Marketing priorities in the B2B services industry

Is the B2B (IT) services industry adapting to a changing buyer behavior and shifting investments in marketing tactics and tools? The answer is obviously yes. Digital, social, content, it’s all there. However, the reasons why and the integrations deserve a closer look.

As I mainly work for B2B organizations in the ICT and marketing (technology) industry, I like to keep an eye on what marketers and buyers in those industries think, how their spending changes and how they adapt to an evolving buyer journey.

Especially the ICT industry has always been leading the way in digital marketing and business (and I’m not saying that because I started my career in it). The reasons are obvious I guess.

One of the organizations I closely follow is the ITSMA (IT Services Marketing Association). It’s a paying membership community for marketing execs who market and sell B2B services and solutions. But as the name says, it’s mainly for IT companies.

The organization now and then releases some information publicly on the research it conducts. The number of participants in the ITSMA reports is always low but the profile of respondents is extremely “high”.

In its 2013 Budget Allocations and Trends Survey, the ITSMA provides some interesting data on the marketing tactics and technologies respondents are using more. The report also looked at the marketing budget plans of the B2B services marketers and found that nearly half of them plan to increase their budgets this year.

The shift towards digital in B2B: data

As could be expected, marketers are shifting investment in response to changing buying behavior to provide more adapted and relevant customer experience in an increasingly digital reality. A quick overview of those shifts.

In the overall marketing budget more money is flowing into:

  • Demand generation and lead management.
  • Brand and communications.
  • Content development.
  • Sales (channel) enablement and support.

From the marketing mix perspective there are shifts as well.

More budget is flowing into:

  • Digital marketing.
  • Direct marketing.
  • Private events, seminars and conferences.

On the other hand, budget is flowing away from:

  • Public trade shows.
  • Sponsorships.
  • Traditional advertising.

Some of these categories (such as digital marketing) are of course relatively broad. So, what kind of digital marketing techniques and tactics are we talking about?

According to the ITSMA the main ‘digital’ budgets are flowing into:

The shift towards digital in B2B: analysis

Looks like a rather traditional picture? Well it isn’t really.

The role of content and integration

First of all, it’s clear that content (marketing) is playing a bigger role. You can see it in many shifts: increased attention for content development as such, more focus on demand generation and lead management (guess what you need for that), search engine optimization (increasingly about relevant content and social signals), the use of video, etc.

Also take into account that large B2B IT and services organizations often work with an entirely different customer and prospect base than consumer brands. First of all they often have a limited number of potential customers (one of the reasons why community marketing and sales channel enablement are more important here).

Secondly, they develop more personal (not just personalized but personal) relationships with prospects and their existing customer base (key account management or KAM is important for them).

The role of social and community

What about social? Trust me, it matters a lot. Look at companies such as Cisco, IBM, BT etc. However, it’s a bit different than in B2C as well. Relationship marketing and community, with a focus on being a trusted advisor and reliable source/partner, matter much fore in a B2B social media marketing context. Also look at the use of different social channels: chance is small that the CxO of a large organization will send a tweet to a provider of corporate technology solutions saying their support sucks. They use Twitter, to name just one, very often in entirely different ways.

Furthermore, in general they have a more integrated view on different tactics and techniques, another reason why I like working for them. Now and then I see posts appearing that B2B brands are starting to implement B2C tactics but I can assure you the opposite is more true.

Customer-centricity, a focus on the buyer’s journey, holistic approaches, integrated marketing technologies, etc. are known very well in many of these firms. Notice there’s a strong link between KAM,community, social and trusted advisorship. And, in the end, it’s not just about digital marketing anymore but about cross-divisional digital and social business.

Marketing technology priorities showing the shift to customer-centric digital techniques

This picture becomes very clear if you look at the different marketing technologies respondents plan to increase investment in. While email marketing remains crucial for these – and other – businesses, the investments in marketing technology show a changed focus. It also indicates that marketing automation is becoming more important (and that of course has an impact on email marketing solutions spend).

The main areas of marketing technology spend according to the ITSMA (in decreasing order of importance):

  • Lead nurturing and management solutions (marketing automation,…).
  • Social media monitoring and measurement (reputation but also “what’s happening” for content production purposes and competitor tracking).
  • Web analytics and optimization solutions.
  • Content management and delivery, a rather vast range of content marketing software platforms.
  • Campaign management.
  • Customer and/or contact management.
  • Marketing performance management (are you ready for marketing ROI?).
  • Email marketing.

More data below.


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