I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but the research we read from many marketing research firms such as Forrester, Gartner and IDC tells the same story over and over again.

Today’s buyer OWNS the buying cycle more now than ever before. Salespeople are losing control and being pushed further and further down the buying decision process.

Of course it varies greatly with product complexity and market maturity, but Forrester’s research confirms that today’s buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their journey before they contact the vendor.

Similarly, The Corporate Executive Board Reports that on average buyers have completed 60% of their buying journey before reaching out to sales.

That means often buyers aren’t talking with salespeople until they are ready for price quotes. For most buyers they already have a pretty clear idea of who they plan to buy from at this stage. The ability of the saleperson to influence them is severely constrained.

This changes the role of B2B marketing in a fundamental way. Marketing now owns a much bigger piece of the lead-to-revenue cycle. B2B marketers must take responsibility for engaging with the customer through most of the buying cycle.

But marketers are facing a rapidly evolving landscape too. Traditional channels of communication and influence are evolving rapidly.

  • Forrester research shows that today’s B2B buyer will find three pieces of content about a vendor for every one piece that marketing can publish or sales can deliver.
  • They are finding this content in an ever-expanding number and variety of channels.
  • They are accessing these channels from an increasingly diverse array of devices.

Buyers of business products and services are online, in LinkedIn groups, watching videos, downloading content, going to events, and evaluating options on their iPads and smartphones.

The challenge is to understand your potential customer’s journey across these touchpoints and exert influence over them along the way. B2B marketers must engage using a combination of process, technology, marketing and sales alignment if they are going to be succesful in engaging current and prospective customers in all of the digital, inbound, social and offline channels that are part of the buyer’s purchase process.

The challenge is ensuring engagement with customers feels like a seamless experience.

  • Consistent messaging across content, channels and over time is crucial if B2B marketers have to nurture prospects for months or years before they turn into sales opportunities.
  • Build tactics that are affordable and repeatable over the duration of this extended cycle.
  • Add explicit recycling tactics to capture those leads that leak from your funnel and maintain contact wit them until they are ready to buy.
  • Generate content that is educational, helpful, elevant and doesn’t annoy your prospects.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that managing these channels and content types and communicating with buyers at a time of their chosing means a ton of extra work. To solve this B2B marketers are turning to marketing automation.

Not only does this take care of the increased workload it also allows marketers to build more sophisticated personalised responses to buyers because marketing automation captures buyer behaviour…and that is a massive boon for marketers. Its also worth noting that for many firms this is really an untapped opportunity. For those firms who get this there is a chance to create a real competitive advantage. A rare event these days.

Marketing automation tells us where customers are finding our content. Marketing automation tells us what they do next.  With this data, and the knowledge it drives, B2B marketers can provide targeted content and offers which serve to both improve buyer engagement and increase conversion rates.

As Lori Wizdo. Principal Analyst at Forrester puts it “It’s a lovely irony that to become more personal, B2B marketers need to become more automated.”

Stop thinking about campaigns and start thinking how to engage with your buyers. Customers will chose to engage with marketers who understand them, listen to them and demonstrate they understand their needs and present different information and options. B2B marketers who continue to communicate with product-centric campaigns and offers risk becoming irrelevant.

…and that makes the skills a B2B Marketer needs sound a lot like the Resume of the person they are increasingly replacing – the salesperson.