B2B Industry Pressures Shaping the Next Decade of Agency-Client Relationships
The pressure is on. Marketing and advertising technologies – affectionately referred to as “MadTech” – are transforming the agency-client relationship as we know it. A modest 150 players back in 2011 have increased to a dizzying swarm of 3,500 companies, growing by 87% this year alone. It’s tough not to steal the spotlight with a stat sheet like that. But that’s not the whole story.
The real forces driving this change are hiding in plain sight: B2B brands and their buyers.
Think of the last time you bought a TV. How many review sites did you visit? How many friends did you call? Did you even go to a store? Marketers are confounded by the complex interplay of these interactions – how they’re influencing buying decisions, where to allocate spend and how it all ties to revenue.
Now take that journey and add 10 decision makers, 12 months, and about $200K and you have a B2B buying journey. B2C companies may be the early adopters of MadTech, but B2B companies will need to perfect its use. Keeping this in mind (and that 58% of US brands will review their agencies in the next 12 months), agencies must drop B2C preconceptions and grasp B2B complexities. It’s the only way to help your B2B clients drive results – and position your agency for the future.
Buyers: Quicker, More Confident Decisions
The B2B buying decision is lengthy and complex, but it’s not by choice. Business audiences, influenced by their consumer experiences, want buying experiences that enable quicker and more confident decisions. So why haven’t marketers made their offerings easier to buy?
While it’s widely known that 74% of buyers do more than half their research online before making a purchase, what’s still elusive is what each individual online and offline interaction says about the account as a whole. Combine this data with the individuals on B2B buying committees, and you have a real mess.
"In the near future, competitive edge and success will not be based on just having access to the right data. It will be those who are best able to stitch together data from the various sources effectively who will be in the best position to succeed," says Anudit Vikram, Dun & Bradstreet’s SVP of Advanced Marketing Solutions.
Right now, marketers are still in their infancy in finding the right balance of online and offline data for highly informed audience definition.
Digital connectivity will continue to make information access simpler for audiences, but will also create scads of touchpoints for marketers to manage and interpret. This creates a tantalizing opportunity for agencies: Help marketers create a seamless buying experience across online and offline interactions, and you’ll attract B2B clients.
B2B Brands: Stronger Business Results
We’re in the decade of the CMO. Marketers are tasked with more responsibility to drive organizational growth than ever before. This year, B2B marketing and advertising budgets will increase by 5% to $161 billion, with digital making up 52% of it. It’s no wonder B2B marketers are laser-focused on driving results.
Case in point: the rise of Account Based Marketing (ABM). In fact, 71% of marketers rate ABM as one of their most important revenue-generating strategies. “For the most part, ABM is what sellers have been doing for years – focusing their energies on the accounts that show the greatest promise. Data and technology now allow B2B marketers to align with sales and execute ABM at scale. Since they are increasingly measured on revenue impact, they’re more incentivized to drive higher-quality leads through the pipeline. But they need to be able to prove their efforts through attribution,” says Sean Crowley, Director of Product Marketing at Dun & Bradstreet.
Google Trends graph of the search term "Account Based Marketing" shows the recent spike in interest for ABM in the market.
Agencies must lift barriers to attribution by being fully transparent about the data used, tactics executed and metrics tracked. 90% of the top 200 US advertising brands are looking for agencies that can create a relevant strategy and deliver business results. Firms that can’t, risk losing business to sophisticated B2B brands that will bring functions like programmatic advertising in-house to gain more visibility and control.
MadTech Companies: A Single Customer View
While MadTech helps marketers reach audiences at scale, it’s growing in configuration complexity. The combination of AdTech, Content Management, Web Analytics, Marketing Automation, CRM and Business Intelligence systems are creating both data and team-based silos for marketers who aren’t executing a robust master data management (MDM) strategy.
The marketing "growth engine" aligned to technologies that comprise the MadTech stack.
For this reason, tech solutions are becoming increasingly integrated and modular. Based on research from Luma Partners, Q1 of 2016 saw 72 merger and acquisition events in MadTech—the second-highest quarter since 2015. Once these platforms are combined with maturing predictive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities, tech players will inch closer to providing marketers with a single customer view for intelligent decision making.
But this is much easier said than done, and marketers can’t afford to wait. It’s time for media-buying agencies to add strategic MadTech stack consulting to their service menus. It’s not too early to start acquiring tech-savvy talent.
What’s Next for Agencies?
While new technologies grab our attention, we shouldn’t lose sight of the broader relationship between B2B brands and their buyers. With intensified scrutiny on marketing to drive results, brands need ways to reach their audiences more effectively. Therefore, agencies must develop a deeper understanding of the complexities of the B2B buying journey and how data and technology fit into that picture. Those who do will steal the spotlight from MadTech by driving business results for their clients.