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Covid: One year on 5 Apr 2021 - 3 min read

In B2B marketing, ‘connection’ has ursurped cashflow; brand investment reweighted over lower funnel sales activation

By Prue Cox, Director, Marketing Solutions Enterprise ANZ - LinkedIn

An average of 6.8 people are now involved in a business buying decision and buyers spend almost three times longer conducting independent research than engaging with company representatives. They're likely to form their own opinions before ever meeting a sales rep – and much of that is influenced by what marketing activity they encounter online, says Prue Cox.

Many B2B marketers commit themselves wholeheartedly to bottom-of-funnel sales activation. Perhaps the most significant change is how more marketers are now shifting from a pure demand focus to a heavier weightage on brand.

Prue Cox, Director, Marketing Solutions Enterprise ANZ, LinkedIn

From cashflow to social selling to connection

Cash is king, or so people like to say. There’s truth it in, of course. Cashflow is the lifeline of any business, especially one in survival mode. But is it an enabler of long-term, sustainable business success? I’d argue not.

The events of 2020 have shone the spotlight on another candidate for the throne; one that has been in the line for quite some time. It used to go by the moniker of “Social Selling”, but as the pandemic raged on, it took on more duties and wider responsibilities. Now, we know it as “Connection”

For the most of 2020, marketers took their events 100% online. We saw 6.3 million people attending online events on LinkedIn alone.

Prue Cox, Director, Marketing Solutions Enterprise ANZ, LinkedIn

Buyers are distracted

The importance of Connection is now more pronounced than ever and it’s not only because we have fewer avenues and opportunities to make connections. In the B2B marketing space, the convergence of several trends is complicating the situation:

  1. An average of 6.8 people are now involved in the buying decision – that’s a lot of people to engage
  2. Buyers spend almost 3x more time conducting independent research than engaging with sales reps (Gartner). They're likely to form their own opinions before ever meeting a sales rep – and much of that is influenced by what marketing activity they encounter online.
  3. The typical sales cycle runs at least six months, if not longer, which translates into more customer touchpoints to manage along the way.

To put it plainly, the challenge for marketers is: How do we effectively engage the entire buying committee, even when they’re not actively reaching out to us, over an extended period of time? That’s where connections come in. 

 

New B2B world of rational and emotional

In an environment where budgets are being scrutinised, it’s fair to assume that buyers are under pressure to justify their spending. Proving the value and ROI of your solution has always been important but now, it’s mission critical. The rational marketing connection is finding your solution that fits a client or prospect outcomes.

Historically, many B2B marketers commit themselves wholeheartedly to bottom-of-funnel sales activation. But perhaps the most significant change that we have observed since the start of the pandemic is how more and more marketers are now shifting from a pure demand focus to a heavier weightage on brand.

These marketers are investing in customer trust through empathy and support — a significant brand differentiator in a period of disruption. But what they’re also doing is smartly playing the long game. It’s smart because they entered the playing field at a time when their competitors were pulling out, and therefore share of mind suddenly became more accessible. And while brand building can generate some short-term sales, the real value of brand is how it generates demand over the long run, impacting future sales.

 

B2B brand investment 2.2x bigger than activation alone 

In fact, our research with the IPA, Les Binet and Peter Field shows that when allowed to compound over time, brand effects last longer and create 2.2x greater impact on the business than activation alone. This also puts marketers in a much stronger position to reintroduce demand marketing when appropriate — our platform data suggests that audiences exposed to both brand and demand messages are 6x more likely to convert. 

A great example of this is Adobe’s ‘Brand to demand’ approach on LinkedIn which for their activity specifically, demonstrated that consumers who saw brand content before demand were 76% more likely to convert.

Sales and marketing teams getting closer

In September 2020, LinkedIn and Edelman conducted a pulse survey. A third of the business leaders surveyed said that their sales teams are asking marketing to help them deal with new challenges due to customer engagement barriers. Whether they need new door-openers or air cover, it’s clear the rules of customer engagement have changed and continue to change.

Take events, for example. For the most part of 2020, marketers took their events 100% online. We saw 6.3 million people attending online events on LinkedIn alone. As the Covid-19 situation improves, in-person events will certainly return with a vengeance, but it’s likely to take a new, hybrid form.

Furthermore, as I draw on the lessons from the past year, I expect to see more marketers focusing on creating consistent customer touchpoints to engage different segments of the buying committee, rather than placing all bets on a single tentpole event. One size doesn’t fit all, at least not anymore.

 

The most important connection of all 

As a society, we’ve lost a lot to the pandemic. It crept up from behind and threatened to take away the human connections we inherently need — but we didn’t conform. We got creative about how we live and work, and accepted compromises along the way in order to protect what is important to us.

Moving forward, change will be a constant challenge in all our personal and professional lives. We can help support one another by being human and staying connected.

Connection is the people’s king.

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