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Envisioning the future of b-to-b database marketing

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Whether you’re looking back five years or only 18 months, business-to-business database marketing has been through a sea change. The rise of new marketing tools and channels, new global economic pressures and new ways of collecting customer intelligence are forcing companies to adapt to changing marketing realities, all within a very short time.

Amid all the change, it is important to remember fundamentals, those core principles that are the foundation of successful marketing, regardless of the technologies of the day or the moods of the markets. Looking into the future of b-to-b database marketing, we see changes that already are in motion.

We can also pinpoint the practices that can serve as anchors, to keep plans and programs sound. Here are four essentials:

1) Automation encourages sophistication. Marketing automation tools are dramatically improving the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing overall and the integration of communication channels specifically. They also are improving marketing measurement. Going forward, b-to-b marketers that adopt automation can expect an increased ability to deliver “proof reporting,” that is, return on marketing investment, lead quality and conversion rates throughout the sales funnel. As tools evolve, they will further enable the delivery of high-quality leads and decrease lead-to-sales time.

Automation also has highlighted the need to refocus on database marketing fundamentals. Those include:

  • Ensuring high data quality.
  • Consolidating and standardizing global data for easier access.
  • Aligning sales and marketing goals around business challenges.
  • Understanding customer “personas.”
  • Differentiating messages according to audience interests and authority.

In short, marketing automation tools will continue to play a vital role in improving program sophistication and measurement.

2) Recession drives global demand. B-to-b marketers have long talked about consolidating global marketing data, activities and operations into centralized hubs or “demand centers,” which in turn support regional or local execution teams. But the recent economic climate has dramatically increased the adoption of this model because it delivers tremendous gains in efficiency while encouraging local flavor in the end-user experience.

A difficult global economy has also forced organizations to become deliberate in strategic planning across brands and channels. New and better tools will help marketers think more cohesively and standardize database platforms across the enterprise.

3) The power of data grows. The amount of data available to b-to-b marketers is sometimes overwhelming, and it is increasing. That data, which ultimately yields customer insight, provides a platform for developing highly efficient marketing strategies. The key lies in knowing how to bring it together to drive customer dialogue.

But there are two points for b-to-b marketers to remember. First, the magnitude of data is not as critical as the insights available from it. And secondly, every communication channel that is relevant to the audience should be part of the mix and also a source of customer intelligence.

4) Bringing it all together. Best practices will continue to evolve, but the fundamentals of effective
b-to-b marketing will stay intact. Current emerging areas, such as social and mobile, will join established methods like e-mail, Web, direct mail, etc., as integrated components in overall strategies.

There will be continued focus on data quality, message continuity across media and efficiency across marketing activities and geographies. Finally, there will be more ongoing customercentric marketing dialogue instead of finite campaign marketing and measurement.

My advice for b-to-b database marketers: Deploy marketing automation and analysis tools to improve effectiveness while retaining the fundamentals. Consider centralizing to drive efficiency. And remember, marketing that employs quality data, accurate targeting and messaging, compelling content and impactful design will always improve results, increase retention and support customer growth.

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