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The state of B2B marketing: a review of Funnel 2012

Funnel 2012 at Emirates Stadium

 

We had a great day at FUNNEL, the Econsultancy event that’s all about the new B2B revenue dynamics. So we thought we’d summarise it for the lazy bastards that couldn’t be bothered to get out of the office and make their way up to Emirates Stadium — home of the mighty, mighty Gunners*.

[Just so you know, Velocity helped create Funnel and we still help promote it. But I won't let that colour my report. Promise.]

What I like about events like Funnel is that they’re a microcosm of the entire marketplace in a single room: the buyers, the vendors, partners, competitors, analysts, bloggers, editors, newbies and old pros. As such, it’s a great snapshot of the state of the market today. Here’s what I saw:

 

Big takeaways

Lead Nurturing is ‘crossing the chasm’ as you read this

A year ago, most of the audience needed to be told what marketing automation was. This year, that level of knowledge was assumed and a lot of the sessions included real-world cases of marketing automation and lead nurturing in action.

We heard about some pretty sophisticated lead nurturing processes from the likes of Rackspace, Hubspot and Marketo. Plus a great case study about our work with Canonical (we’ll be sharing this soon).

This stuff is bedding down. You can’t ignore it any more.

 

Marketing Automation is at the peak of the hype cycle

Gartner’s Hype Cycle describes the phases that new technologies tend to go through on their way from launch to mainstream adoption (we wrote a piece about how tech marketers should market through each stage in case you’re interested).

It looks kind of like this:

Gartner’s Hype Cycle

Today, marketing automation seems to be near the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hugely powerful (it is); it just means people expect far more from it than any technology can deliver. In this case, people seem to expect marketing automation software to jump out of the box and happily generate leads without human intervention (“Go on, then: automate my marketing.”).

That means the dreaded ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ is near, when people run around saying, “Hey! I bought it and it didn’t generate any leads!”.

If it all goes to plan, marketing automation will bounce back from this and take its place as a foundation platform for just about every B2B marketing department.  Until then, expect some serious whining.

(CRM went through all this ten years ago. “Hey! I plugged it in and it hasn’t managed my customer relationships!”. But Gartner’s model proved true and today we all drink the Salesforce KoolAid with gusto.)

 

Culture change is the elephant in the conference room

This issue emerged from almost every session: the new revenue dynamics (content marketing, automation, nurturing, social, analytics) all add up to a significant change in culture for most B2B marketing departments and sales departments.

The companies achieving success seem to be the ones that recognise the scale of the culture change and manage it actively — instead of just hoping everyone comes along for the exciting new ride.

Change is scary. Big change is big-time scary. The winners will be the ones who best manage change.

 

Chaos is giving way to consensus

You might think that ‘chaos’ is too strong a word for what’s been going on in B2B marketing over the last few years. I don’t. Marketers have had a HUGE amount to take on board in a very short time. We’ve all know that something big has been trying to emerge (the very thing our B2B Marketing Manifesto tried to capture). But we weren’t sure exactly what.

My experiences at Funnel made me feel that all the different scenarios and world views are starting to converge on a single strategic vision and it’s built on a few simple premises:

  • The buyer controls the buying process
  • Content earns you a shot at early engagement
  • Content also helps lead buyers along towards a sale
  • But you need different content for different buyers and different stages
  • And a mix of outbound and inbound tactics to get that content into the right hands
  • Sales and marketing need to be aligned: in goals, language, metrics and view of the entire funnel
  • Lead nurturing is way better than throwing every contact over to sales
  • Automation makes nurturing possible
  • Analytics and testing are the only way to know you’re getting it right

A lot of the Funnel sessions were different spins of these core ideas. But it’s the accumulation of all the different perspectives on these ideas that made the day so valuable.

 

But some of us are way ahead of others

If you’re a B2B marketer, rest assured: your peers are scattered across all points on the Big Learning Curve. We saw everything from absolute beginners to really sophisticated marketers who are 2-3 years into the new model.

Rackspace – with their Cloud and SMB offers – are way ahead of the pack. But even they are still experimenting and learning every day. Their big advantage: they’ve already started and they’re capturing that learning by measuring everything they and their prospects do.

The big action point here is: get going. Don’t let plans prevent action. Aim roughly at the target and fire. You can adjust your aim – or change weapons – with your next shot.

 

The geeks have inherited the budget

It’s starting to sink in. If you’re going to get really good at lead nurturing and personalisation and drip campaigns, you’re going to need a geek on your team. Someone who can set up custom reports in Google Analytics and design campaign flows in Marketo (or whatever MA tool you’re using). Someone whose idea of a good time is to squeeze a juicy new insight out of an otherwise mute mass of data.

Kieran Flanagan at Marketo is just such a dude. And his session showed everyone in the room the power of a highly motivated marketing geek high on data crack.

 

Alignment is the new frontier

Everyone talks about sales/marketing alignment but very few people understand exactly what it looks like and why it’s so important.  Bob Apollo of the sales improvement consultancy Inflexion Point (or #BobApillo as I called him in my many tweets during his session. D’oh!) gave a fantastic presentation all about the value of alignment and the practical steps you can take improve yours. It’s worth stalking Bob and asking for the slides.  Better still, buy him a coffee and pick his brain clean.

Liz Smyth of Marketo also covered Sales/Marketing Alignment but I missed that session – if past experience is a guide, it will be worth tracking down.

The upshot: an aligned sales & marketing team operates at double the efficiency and effectiveness of an un-aligned one. And has more fun, too.

 

Arsenal take really, really good care of their pitch

As we moved from session to session, we all got a great view of the ridiculously pampered Arsenal pitch (rolling grow lights, be-slippered attendants, computer-controlled sprinklers).  If you think footballers are overpaid, you should see how much TV money goes into the bloody turf.)

 

The bottom line

These are exciting times for anyone in B2B.  If you have even the faintest hope that you might be able to eke out the next few years doing what you’ve always done, let it go now.

Dive into your funnel. Take a good, hard look. Then roll up your sleeves.

BTW

  • Check out the FUNNEL12 Storystream here (Storystream is a very cool app for actively curating feeds into a coherent flow — in this case tweets and pics from Funnel).
  • Oh, and the dashboard on TweetArchivist shows that the leading tweeter of the day was none other than… me. (My thumbs were killing me by the last session).
  • If you’re a paid Econsultancy member, you can also download the presentations from all four streams. If you’re not a member… why the hell not?

 

 

* Mightiness not currently in evidence. Watch this space.

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