As someone who started working in B2B marketing back in the late 1990s - when we searched for information on AltaVista, were blown away by the mobile functionality of our BlackBerries, and wrote monthly reports via manually (and monotonously) pulling numbers out of spreadsheets - I like to end each year by reflecting on the past and future of marketing. Some things will never change:
(1) B2B marketing will always be about reaching the customers who are most likely to buy your offerings;
(2) technology will always be an enabler of what we do; and
(3) human creativity and imagination will always be essential.
What’s in store for B2B marketing in 2023? After doing some thinking on my own and also reading a few hours of “marketing trends for 2023” stories (accessed via Google, not AltaVista), I’ve come up with a few ideas:
1. More marketing technology and more customer data will be available in 2023 than ever. This “trend” is so obvious that it’s a good place to start. The martech landscape is now 10,000 tools and apps, up 24% from 2020. B2B marketers also have more access to customer data, at both the individual and account level, than ever before.
More martech and more data in 2023 doesn’t necessarily make B2B marketing any easier. Sometimes, managing tech and customer data are so time-consuming that there’s no time left over for actual marketing. You still need a strong marketing strategy in place in order to help you make decisions about what martech and what customer data to leverage in order to achieve your strategic goals.
2. 2023 will be a year where ‘doing more with less’ is paramount. If you’ve been watching or reading the business news, and paying attention to global economic trends, this one is another no-brainer. A global recession seems a safe bet, along with high inflation, high interest rates, and high energy costs. All of that will negatively impact B2B revenues, and thus impact marketers and their budgets. This might not be the ideal year for taking a big gamble on that brand new, expensive, and untested martech tool. You may have to get back to the basics of engagement, while focusing on time-proven strategies, tactics, and tools.
3. Face-to-face engagement makes a comeback. The last few years of COVID-driven social distancing have been tough on B2B marketers, especially those who enjoy attending conferences in-person and meeting customers face-to-face. 2023 promises to be a more social year, when many of the virtual events of 2020-2 become F2F (and virtual/hybrid) once again. Will it be weird? Yes. Will marketers need to re-learn how to interact in person with stakeholders? Surely.
Most importantly, will those F2F interactions lead to better outcomes in terms of building customer trust and strengthening customer relationships? Indeed.
4. Trust remains a paramount marketing concern. Whether the interaction is F2F or digital, gaining customer trust is the key to marketing success. You want and need customers to share more first-party data so you can personalize engagement. To do that, you need to build trust. You want to cross-sell and up-sell. Again, you need to build trust. The good news is that customer trust in businesses is actually growing, from 48% in 2020 to 52% in 2022, according to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer Report.
5. The cookie-less future is here. Ready or not, you’re not going to be able to access customer data tracked outside of your brand’s own domain (i.e., third-party cookies are going away). The loss of this cross-domain tracking capability changes not only what data B2B marketers can access, but how they engage customers. Transparency in how you collect, manage, and use data matters now more than ever.
6. First-party data is the gold B2B marketers must mine for successful engagement. In order to access the high-quality customer data you need to fuel your marketing efforts, from scoring to personalization to email and beyond, you’ll need the permission/consent of your customers. To get that important asset, you’ll need to make it worthwhile for your customers to share with you. Give them value to get the data you want. Earn customer trust by sharing real and relevant value – that’s what marketing is in 2023, as it was in 1999.
7. Personalization is more important and more possible for B2B marketers to deliver. In the 1990s, personalization was copying and pasting the same marketing email to multiple customers, but inserting their name into the Dear [customer] line. Today, B2B customers expect you to understand their needs and address them with personalized messaging and personalized offers.
And due to the increased sophistication of CRMs, MAPs, and AI/automation, personalized engagement at scale is becoming more achievable. Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer Report says that 73% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs, while 56% of customers expect offers to be personalized.
8. ABM will continue to expand. B2B marketing is so different from B2C. In B2B, most purchasing is done by a group, often a buying committee, that seeks to make the best collective decision for the business. Yet most marketing technologies and tactics were developed with a B2C approach in mind – i.e., the individual lead who makes a purchasing decision by themselves for themselves.
Account-based marketing puts B2B into an account-first context, enabling B2B marketing and sales teams to identify accounts with the highest likelihood to buy, map out and engage buying groups, collect and leverage the “right” data, and improve ROI.
A final caveat: The B2B trends for 2023 listed above are not intended to be comprehensive or taken as profound truths. I don’t have a crystal ball. Change (and the need to remain flexible in the face of it) has long been the only certainty in B2B marketing.
But no matter what happens in 2023, we're here to help you prove and improve the value of your marketing. To learn how we can help, reach out here.