The Top-10 B2B Marketing Trends for 2011

Happy New Year! It is January and time again for the obligatory 2011 predictions. Many marketing experts have strong opinions on what they think will happen in 2011.

Instead of coming up with what I think is going to change in the B2B marketing world in 2011, I decided to ask you and tap into the combined wisdom of over  17,000 marketing professionals in the B2B Technology Marketing Community on LinkedIn. I asked you to rank the marketing areas you think will become more important in 2011.

Here are the key trends that B2B marketing professionals think are shaping B2B marketing in 2011.

1 - Integration of social media into lead generation programs
2011 will be the year social media evolves from the experimental stage to become an established marketing tactic. Social media will be more tightly integrated into traditional tactics such as email, webcasts, and content assets as another channel to broaden the reach of messages and drive conversions. This also means that more stringent demands for proof of ROI and revenue impact will be placed on social media investment.

2 – Focus on content marketing (content mapped to personas, buyer's journey, vertical, etc)
Content marketing is going mainstream in 2011. If you are not thinking about (and implementing) a strategy that puts your buyers (with their persona and industry driven pain points, preferences, and buying stages) in the center of your marketing efforts - and create compelling content as the currency of your engagement with buyers that influences decisions along the buying process - chances are you will get left behind by more content savvy competitors. With content moving to the center of attention, marketers often struggle to create magnetic content in the right formats and quantities. Sophisticated marketers will apply systematic ways to re-purpose existing content, create bite-sized content for the short attention span executive, and design an efficient content waterfall that accelerates production times, quality, and consistency.

3 - Focus on new business generation & revenue
With many markets making a modest recovery, which is expected to accelerate somewhat in 2011, marketing focus turns away from cost cutting and customer retention and towards growth and new customer wins. Marketing will be expected to show how it impacts new revenue generation. "Last click attribution" alone won’t cut it anymore and will need to make room for more comprehensive ways to show the combined impact of marketing tactics on buyer decisions.

4 - Focus on lead quality
In the past, marketing focus has often been on generating increasing quantities of leads. It was difficult to tell lead quality and impact on sales pipeline, so in the absence of real quality indicators, more was considered better. This flood of leads overwhelmed sales and distracted from the selling part of their jobs. And marketing received the blame for creating poor leads and wasting valuable selling time. Now, with the emergence of marketing automation tools and lead scoring technologies on one side, and tougher requirements for demonstrating program ROI on the other side, look for lead quality to become a critical performance metric in 2011.

5 - Focus on sales enablement
The best leads and nurturing strategy, however, doesn’t help much if sales can't close the deal. Our B2B marketing community agrees that providing sales with not only the right leads, but compelling content, sales tools, and education is going to be more critical as a competitive weapon in 2011. Your competitors are catching up on the latest lead generation and nurturing tactics. And all other things being equal, an educated and motivated sales force and their consultative selling skills will be the ultimate differentiator.
    Tom Pisello added a great comment to our B2B Technology Marketing Community, highlighting that a recent survey by IDC found that 24% of B2B buyers found that the sales reps are not prepared for presentations at all, 30% indicate that they are somewhat prepared , and only 29% indicate that they are well prepared. An empowered buyer means that the role of sales will dramatically be impacted, requiring sales enablement and marketing to help redefine and drive a new breed of value selling professional in 2011.

6 - Focus on pull/inbound marketing tactics
This reflects the continued power shift of buyers moving firmly into the driver’s seat, initiating, and controlling the buying process. As traditional interruption style marketing techniques are being blocked and filtered out by buyers, marketers need to shift to inbound tactics using magnetic content that enables buyers to educate themselves about the nature of their problem, available solutions, vendors, and products long before the first personal engagement with a vendor takes place. You want to be the source buyers are flocking to for this high-value content.

7 - Focus on customer retention
Customer retention has provided the much needed revenue stream that enabled many companies to survive the recession as new customer wins dried up. While the economy is slowly improving, many markets are still anemic and it remains critical in 2011 to nurture and grow existing customer relationships.

8 – Focus on marketing intelligence
Marketing automation, online marketing, and CRM systems create tons of data that is revealing buying patterns, customer preferences, and insight into what is working and what is not. Let's put this data into insight and action with better marketing intelligence in 2011.

9 – Focus on marketing automation
Marketing automation is going mainstream in 2011 as companies are taking their online campaigns, lead scoring, and email automation to the next level and integrate social media with traditional tactics. It will be interesting to watch how the decline of email usage by buyers and overall lower conversion rates will impact marketing automation effectiveness going forward.

10 - Focus on branding and awareness
Branding and awareness tactics took a backseat to marketing programs that could demonstrate an immediate and direct impact on revenue. This is slowly changing as budgets are improving and a long term view is taking hold again in 2011, recognizing the importance of a strong brand to influence buyer preference.

What marketing areas are less important in 2011?

As telling as the areas of increased focus are the areas B2B marketers consider less important in 2011:

  • Marketing cost reduction (is there much more to squeeze out of marketing without cutting into substance and choking off growth?)
  • Outsourcing (along the same lines as cost reduction, and can we afford to outsource even more without losing core competencies?)
  • Lead quantity (see increased focus on lead quality in the top 10 list)
  • Push marketing tactics (see focus on pull marketing in the top 10 list)
  • Marketing asset management (while still important, many marketers have solved this problem with asset and content management tools)

What are your thoughts? Does this reflect the reality in your organization going into 2011? What of these focus areas match your priorities, which don’t?

Thank you for following and contributing to this blog. I hope the new year will treat you well and that you have much success in your B2B marketing efforts in 2011!