B2B marketers can become skeptical of new business trends.  It’s due to the fact that many phenomena — like content marketing and social media promotion — impact B2C markets well before they affect B2B.  It’s just the nature of the beast.

Letting Other Firms Take First-Mover Risks Is Often a Wise Business Strategy.

If you are like many B2B organizations, your company culture isn’t built to jump into brand new blue ocean markets and take new-to-the-world product risks.  And that’s okay.  

Companies can and do succeed by letting other companies make the bold moves first.  They wait a little bit and use market feedback to perfect second-mover offerings.  

These companies don’t ignore trends; they just make sure they don’t move too fast on them and end up like a skier that leaned too far forward too fast and ended up flopping.  

Four Trends To Consider While Avoiding Going Too Fast

The following trends are affecting how B2B marketers should be thinking about their 4P’s of strategy: product (e.g., what to sell), place (where to sell), promotion (how to generate leads), and price (how/how much to charge.)  

Each trend is emerging in B2B markets, meaning there is a risk of moving too fast — or too slow.  Therefore, we offer advice for your 2022-23 plans that will position you to capitalize without over-investing.

Product Trend:  What To Do If You Aren’t Ready To Invest in Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI helps B2B businesses analyze reams of data and predict customer behavior.  The technology is extremely helpful in creating or enhancing needs-satisfying products, and in streamlining customer service interactions.

AI is here to stay, but your company may not have invested heavily in it yet.  How do you compete, especially if competitors have access to these powerful tools?

Advice: Needs-based segmentation and your current CRM system may allow you to gain many of AI’s benefits in 2022 before you have access to AI technology.  

Yes, AI helps marketers intelligently and efficiently scan data to predict customer behavior, and offer relevant and helpful recommendations to individual consumers. Fortunately, these are the same benefits that needs-based segmentation can deliver.  

Needs-based segmentation provides clues as to why your customers do what they do.  This helps you predict their future behavior and make relevant recommendations. 

The problem is that most marketers are utilizing behavior-based segmentation approaches  — or no segmentation approach at all.  

Your 2022 plan could include creating a needs-based approach and then utilizing your CRM system to note each account’s segment.   Our website has lots of resources to help you figure out the details of doing this.

Analyzing similarities between same-segment accounts  — and differences between segments — will provide some of the insights that AI will uncover when you have full access to the technology.  Consider it a “lower-tech”  way to get AI’s benefits now.   

Place Trend:  Preparing For, Instead of Joining, Platforms 

Platforms provide underlying technologies that multiple suppliers can use to build their own businesses. Amazon is one of the original platforms. According to Digital Commerce 360, the number of vertical B2B marketplaces and platforms has more than tripled in the past 24 months. 

For consumer product marketers, the “should we or shouldn’t we sell on platforms” discussion has been part of planning discussions for some time now.  True to form, it’s just now coming onto the radar screen of B2Bs.

We believe that platform selling is likely in your future.  Check out my Forbes article to understand the power of high-volume platforms.  

Advice:  Use 2022 to prepare a thoughtful platform strategy — that may include a decision to selectively participate or forego platform selling altogether.

Not all companies will choose to sell on platforms.  It will come down to whether the marketplaces in your industry will evolve into the high volume/low marketing cost opportunities like Amazon provides — including to a growing number of B2Bs.

In 2022, your assignment is to study the relevant platforms and try to predict whether some are — or will be — attractive.   If you do play on platforms in the future, it’s likely that you will need to develop a unique value proposition that differentiates it from what your current sales force is selling.  My Forbes article goes into further detail on this topic.

Promotion Trend:  Don’t Go Seller-Free — Do Develop More Down-Funnel Content

The following comes from an article in Global Trade –   “As the amount of millennials in decision-making roles has grown, so has the number of buyers who want a seller-free experience. Less personal and direct approaches to marketing may become more popular among B2B marketers as a result.”

Your traditional sales force isn’t going to become obsolete in 2022.   But, as millennials and even younger generations occupy more B2B buying roles, you will notice something that may already be occurring.  Lead conversions will diminish if you don’t have content that moves prospects further down the sales funnel  — beyond awareness to interest, desire, and action.

Advice:  In 2022, commit to developing content that helps buyers keep you in their consideration set as they narrow their choices – but without the hard sell.

You’ve likely spent lots of time the last few years generating content for your products and services that educates but doesn’t oversell.  This was — and is — necessary to demonstrate your company’s expertise and empathy for buyers’ needs.  Done well, this type of content generates leads.

But younger buyers want to continue their buying journey without direct selling pressure.  Is your next-level content — the stuff that causes leads to keep you in the mix as they narrow the companies in their consideration set — doing the job?

Spend some resources this year improving content that goes beyond customer education but stops short of the hard sell.  Articulate how customers should evaluate providers in your industry. 

For example, think about pieces like “Three Things You Should Demand From Your ______(insert your product/service/industry here)  Provider.”   Notice how this topic is not an interest-inducing  lead generator, nor a “why you should choose us” hard sell.  Measure the impact this kind of content has on your sales funnel and keep going until you improve results.

Not only will this move you closer to a seller-free sales capability  — this strategy  will make your current sales force  happy due to the warmer nature of the leads.   

Pricing Trend:  Prepare Pricing Rules for Dynamic Pricing Tools

About 50% of B2B companies have tools to price dynamically, enabling quick reactions to supply and demand changes.  But what if you are in the other half that doesn’t yet have these tools?

Don’t despair.  Even executives in companies with dynamic pricing tools agree that:  “…digital technology and advanced analytics can’t replace good pricing skills.”  Automation applied to bad processes just speeds up failure.  

So as you wait for your eventual access to dynamic pricing tools, use the time wisely.

Advice:  In 2022, get your value-based pricing strategy in order.

B2B marketers play a somewhat varied — but always important — role in the pricing strategy process.  At a minimum, they should be helping the organization quantify the value being delivered to customers and compare it to current prices.

While they are at it, marketers can also help the organization define the customer characteristics that should dictate pricing flexibility, rather than relying on the squeaky wheel rule.  

This is the kind of activity that often gets pushed aside when B2B companies buy shiny new technologies.   But it’s this kind of discipline that underpins the successful utilization of dynamic pricing tools anyway.  Why not get started now?

If you are already using AI and dynamic pricing tools, and/or are already selling on B2B platforms and facilitating seller-free sales experiences, you probably stopped reading this long ago.  But for the majority of B2B marketers who work in fast-follower companies, these trends are just coming into view.

Take the most relevant advice in this article and spend 5-20% of your time putting things in place.  Not only will you be ready when the actual trend can be fully capitalized on in your firm.  You’ll also find that all of these strategies will improve your results right away.  

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