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Forrester B-to-B Marketing Predictions: Customer Focus to Sharpen

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More business-to-business marketers will organize their efforts around individual clients in 2017 and less on marketing their products and services broadly, Forrester predicted.
More business-to-business marketers will organize their efforts around individual clients in 2017 and less on marketing their products and services broadly, Forrester predicted. Credit: iStock
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Will 2017 be the year that business-to-business marketers finally get serious about so-called account-based marketing? That's what Forrester Research predicts in its b-to-b marketing forecast for next year.

The resurgence of account-based marketing means b-to-b marketers will become more customer-focused and put less emphasis on products and solutions, said Laura Ramos, Forrester analyst and author of the report..

While the concept of account-based marketing has been around for more than a decade, it resurfaced this year as a real business goal, she said. Forrester's research found that 37% of marketing decision makers said improving customer experience is a critical priority, second only to growing revenue.

"Going forward in 2017, we'll see what are real use cases that make sense for account-based marketing," Ms. Ramos said. "Not that you have to go out and buy a bunch of technology, but how do you put the technology that you already have to work to deliver not only better return on marketing investment and better alignment between marketing and sales activity, but also deeper and more engaged customer relationships over time?"

Although the customer-obsessed shift will take several years to fully implement, Forrester expects to see real movement this year. Only 1% of b-to-b marketers managed after-sales experiences with customer relationship programs in 2016, but the researcher predicts that will bump up to 10% in 2017.

Change is not really an option. Companies that don't move aggressively toward one-to-one customer relationships will lose out to those who do.

"We're in a business cycle where companies that focus on customer experience are putting business resources, budget and strategy toward obsessing over customers. They're trying to win the right ones, serve them up a great customer experience, and retain them through a great customer experience, and those are the ones that will thrive," Ms. Ramos said.

Hand-in-hand with the b-to-b customer shift, Forrester expects consolidation in the tech vendor software space. Chief marketing officers will be asking for consolidated marketing stack options in an effort to work across the functional siloes often present in marketing departments.

Talent will also be important in bridging with b-to-b marketers looking for people who can apply data and insights for better customer engagement, she said.

As in consumer marketing, the overall shift is from push to pull marketing. It's time for b-to-b marketers to stop talking about what the company does and focus on what its customers care about, Ms. Ramos said, because many "still push product features instead of discuss business issues."

In the coming year, that means more companies will use crowdsourced content, b-to-b communities, advocate marketing and buyer modeling tools to create emotional or inspirational customer-centric brand messages, Forrester's report predicts.

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