Key focus areas to create an awesome marketing plan for 2018

The end of the financial year is looming – and while it’s kind of Christmas for accountants - for many of us it's a time of review for the year that’s been and setting budgets and planning for the year to come. 

This makes it a great time to devour reports like Green Hat's B2B Marketing Research Report 2017 - which is a great insight into the challenges and objectives faced by Australian B2B marketers.  

I find research like this helps me really focus on what I'm trying to achieve - and often gives me some ideas about how others are attacking similar challenges.  In a nutshell, the report has 3 main findings (none of which will shock you):

  • Missed opportunities between marketing and sales - there is a need for organisational alignment to better nurture and convert leads for new work

  • ROI measurement - B2B's are 35% more likely to see a budget increase if they measure and communicate marketing ROI

  • Customer experience is a key challenge and opportunity for B2B businesses (and we need to learn from our B2C marketing cousins who have excelled in this area)

So - what do you need to care about or focus on for FY2018?  Whatever you want - but the following summary of Green Hat's report might help (I also recommend you read the full report for more on any of these areas below).

1.  Buyer personas

47% of B2B have developed personas for buyers in their target market 

According to the report, In 2017, organisational ‘agility’ is key.  B2B businesses can no longer rely on campaign centric marketing and sales or any strategy that extends too far into the future.  Agility – having an ‘always on’ mindset is becoming central as buyers become increasingly hungry for quality content.

The report indicates B2B marketers need to become more innovative and continue to invest in knowing their clients (what we marketers like to call ‘buyer personas’).  This is bascailly knowing as much as possible about who your clients are and where they come from.  You learn all this through market research, analysis of existing clients and defining who their intended clients are.  There is a wealth of data available to marketers these datas - the trick is to know what is useful and what is not. 

What does this mean for you?  Basically - you need to really know your clients and how they approach buying your services and products.  Have you ever tracked the process of how your clients find you and then decide to engage you?  The more you know - the more readily you'll be able to respond and provide more tailored marketing responses to your clients.  

My Tip - map the process your potential clients go through before becoming a client - look at all your touchpoint and avenues from the moment they find out your business name to signing on the dotted line. 

2.    Client experience (CX) 

68% of B2B found optimising CX significant in the next 12 months

B2B Marketers need to become more involved in building client relationships, recognising that quality will win over quantity.  This also recognises that the client relationship these days, begins well before any face to face contact.  Your potential clients are checking you online and via social media platforms well before they pick up the phone or send an email to connect.  Engaging with clients meaningfully, as early as possible, can only help to nurture good sales leads. 

CX is critical to business growth and in differentiating one B2B business from another. (particularly in those sectors where there is little differentiation in the service offerings).   Those businesses who see their clients as their priority and lead the way in the client experience will achieve higher revenue growth and ROI. 

Most of us are well are that it is cheaper, quicker and often easier to win new work from existing clients rather than new clients.  Your pipeline needs a good mix of both.

As B2B buyers become savvier, CX needs to be viewed as a ‘whole-of-business’ endeavour where high levels of strategic planning and collaboration are achieved across all departments within a B2B organisation.  In my view, Marketing and Business Development teams are ripe for leading these initiatives.

My Tip:  What is your CX like?  What do your clients love about working with you?  What do they say about you to others?  Consider all the elements of your client experience and look for areas you can lead the charge for improvements    

3.    Lead generation & lead nurturing

37% of B2B do not know or track the cost of a sales lead

Before we get into this one – let’s address the elephant in the room.  Sales.  For many B2B business, in particular the professional services, it can be a bit of a dirty word.  They don’t sell – they develop long lasting, valuable client relationships.  So, for the purposes of this blog – let’s agree that ‘sales’ refers simply to the process you go through to win a new client, or win new work from an exisiting client – regardless of what you call it in your business.  

There continues to be ongoing challenges among Australian B2B’s with lead follow-up and follow–through - while your marketing might be delivering you new leads, these are only useful if someone is following up on them and leading your new potential client through the process of them deciding they can’t do business without you.  

Lead nurturing like this requires time and resources – which are often in short supply!  This is where the right marketing automation can really help to provide relevant content that is targeted to your potential clients.  Knowing and understanding your buyer persona/s can help to generate great content.  The more engaged and nurtured your client becomes, the more likely they are to develop one of those long, lasting valuable relationships with you – and as an added bonus – they are often then more likely to recommend you to their peers. 

My Tip:  Spend some time figuring out what you spend on winning new work - and how best to track it.  This, coupled with your map of how potential clients find you and engage with you, will help you to identify the areas you should invest your marketing budget in (and those you should probably let go)

4.    Marketing automation

36% of B2B will spend more than 20% of their 2017 budget on automation

Successful marketing automation can provide support for lead generation, lead nurturing, marketing productivity and conversion. When done well it can transform a business’s bottom line and increase client satisfaction.  It enables a B2B to personalise their marketing content allowing their clients to see the most relevant content and messages at the right time based on their location, characteristics and past behaviours.  

This is where it becomes really important to gather as much data as possible on your clients and potential clients.  Traditionally this is not something we’ve done well in B2B – and where we really could learn something from our B2C cousins.  According to the Green Hat report, most Australian B2B’s are not optimising this.

My Tip:  With time, budgets and resources stretched, investigate which parts of your marketing program could be automated - there is a huge range of tools available today - and many of them are not particularly expensive.  The trick is to be really sure of what you need that piece of your marketing puzzle to achieve - that way you'll find tools that help rather than hinder.  


5.    Sales & marketing alignment

90% of B2B said that integration between marketing and sales was significant or somewhat significant

Marketing drives Sales – Sales drives Marketing.  If the two can seamlessly work in alignment then opportunities for B2B marketers are created rather than missed in a world which is increasingly sales driven.

This can often be less clear in service organisations where often your 'sales' people, are also the people who deliver the service - so not necessarily just focussed on sales.  Another way to look at this is to consider marketing to be everything you do that creates and maintains your brand and how your potential clients engage with your brand.  Sales then becomes all your actions and activities that help you connect with those potential clients and lead them through the journey of deciding to engage you in your process.  The better your marketing helps to identify these potential clients and connect them to your brand (and your people), the more success they are likely to have in nurturing and converting those leads for new work.

It should be noted that a CX focus starts and ends with Sales and Marketing alignment.  A unified approach between these teams will see increased communication and fewer misunderstandings.  If the Sales and Marketing teams are on the same page and collaborate with lead generation strategies, this will drive better results and greater cooperation and outcomes.

My Tip:  Make sure your marketing people and your 'sales' people (whomever they might be in your business) are able to easily communicate and collaborate - remove any barriers that might be causing any issues or angst. 

6.    Social media

83% of B2B are actively using LinkedIn

LinkedIn remains the most dominant channel for B2B marketers, however there is an increase in the use of other social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest), more beneficial for branding, building CX and relationship building.  

The research indicates that Facebook is closing the gap and will continue to do so as a growing number of Millennials moving into B2B’s who see the use of LinkedIn and Facebook as equally beneficial and relevant to their business interests.

Once again, this comes back to really understanding your client base and how they engage with your brand and your business right throughout the buying process - you might find that LinkedIn is great for your people to connect with potential clients and relationship building, while Facebook or other platforms are better for introducing new potential clients to your brand.

My Tip:  If you're not on LinkedIn - get on there!  If you are, start to experiment with other social platforms and see what kind of results you get.  One of the great things about social media is that it's so easy to experiment and you can easily track results.  A word of warning though - if you have tight time and/or resources - just pick one platform - they will require some additional time to be committed to them - so don't overstretch yourself.

7.    budget & ROI 

20% of B2B say clear return on marketing investment is measured and communicated

The research shows that current B2B marketing investment is primarily on website, email and content, while events, social media marketing and automation marketing also receiving a reasonable share of the 2017 budget.

Capturing and articulating return on marketing investment is essential to progress marketing efforts to the centre of the organisation.  This will become even more important if marketing and business development teams take on whole of organisation projects associated with CX.  

At the most basic level though, it's just good practice to measure what you do so you can make sure you're putting your money (and your efforts) to the activities that will deliver you the best outcome.  It's really easy to fall into the trap of just doing what you did last year.  With new technologies and new tactics appearing all the time, your budget needs to be just as agile as your strategies.  

Web, event and email communication channels are the strongest performers from an ROI perspective - mainly due to the fact that it is relatively simple to collect, collate and analyse relevant data related to  them.

My Tip:  Make sure your marketing plan and budgets have agreed metrics, KPIs and then make sure you measure your activities so you can assess ROI.  Keep an eye on the market throughout the year for new approaches or technologies that might provider a better way of doing something.  If something isn't working well - stop doing it and try something new. 

2017 & Beyond - where to next?

B2B's are working smarter and more tactically, using data and analytics to waste less time and offer more value.  

Automation and intuitive service delivery are emerging as the building blocks of a future successful B2B business.

Successful B2B marketers in the future will be able to balance holistic strategies that bridge across the organisation, developing rich client personas, utilising smart automation options and delivering high quality content in context - placing the client at the core of the organisation's focus and reason for being.

It's not really so different to today.  What will be different will be the technologies, tactics and approaches they use to do it.  


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