Is Traditional B2B Marketing Dead?

Earlier this week, I was on a panel at the WIT event "The Intersection of Marketing & Technology" in McLean, VA. One of the discussions was about the dramatic changes happening in B2B marketing today and what the future will hold. The question "Is traditional B2B marketing dead?" ignited a lively discussion.

I think we are experiencing nothing short of a major disruption in marketing today. New technologies and marketing automation are just one expression and a driver of this change, but it goes much deeper, affecting the way we organize marketing, engage with customers, find new business opportunities, and deliver value to the stakeholders inside and outside our organizations.

It is easy to not see the forest for the trees when you are focused on the daily challenges of program execution. So let's take a step back and look at the big picture. I put together an overview of the key dimensions of B2B marketing that I see changing (see below, click image to enlarge). Every dimension (including balance of power, audience focus and presence) has significant implications on the way we plan, organize, and execute B2B marketing going forward. And before you say "wait a minute", of course this isn't a binary, all or nothing switch from one model to the next. Instead we are seeing a classic adoption pattern with early adopters and laggards, false starts, and a mix of "traditional" best practices that are still applicable combined with new methods. What are your observations on the changes in B2B marketing? Please share your thoughts using the comments section below.

18 comments:

  1. Holger, these are very good observations and I think you answered your own question with a resounding "Yes, traditional B2B marketing is dead." The chart you developed covers all the key changes that have disrupted the B2B marketing world. As a technology communications professional myself, I would add that traditional B2B PR is also dead for many of the same reasons you cited. The skills focus transitioning from "creative" to "analytical" I believe, is the single greatest game changer.

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  2. Great list.

    For me the biggest difference is Marketing Organisation. Using military language, I could even say, the old model was the large army with multiple silos and narrowly-trained specialists, and the new model is the small and agile commando with cross-trained "holistic" practitioners.

    What I also observe is that the commando-type marketing groups have an easier time to transform their organisations from fungible vendor to respectable expert.

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  3. Jim - You are absolutely right. Great comment. PR as we know it is gone. Yesterday, you had a handful of influencers in your markets with control over the dissemination of your message through a handful of publications. And don't even mention the nightmare of press releases ... Today you deal with potentially thousands of people that will help you carry your message to your target audience, amplify it, change it or even try to counter it. Sure, among these will still be people that have more influence than others. And I would argue that you still want to try and gain influence over these multipliers that "everybody else" is listening to. But trying to stay on top of this continuously changing landscape will be virtually impossible without technology that helps you understand who is influential in social media and can help your cause. You also need to come up with new ways to gain credibility and share your message - and that is increasingly not by sending information from a legal entity (think traditional press release issued by a company) but from individuals that folks share an interest with and whose blogs and tweets they follow.

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  4. Tom - You hit the nail on the head. The traditional "tayloristic", stove-piped, specialized approach worked well in a market environment where complexity and ambiguity was low. You knew that next year would be pretty much like last year, and you could prepare and plan things neatly. We all know that's over but we still try to tackle today's challenges with yesterday's models. Your analogy of agile special forces is very apt - successful marketing teams will embrace self-organizing teams of multi-disciplinary, motivated people who come together to tackle a project and deliver results before re-grouping to tackle the next challenge. This approach has been successfully adopted in many other areas (think agile software development with rapid iterations, speed before perfection, validating assumptions against reality before making bigger investments, etc) - all good case studies that marketing can learn from.

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  5. Holger, as much as I would like to say traditional B2B is dead - it's not! We do trade shows, shake hands and pick up the phone and make appointments, visit people at their places of business, etc. Sure, we've changed a lot of our marketing to a web-based model and more and more of our communication is inbound - but people (we still and always will speak to humans) require reminders that we exist. They need to be told what we do and why we are different than our competition. Also, it's too simple to just call someone a "buyer" when in fact as your target client is something other than a small shop with one owner or purchasing agent you need to adjust your marketing strategy to address a variety of different potential buyers - from owners to purchasing agents to quality control people to businesses and organizations that make purchasing decisions by committee.
    I can't help but think that a lot of what you're discussing here is for the "ideal" organization that has everyone on board with the "vision" of the company. If you're in the real world and working in the marketing department of an organization or you're a consulting advising someone on matters pertaining to marketing at some point you have to decide what strategy will be employed and that has to include a company owner/owners/committees that share a common vision - ideally - to decide on an approach and a budget and begin to employ the marketing strategy.
    And frankly - that's not likely to occur quickly, automatically or completely. So, to me, it seems a little premature to say the "traditional" B2B marketing model is "dead."

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  6. I definitely agree that there is a major shift happening, and your chart outlines many of the dimensions along which that shift is currently happening. However, I also think it's less simplistic than your chart might imply. Depending on the complexity of the buying process (aka sales cycle), there's often still a need for nurturing, engagement of multiple stakeholders, and persuasion of the buyer as they progress through the various stages of their decision-making process. Perhaps that's what Karl was alluding to.

    We work with our clients to understand, plan, and execute around their prospect's buying process stages. That way you can apply the most appropriate tools, content, and programs to suit what your customers want to know, and how they want to learn it.

    Nolin

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  7. Karl & Nolin - I agree. There is nothing simple about this change because it is not just affecting one or two critical dimensions and attributes of B2B marketing but almost every single one of them. This creates an array of possible permutations and new configurations in terms of new strategies and tactics that will have to be tested, validated or rejected, and then turned into new best practices. By the way, I am not suggesting that all traditional tactics will fall by the wayside, far from it. But they will definitely play a different role in the B2B marketing mix than they did only a few years ago. That said, the chart I created is really just a discussion starter, it barely scratches the surface of the deep changes happening today. Also, keep in mind that while much of this change has started a few years ago, we are still in the midst of it (although we seem to be reaching an inflection point) and people are much better at recognizing change in hindsight when the contrast to previous ways of doing things becomes much more obvious.

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  8. Holger, your chart of the salient points of the shift is excellent. There is indeed a profound shift. I see it with my clients who organize their marketing plan around their own events, such as product releases and the trade show schedule--when in fact, buyers don't care, and they are the ones with control over the process.

    Karl, I agree that there has to be a balance between inbound and outbound--we do have to remind buyers we exist. However, many companies are still on the traditional side of the *internal* shift in focus--they still *think* like outbound marketers, and they need to change fast.

    We just published a white paper that is very much in line with this discussion: How to Create Content for B2B Nurturing Campaigns http://bit.ly/aAfrc7

    Paul McKeon, The Content Factor

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  9. Holger,
    Excellent comparison chart. I especially like the management focus point about shifting from budget oriented to revenue impact. It's a valid point but one that marketers may not be equipped to handle; they, too, must change.

    Regardless of the tool set there is still a danger of trying to equate marketing efforts with direct revenue results. Marketers have traditionally fallen into the trap of backing into a revenue number with some percentage of contribution ("we can track 40% of our deals back to specific marketing efforts"). This approach will always marginalize marketing's contribution.

    To sell $100M in product means marketing is probably generating 5-10 times that in potential sales value, not 40% of $100M.

    The shift to the new marketing model will hopefully be joined by a shift in the marketer's presentation of its value to the organization.

    Dale

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  10. Great post, Holger. I believe that for B2B marketing to be successful, one of the most critical paradigm shifts that has to happen is the alignment of business objectives between marketing and sales. It is clearly the job of marketing to put in place the process of how results of B2B marketing initiatives flow back into the sales system. From what I notice in the Asian markets, this is the biggest gap in the success or otherwise of B2B marketing.

    Traditionally, marketing professionals prided themselves on activities done. But clearly, the more they are held accountable for the 'sales results', the better would be the B2B strategy, process and execution.

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  11. Nice discussion. I love the new tactics and experimenting with them in the B2B space. More challenging with smaller, often marketing-skeptical audiences than with B2C.

    As content becomes more important, I think message development becomes key. Making sure your message works for each distinct audience, each stage of sales cycle, and that it works for your company is core to success.

    I think Karl had a good point about baseline awareness and differentiation. Some air coverage is still a wise investment. Helps the sales team get in the door.

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  12. Culturally-attuned marketing lives on too... here in Japan, customers and suppliers still get/give mid and end of year gifts. Marketing foot soldiers make late December calls with dead tree calendars and diaries. 1st New Year business day has the account reps making "good luck" visits to their most valued clients etc.

    These activities, when performed with finesse, keep customers and sellers in each other's loop, so to speak. The challenge, as indicated by Dhruv Shenoy, is how to effectively and discretely measure the sales outcomes of these and other marketing activities.

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  13. “The Intersection of Marketing & Technology,” would be such an interesting panel to sit in on! I like what you are saying here, but I do not think traditional B2B marketing is dead; rather, it has evolved. Today, B2B marketers now have a plethora of new and innovative tools that they can combine with traditional tools, or use on their own, to create a more impactful campaigns.

    On the graph you included in the post about the New World of B2B Marketing, you point out that audiences are now focused. To effectively reach and engage your audience, it is vital to provide them with information that is relevant to them. It must help them solve a problem and it must be memorable. It is about condensing your message and being to the point. It’s also about finding the right medium to share the message in a way that is memorable and breaks through the clutter. This has been a challenge for my company as we make the shift to less traditional marketing models, but I'm finding that some of the more traditional methods, such as participation in events/conferences and good old mailings, are still quite effective. And nothing beats the power of the customer voice, so we continue to look for ways to get our clients to be more vocal about what we do for them. And that remains traditionally tough since so many of them have corporate policies against case studies, etc.

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  14. Yes I agree with you...the development of the innovations in the consumption and also the communication made the b2b fully profit oriented...we have to change the valid source for the betterment on that state.keep sharing.

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  15. I'm not sure I really buy this. I've been in B2B since 1984 and most of what's in your right hand column applied then. That wasn't just pre-web it was largely pre-PC! However clearly the communication channel has changed big time and although personal selling is still relevant all of the digital channels to which you refer are also important. What's also changed is the ability to use data and to target more effectively and so make more effective use of your resources.

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  16. David, Thanks for your comment. I have to disagree, though. Market dynamics have changed dramatically just over the past ten years. And with that change the way buyers engage with vendors. Many marketing tactics and technologies didn't even exist ten years ago. Sure, the goals and many tactics are similar, most definitely after sales is actively engaged with a prospect or when it comes to maintaining a healthy customer relationship. But before that point in the buying process we are experiencing dramatic changes that I talk about in the blog post - mostly driven by technology and buyers being overwhelmed with outbound communication by vendors fighting for attention.

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  17. Great post, Holger. I agree with you that B2B marketing has changed dramatically in the last 10 years but I dont think its dead. In my opinion not every industry evolves at the same rate so a more inbound marketing strategy might not work well for every market.

    I think B2B has chnaged forever and this change has given us new tools/ways to communicate your value propositions and messages but traditionnal B2B marketing is not dead.

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  18. Nice article. Really interesting chart on the key dimenstions of B2B Marketing.

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