broader perspective, marketing will become obsolete as the Web, blogosphere, and social networks let businesses connect buyers directly with product development and bypass marketing all together. "

My opinion
I don't really agreee with these conclusions. Indeed, btob marketing has been impacted by the develpment of new technologies, a new btob customer culture, that are more experimented, and old techniques might have shown their limits. However, the new landscape of media and marketing strategies to apply is great, and there are a lot of ways btob marketers could take advantage out of them.

  • Social media and web 2.0: They are great tool to communicate, but also to enhance your level of service, which is actually the first leverage of differenciation in btob marketing. I must recognized that btob marketers lack of knowledge in this field, and that is probably the reason why they are struggling with it.
  • Referral marketing: This is true that executives would rather seek for information from associates than trust marketing brochures. But referral marketing exists, and is a very mature technique, that has been used for years in the real estate marketing. I believe that referral marketing is actually the best way to do btob marketing. These techniques must be applied in a btob environment.
  • Customer relationship management: executives are looking for great customer service, and access to information or after sales service at all time. This is another field where btob marketing should focus on. Develop a great and easy to use intranet service to access easily to the information and so on.

What do you think about it? BtoB marketing is not dead, it just struggles to adapt to the transformation of marketing.