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2016: Data, Customers and Tech Are Top Issues for B-to-B CMOs

Forrester Analyst Laura Ramos Discusses 2016 Trends and Technologies

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Grappling with big data, becoming customer-obsessed and dealing with the "flood of marketing technology" are some of the top challenges facing b-to-b CMOs as they head into 2016, says Laura Ramos, VP-principal analyst, b-to-b marketing at Forrester Research.

Laura Ramos
Laura Ramos

Ms. Ramos co-authored a new Forrester report, "Predictions 2016: B2B Marketing's New Mission," which is being released today.

In the following interview, Ms. Ramos discusses some of these predictions and how b-to-b CMOs can prepare themselves.

Advertising Age: What are some of the top issues facing CMOs going into 2016?

Ms. Ramos: Universally, it is dealing with more empowered buyers. Business-to-business buyers are behaving more like consumers. So CMOs are struggling with 'How do we blend a compelling digital experience with more traditional offline approaches that we've depended on and have worked for us' -- things like events, print and even physical mail. And how do they do all of that while building a consistent experience from a customer's perspective across all those channels?

Another issue is looking at how to turn the data they have available to them from inside and outside their companies into insights. This is still going down the path of transforming marketing from art to science. In 2016, CMOs will really have to up their game on the data front.

Also, dealing with the flood of marketing technology -- we think CMOs are going to start being less experimental and more intentional. Instead of trying six things to see how they work, now they will need to get it down to one or two.

Their voice -- the way b-to-b marketers speak. There's a lot going on around content marketing, but it's not just about creating that content, but that voice is going to have to really shift from promotional to conversational. That voice is going to have to talk more like customers rather than just about 'us.'

And the last thing b-to-b CMOs will have to deal with are organizational issues: How to organize the right way, do I have the right skills, and if I don't, how do I get there?

Ad Age: How are CMOs handling the data challenge you talked about?

Ms. Ramos: They know they need to move from the traditional broad market forecast -- the supply side, the demand-side stuff to estimate the total available market -- to things that are way more granular. Not just segments but microsegments -- what are some of the key differences between how our customers buy and what they're looking for to solve, even down to the account level? In our data, 37% of those surveyed are increasingly using data and analytics, and they see that as a high priority. In 2016, that number will possibly double.

I also think in this big data area that tech providers to the b-to-b craft will have to wake up to the fact that they are selling to marketers and stop sounding so technical .... And the first ones to figure it out are going to win here.

Ad Age: What types of customer strategies will be important in 2016?

Ms. Ramos: The main one we're predicting is, we want to see a bigger step in shifting from acquisition and the funnel and delivering leads to sales to really focus more on the post-sale -- making sure the brand promises made in the early stages translate through to what happens after the deal closes, ultimately with the goal of turning customers into advocates.

The other strategy is more personalization. A new term that we are looking at is "individualization." So it's not just taking emails and other things they send out and putting their name on it, but doing things that are more clever and speak not just to the fact that we know who you are, but what some of your issues are.

I'm a little intrigued with video, like some of the things Vidyard is doing to personalize video -- moving from sort of novelty to actually having impact on the business.

Ad Age: What types of technologies will CMOs invest in next year?

Ms. Ramos: I don't know if marketers need more technology, but they need to get smarter about integrating and creating that omni-channel and cross-channel execution, as well as the ability to track and analyze across channels. I think that will be a big investment priority for CMOs.

Another area is predictive. What you're going to see there is not so much the investment in predictive, in that CMOs will be interested in it, but then find that data aggregation, enrichment and cleanup is a precondition to making that work. So more interest in things like InsideView, ReachForce and ZoomInfo to help with that problem.

I also think this whole customer-obsession, get-to-know-your-customer, know-your-customer-better is going to create some investment in things like voice of the customer, meaning really analyzing the voice of the customer, not just doing surveys. So things like social and brand listening, and community platforms.