Clarifying the New Priorities of Next-Generation B2B Marketing

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(This article originally appeared in April on CMS Wire.)

B2B marketing is ever-changing, but I know this for sure: No one cares about sales and marketing alignment, demand waterfalls, or digital transformation anymore. Account-based marketing is just good marketing, and organizations that are winning are promoting a fail-fast culture brought on by experimentation with data and technology.  

As marketing leaders, we are living in the surrealistic aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve evolved. For more than 18 months, we were flung into an all-digital ocean and the water was colder for some than for others. As we emerge, we’re toting a tectonic shift in B2B Marketing priorities. 

Gleaning Insights Over Gathering Data

“Water, Water, Everywhere, Nor Any a Drop to Drink!” Samuel Taylor Coleridge used this line in the famous poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to describe a sailor marooned at sea. It also describes the amount of data and information being delivered to marketing leaders by their technology and tools. 

The problem is exacerbated by the term “data-driven marketing” which has taken up residence in the minds of many, yet lacks any clear definition. If data-driven marketing is the ideal, then shouldn’t more data mean better marketing? 


The availability of insights has trumped the need for data in marketing. Marketers are looking to simplify programs and leverage data to gather a few key insights:

  • Are accounts in market or out of market?
  • What channels perform best for our audience?
  • Does our message resonate with its audience?

Marketers are designing programs around simplified insights, and keeping laser-focused on remaining audience-centric and relevant. They are deprioritizing (or ignoring) data sources that don’t answer these questions. 

Managing Change 

Marketing requires an equal balance of strategic vision and agility. Just ask a field marketer in 2020. The volatility of social and market climates requires constant change, and that change needs to be managed in a qualitative and quantitative way.  First, the introduction of technology, process, tools, and people can erode morale and create uncertainty. 

“A modern marketing organization needs to do a lot of different things. (It) needs to be creative and (it) needs to be data scientists. You need technology, people, you need all these skills. In a way a marketing department is almost like a mini company within itself. And it’s really hard to go from, not having any of that infrastructure to suddenly having it.” – George Scotti, Vice President of Marketing, Lexia Learning

Marketing leaders need to be expert communicators of their vision: to colleagues, to employees, to customers. Successful marketing leaders prioritize leadership, and better demonstrate their ability to build consensus, motivate, and shepherd change throughout their teams. 

Second, a change management initiative can’t be considered successful unless new behaviors are adopted by a team. According to change management leader Sheila Cox, “Organizational change management ensures that the new processes resulting from a project are actually adopted by the people who are affected.” (“What is change management? A guide to organizational transformation.”)

Marketing leaders need to establish behavioral metrics to see whether or not adoption is happening. Additionally, if incentive programs are present, they need to be tightly aligned to the desired behavior change, and not remain linked to past processes or ideologies. 

Bridging the Gap Between Strategy and Activation

In chemistry, activation is defined as, “the process of making a substance chemically or catalytically active.” In marketing, activation is the process of bringing a strategy to market through programs and activities. However, there can be many barriers to activation that leave strategies unrealized and put marketers on the reactive.  Among them:

  • Lack of a truly cross-functional campaign planning process that incorporates the perspectives of all required stakeholders
  • Lack of accountability to the data, technology, and skills requirements of the activation and measurement
  • Under communicating the strategic vision and the short-term, medium-term, and long-term measures of success
  • Siloed marketing functions that have little-to-no visibility into each others’ roles, contributions, or success metrics
  • Skipping steps for special circumstances – 80% of marketing activities should be aligned to a campaign plan, leaving 20% capacity for unexpected needs that arise. If an organization is seeing more reactivity than proactivity, then it will continuously fall short on activating a campaign strategy. 

Marketing leaders have put a renewed focus on balancing strategy and agility, and ensuring that no planning exercise gets stuck on the “virtual shelf” by bridging the gap between strategy and activation.

Breaking Down Barriers Between Demand and Media

Tough love time.

The buying and selling process is a digital-first motion with more digital touchpoints than ever before. According to Forrester Research in 2021, the average number of buyer digital touchpoints had increased from 15 to nearly 25 for each purchase decision.  If the media budget and the demand creation budget are managed separately, by separate teams – then the marketing isn’t integrated, and the programs aren’t “omnichannel.”

The age-old separation between demand and media persists today, at the expense (literally and figuratively!) of a high-performing marketing function. The divide forces marketing to be focused on stop-start campaigns that are measured by impressions and clicks. The silos of marketing specialists result in millions of dollars spent on near-sighted metrics that ignore the overall impact that marketing could be having on its audience. 

Today’s high performing B2B marketing teams understand that the buyer is always-on, and they leverage paid, owned, and earned media as well as inbound and outbound demand creation in unison to build trust and engagement. Media is an integral tactic, woven into the marketing strategy as a component of a cross-functional planning process. In doing so, they maximize their media and marketing investments. Both are aligned to shared metrics and in service of the same result: to help and engage prospects along their unique buying journey. 

So, what now?

In future articles, I’ll be unpacking each of these four priorities and providing guidance on how you can begin (or continue) to evolve your own marketing teams in line with the next-gen priorities of top B2B marketing performers. Stay tuned!