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New Approaches To Automating B2B Marketing Debated By Industry Thought Leaders

Last week Bulldog Solutions hosted a webcast, "The State of Demand Generation 2012: Trends and Guidance,” hosted by Bulldog Solutions. The webcast, which featured three expert panelists, who also contributed to a recent DemandGen special report on this topic, examined several of the most important challenges and opportunities facing B2B marketers.

One area where the panelists differed involved the importance of persona-driven versus account-driven approaches to B2B marketing. "One of the biggest obstacles we face is that we don't pay enough attention to the fact that we sell to companies and not individuals," noted Jason Stewart, Director of Marketing at Demandbase. "B2B techniques of one-to-one marketing are sort of encroaching into our B2B space" – a trend, he noted, that leads to marketers "neglecting the top of the funnel" as they lean too heavily upon tools that profile and target individual buyers.

According to panelist Carlos Hidalgo, CEO of The Annuitas Group, however, "personas apply at every stage of the funnel and every stage of the process, from the minute you say hello all the way down to the close. We can't forsake the top of the funnel but I think, from a marketing perspective, every stage of the funnel is vitally important.” He continued, “It's a dynamic ongoing process, and the more you learn about your buyer, the more you learn about your customer, you want to be able to apply those at every stage [of the marketing process.]"

Terry Flaherty, VP of Marketing at Bulldog Solutions, noted that the growing amount of data available to B2B marketers represents a mixed blessing. "I have more data about my prospects and my customers than I ever had before," he said. "The big challenge I have is I probably have that data coming from five different tools, so it's really hard to get a comprehensive understanding of what's going on. So we're seeing companies moving to more centralized warehouses where business intelligence and marketing intelligence data is really becoming important."

Over time, however, Stewart said he believes that the marketing automation vendors themselves are stepping up and tackling many of the problems marketers face implementing their technology. "You'll notice that the marketing automation companies that are really excelling right now are the ones who are taking that process and planning into account during the selling cycle," he said.

"There is a much lower incidence of the failed marketing automation implementation than there was in the past because it's a subscription-based business and I think the vendors really needed to step up their games."

Automating Chaos?

What does it take to succeed as a B2B marketer today? Many organizations think it's all about putting the right technology into place – and many of them turn out to be mistaken.

Hidalgo noted that B2B marketing organizations often fall prey to "this myth that all I have to do is buy this technology and all of a sudden my problems will be solved." The problem, Hildalgo said, is that too many organizations assume technology will fix underlying problems with their marketing strategy or processes.

"Automation is going to do what it says – it's going to automate, and it will automate what is there," Hidalgo stated. "And if you have nothing, if you have chaos, it's just going to exacerbate that problem even more."

Stewart also offered guidance on how marketers can address this dilemma. "How does the CMO avoid the silver bullet trap associated with these new technologies? That's easy – people," he said. "Without the resources to interpret this data and to figure out what we can actually do with it, we're going to be caught in the hamster wheel doing the same thing again and again and again."

In addition to focusing on people, however, the panelists said that marketers need to ensure that they have the right processes in place to take advantage of marketing automation technologies. "If your underlying process isn't aligned and if you don't have good collaboration between sales and marketing, especially at the handoff stages, then all of this great technology really goes to waste,"

Flaherty also noted that B2B marketers may also implement marketing automation without actually knowing what they want to get from the technology. "One of the challenges we see is that people really don't articulate and define what their goals are, and they don't put their goals into the context of how they impact others in the organization."

Click here to download The State of Demand Generation 2012 report.