7 Predictions for B2B Marketing in 2020

Edwin Abl
Edwin Abl
Dec 21, 2019 · 11 min read

The quote, “change is the only constant in life”, is attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. The philosopher didn’t have B2B marketers in mind while musing about life but the wiser among us know that change is the only constant in our field.

At the end of 2018, I made seven predictions on how B2B marketing will change in 2019, and I think my third proposition — a focus on slower and more sustained growth — did not really materialise for most marketers and revenue leaders. Most are still struggling with short term tactical executions in different component parts rather than one aligned plan which builds deeper value to a customer base. There are the ones who I think are getting it right, though.

I’d argue that 2020’s B2B marketing practices will need a careful reflection on 2019 — one where you find the balance of short term revenue goals with long term brand leverage.

Next year, will be more about building on long-term goals that sustain growth, rather than short-term tactics that deliver mere blips.

B2B marketers will adapt, but I think a head start helps so here are my seven predictions for 2020.

1. A renewed focus on brand

Outbound marketing and demand generation activities are superb drivers of growth — particularly for start ups and scale ups that often have little brand equity. The most commonly requested advice I get asked is often on scaling Outbound marketing — we need demand and revenue. It’s never about building a brand, it’s about how I get meetings (especially thinking about B2B SaaS).

However, where a B2B organisation is established and in the process of scaling, an overreliance on demand-driven marketing activity can only get you so far, it can’t provide a 10x leverage you will probably need for growth.

Yes, you’ll always get the short-term tactical benefits of the marketing activity, but there is a method that draws out more benefit from these activities than the sum of the individual parts.

The answer is an investment in building a deep, granular and impactful brand narrative. One that supports and fits alongside outbound marketing. It’s easy to dismiss branding as a B2C marketing tactic — after all, what do big brands like Nike, Apple or Coca-Cola have in common with a SaaS operation?

There is a common thread however: buyers in both camps act as a connection to your message and perception.

That’s why you need to invest more time in creating the narrative. It needs to happen in parallel and not be forgotten in the process of building outbound lead generation. The sooner you work on it, the sooner you’ll see the benefits. It’s a long term play.

Countless B2B vendors including Twilio, Salesforce.com, Workday have proven how building B2B brand equity can act as a propellant for outbound marketing efforts — amplifying marketing investment via a brand that inspires trust.

It’s not just speculation. B2B researchers Binet and Field found that the best “growth hack” may very well be a focus on B2B branding.

Whichever way you look at it, B2B buyers are human beings too and a prominent brand is a significant differentiator. You could argue that B2B purchases involve even more emotion than their B2C equivalent.

I think the B2B organsiations that will thrive in 2020 will be those that are able to elevate their brand.

2. The need for original and inspiring content

It’s never easy to find original ideas — or original marketing tactics. So it’s no wonder that content marketing has followed established playbooks.

Pillar content, micro content, cluster content… you name it. As marketers, we copy it.

Yet, producing another pillar of blog content, another eBook or another white paper can lead to disappointment, the B2B content landscape is just too saturated.

For example, collecting original research data has always been a terrific starting point. Research generates buzz and can easily be packaged into different content types. But with so many research reports out there, you’ll need a unique twist to research to truly break through the fog.

It comes down to knowing your audience and personalising your content for that audience — indeed, focusing on a segment of your audience to attain maximum engagement. In 2020, you need to think carefully about your brand, the message and what content is truly inspiring the persona base.

Don’t be complacent and think “let’s just make another eBook on vertical X”.

3. GDPR will be a force for good

Marketers too often see GDPR as a spanner in the works — a regulatory measure that impedes marketing efforts. In the U.S., from conversations with colleagues who market in Europe — they are even still unsure of what the law actually means and how to operate in the post-GDPR world.

GDPR became enforceable in May 2018, and through 2019 companies kept focusing on compliance — spending billions to meet GDPR regulations. And of course, the hundreds of millions in fines started to bite.

But what if GDPR is really a force for good? A principle that can drive loyalty, trust, and engagement in your audience? One interesting side effect of GDPR has already emerged — a significant drop in cyber security risk.

I’d argue that GDPR has positive side effects for B2B marketers too.

Why? In today’s noisy B2B marketing environment a lackadaisical approach simply isn’t effective. Marketers that collect masses of email addresses only to inundate the recipients with loosely targeted messages won’t get results.

Instead, GDPR is in tune with effective marketing. Marketing that targets carefully — sending highly relevant content to an engaged group of recipients.

In other words, I expect the better marketing teams to start seeing value in GDPR. The value is perceived from knowing your campaigns have to be more personalised and impactful for the potential prospect.

It’s not a pure numbers game and the right message (as per building brand profile counts) is paramount. Great marketing teams will combine this to think deeply about process, compliance and tech — making sure they have a streamlined approach. A good example might be digital workflows that do not take people’s details for granted and make you think at the person level, rather than seeing prospects as an email on a spreadsheet.

Great GDPR governance and those who take it seriously will see a by-product around improved conversations, better customer/prospect experiences and brand perception.

4. Gated content won’t convert well

There’s valid reasoning behind gating content, but in the face of relentless levels of content production marketers need to realise that gated content may stop performing the way it used to.

Yes, gated content is a great way to build a strong inbound marketing funnel, but decision makers are getting understandably tired of supplying their personal details in exchange for a piece of content (GDPR impact, again).

Relying on the classic LinkedIn post leading to a landing page with a form just won’t perform anymore.

Instead, smart marketers will need to think of a different way to handle the distribution of content, and how they collect leads in the process — it may well be a multi-step process that influences across five or ten channels, culminating in a sales lead. Go back, rethink your lead lifecycle process and how/what your distribution strategy is for capturing leads.

Move away from purely assessing gated content download as leads as they often are not. Think about the holistic process on how you engage with people and take them through a journey with you.

Marketers should, at the very least, carefully consider whether gating content will be beneficial to their cause, or act as a block.

However, I’m strongly of the opinion that the sheer amount of information that can now be accessed friction-free will have a big impact on the conversion of content that is gated. Gated does work in certain contexts (of course), but to win, think about how you can be more sophisticated in your strategy.

5. Linear attribution for ROI won’t work

As marketers we need some way to measure marketing ROI — otherwise we’d be flying blind. Attributing marketing results to a single source is helpful; whether it’s via HubSpot’s attribution chart (I’ve been playing around with the BETA), DOMO or the integrated tools offered by Salesforce.

But singular attribution has big drawbacks — buyer journeys are simply not that linear now, or will not be in 2020. Relying on attribution linked to a single source can deliver skewed data that doesn’t tell the true story. HubSpot is paying attention to the changing landscape too.

Instead, marketers should consider ways to better attribute their efforts throughout the process of lifecycle marketing. In other words, try and count all the contact points that slowly but surely contribute to a buying decision.

Once you do this assign different % points across channels to get a picture. It’s a better way of thinking about it than looking for singular attribution points to assume ROI and budget planning.

That’s not to say that building an attribution model that folds in every content channel and every interaction over an extended period of time will be easy. Integrating these channels to work in concert is difficult but essential — assigning attribution is the real challenge.

However, marketers that go to the trouble of building a comprehensive attribution model that goes beyond singular attribution stand to gain far deeper insight into their audience, and the value of marketing activities.

6. Vanity metrics will expire

It is easy, of course, to rely on simple metrics, including singular attribution, to flatter marketing efforts. Unfortunately, vanity metrics correlate loosely with real growth.

Think about the marketing qualified lead (MQL), for example. A high MQL count ostensibly means that marketing is getting great results. But how “qualified” are these leads really? Did MQLs pass a very low bar, or are MQLs truly viable — leads that have a high probability of turning into life-long customers?

Marketers should think twice about relying on vanity metrics such as inflated MQLs to impress.

C-level execs are interested in real growth, not appearances and will distinguish between metrics that truly prove revenue importance — and metrics that are nothing other than fluff. I’ve written before on Bored with MQL’s and Adding Value? 5 Ways to Stay a Relevant CMO and Marketer.

I’m not saying that MQLs do not matter. I hear far too many people on Podcasts, talks and conferences saying “MQLs don’t matter, bla bla”. It’s an easy thing to say as a marketer to make yourself look credible and have a position.

Don’t move past MQLs. Just don’t have them as vanity metrics. Make sure you build the right funnel, the right process and the right reporting to support. And make sure your leadership team know how they add value into sales opportunities/ pipeline. What’s for certain is MQLs are dead if you just treat them as marketers have in the past.

7. MarTech will consolidate

Last year I pointed out that automation leads to big wins for marketing teams. But marketers are also at risk of over-engaging with automation.

Gartner’s 2019–2020 CMO spend survey found that marketing departments are investing on average 26% of their budgets in martech — compared to 29% the year before, and 22% the year before that.

Gartner’s research doesn’t indicate a trend in any particular direction, but I think martech is set for a big consolidation — if not in spend, certainly in the number of vendors in the market.

In reality, most teams strongly rely on only a couple of tools — the core ones used daily in your team’s workflow — to achieve the majority of their results. I believe you need to understand what the core tools are, get the most from them and align on what peripheral tools are valuable. You can always layer on more tech thinking it’s a magic bullet. I’d think carefully about mapping your tech stack to make sure you see the value across all of them.

Part of this shift will be a transition to more integrated tools. Consider HubSpot’s shift into CRM for example, which has captured many who are looking for a broader integrated sales and marketing suite.

Is it time for marketers to reconsider the adoption of every brand new, shiny tool? Pick your core. And pick a few vendors that are doing something different, something that gives you an edge, a leverage because it can do something no other tool can do and bring something transformational in one or two areas of your process.

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It’s no doubt 2020 will be another tough year for B2B marketers.

Lot’s of scare mongering on the death of the CMO, marketers being treated like sales and owning numbers and increasing pressures to deliver growth in revenue through aggressive lead generation. However, my take is that it’s all about you as the marketer having the right mindset to cope with these changes.

Understand what the chief executive or chief revenue officer wants and adapt your approach to fit their perspectives.

All roles adapt. All roles change. The ones who do well are the ones who see the change and adjust their approach. This is what you need to do in 2020. Don’t follow the exact same playbook — reflect and understand what is the new playbook. How do you innovate, do things differently and inspire your peers in the value of marketing. It’s no doubt marketing has more importance now than ever — we are on the front line to building scalable businesses because of the changing B2B buying behaviours.

If you are driven to do all of the above, you will set yourself up for success in 2020. Good luck!

PS: I hope these 7 predictions provide good food for thought — and I’d love to hear what you think. And what I might have missed!


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Edwin Abl

Written by

Edwin Abl

Chief Marketing Officer at Modulr — @EdAbl — Author at www.edwinabl.com. Love reading about leadership, well-being, learning, revenue generation and marketing.

Demand Karma

Demand Karma helps marketers become inspirational leaders and turn demand into revenue faster.

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