A shift in the direction of planning where strategy leads technology

Jun 5, 2023

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by | Jun 5, 2023 | Strategy, Technology

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Right now, many senior marketers are rethinking their plans, and this year there’s a sense that marketers are not only rethinking their approach, but they’re also rethinking how they use their marketing technology. 

In some instances it’s forced change, in others, it’s recognition that there is more to know about the customer and how they’re evolving. This impacts what you say, how you say it and what you do – as well as how you make the technology work to support any new direction.

In this article, I’ll share some of the ways we’re seeing our clients transition and shift to a deeper focus on insight and how those clients are using insights to drive change in their businesses.

Before we begin, let’s be clear, there’s still a lot of the campaign work around demand – that fast-paced, always-on drive for quality volume that is central to B2B marketing teams. But instead of going full throttle into go-to-market plans, there’s a sense of taking a step back and thinking more carefully about what the future holds – and there are some big shifts on the horizon.

 

Know your customer

Back in ‘Marketing 101’ class, the first thing we looked at was ‘who is your customer’. Without this, you can’t really get to understand them, talk to them or know where they are. In B2C, it’s commonplace to have a wealth of insight about your customers, but in B2B it’s never quite been the same.  

When we say ‘the customer is king’ we mean it – because by crafting your solution and message around your customers’ needs, you’ll sell more. The level of insight being asked now is far greater than just a persona outline. It’s data points, insight and truths – all backed up by first-party or third-party research. It’s hard for the naysayers to argue with data, so it’s becoming the backbone of customer insight in B2B enabling the marketing team to be on equal footing with the sales team – who are so often the ‘champions’ of the customer.

This shift is enabling more customer-driven strategies and asking big questions such as ‘what is the customer experience we want to achieve?’. This is a pivotal shift as previously, the data hasn’t been available. But now with organisations sitting on around 10 years worth of data (web interactions, response data and purchase data), there’s a rich pool to tap into to establish the potential value of customer-driven strategies.

This is seconded by the external factor that customers expect a personalised, frictionless digital journey designed around them. Those that create this will out-sell the competition and lead the pack.

 

Insight gathering from qualitative and quantitative sources

As part of the drive in getting to know the customer, we highlighted the depth of insight organisations are looking for. Marketing leaders are asking the questions around ‘who’ and ‘what’ – actively asking for their customers’ perspectives. They’re doing this in several ways:

  • Focus groups: Collective perspective on topics from a group of customers or prospects
  • In-depth interviews: One-to-one interviews to build out a picture from an individual’s perspective. These are collated to provide a robust picture from a broad representation of the customer set
  • Social listening: The sentiment of a group of individuals or tribes, or at times a small group of high-profile individuals
  • Research banks such as Global Web Index: A wider picture of the consumption and buying preferences of groups predetermined by demographics 

With the focus on account-based marketing (ABM), we’re also being asked to provide individualised profiles on target prospects or customers – sometimes to the point of building a compendium on a high-profile, high-value individual.

These insights are fuelling the evolution of propositions and helping to formulate more human-centric messaging where the customer comes first, rather than the attributes of the product or service. These insights also enable better direction for go-to-market strategies and programme design as they provide more robust intel on preferences, locations and likely behaviours.

 

Insight from our own data

A data point is also fact. A data point is another opportunity to challenge assumptions and shift direction. A data point never lies*. Yet it’s often difficult to get a data point – especially if you need answers to hard yet simple questions, such as ‘where should I invest my marketing dollars?’.

We’re seeing a lot of marketers invest in reporting systems that offer a data layer which combines data from multiple sources to provide insight on performance. These systems are fantastic, but only when you have your other data repositories set up correctly. There’s the old saying (excuse my language) ‘shit in, shit out’. If the data isn’t collected or mapped correctly, you’ll never get the answers you’re looking for. It takes a whole load of configuration, integration, mapping and scripting to get it right in the first place. Only then can you suck it out to another platform to start to see it in a pretty layout.  

This is the challenge we’re seeing. The investment in those systems isn’t paying off, mainly because the groundwork isn’t done. It’s the same old approach – ‘I’ll buy that piece of kit because it will fix this problem’, but it doesn’t fix the problem.  

So whilst the goal is insight from data, the data has to be structured in the right way in the first place – and that’s the conversation we’re having. It’s stemming around ‘how can I make this platform work and get value from it (because I’ve just spent $250,000 on it).

*A data point doesn’t lie, but sometimes the data may not be reliable or trusted.  

Rethinking the customer journey

This is tied closely to ‘Know your customer’ above, but there’s a specific desire to understand the digital touchpoints that a customer is taking as part of their journey. The essence is ‘if I understand the journey, then I can build that out and scale it’.  

The insight gained from this process is huge and it’s informing content strategies, website strategies, conversion points (‘should I gate content or not?’) and providing answers to big questions such as:

  • How long does the average conversion take?
  • How many people were involved in the sale?
  • Where and how do people convert (in aggregate)?
  • How nonlinear is the journey in reality?
  • What are the common patterns and touchpoints in the journey across multiple customer accounts?

Right now, few truly know the prospect-to-customer journey for their customers. Like the concept of an iceberg, we only see the elements that occur on the properties we own (websites and customer data platforms (CDP), if we’re lucky), yet so much happens outside of our control or under the ocean. If we can get a handle on what we do see though, and make it slicker, frictionless and dare I say it, enjoyable, then we’re one step closer to controlling it.

Future-proofing marketing technology 

During planning season, there’s often a heavy reflection on how the year to date has gone, how close teams are to meeting targets and whether they’ve been set up for success. There’s also often a long hard look at the marketing technology stack and questions over performance, requirements, additions and challenges.  

In light of some of the points above, there are questions over how the technology can support a more customer-centric approach and what needs to be captured to enable this to happen. In addition, when it comes to data, there are rationalisation points, better configuration requirements and rethinking of processes – all of which challenge most marketing teams (who sit there with their head in their hands saying ‘I just want to do great marketing work’).  

Replatforming and re-engineering

Along with future-proofing comes the question of replatforming. Most people don’t want to do it, and usually, the only times we see this is when there is a merger and therefore two competing platforms in play – data needs to be merged, costs reduced and processes aligned. The process isn’t fun, but necessary – and it’s slow and complex. Whilst that errs on the negative, it also brings opportunity – the rethink of structure and design, and a refocus on customer process. So when replatforming, you need the insight, data and an understanding of the customer journey to restructure processes and align data effectively.

Big (complex) leaps forward

The last two points are like changing the engine whilst the plane is still in flight. It’s no easy task, particularly since the pressure to deliver into the sales engine never stops. With all of this comes change and a process of careful management – it’s not a fast fix, yet many senior marketers underestimate what’s involved.

Overall, the questions are complex, and they get even more challenging every year but the marketing team needs answers to these questions – which is one reason they’re asking us to help shape, prioritise and work with them to deliver against these fundamental areas building out roadmaps, and future-proofing so that marketing technology is aligned with strategy and driving performance.

Want to talk about your future plans and where you’re heading?
Get in touch with us today.

Further reading

The impact of the strategic skills gap in marketing technology

When conversion tracking goes wrong, everything gets shaky

Leading change: Unpacking the Forrester B2B Summit, North America