Engagement, Innovation Are Keys for B2B Marketers

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To build their B2B businesses, marketing leaders need to create engagement across the full customer life cycle, Forrester Research recommends in a new report.

The need for engagement, particularly through digital means, became more necessary than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated all but a few face-to-face meetings throughout most of 2020 and 2021, and it continues to be important in today’s hybrid environment, according to Forrester.

“Demand marketers created meaningful engagement with late-stage prospects via digital executive events to accelerate deals,” says Lori Wizdo, Forrester vice president and principal analyst and lead author of the report. “Suddenly, distant teams learned to collaborate, create, and invent without a conference room or whiteboard. Marketing leaders have learned that in a volatile and uncertain world, continuous innovation is essential.”

B2B marketers tend to think their innovation practices are more advanced than they truly are, Wizdo adds. While 68 percent of marketers surveyed thought they were advanced in terms of innovation, only 4 percent really were, the research firm says. Similarly, only 6 percent thought they were innovation beginners, but Forrester puts the figure at 72 percent. Interestingly, 25 percent of respondents said they were in the intermediate level for innovation, a number which was close to the actual percentage (24 percent) found by Forrester.

It’s important for marketing efforts to reach the advanced innovation stage, according to Forrester. Innovation, it says, correlates with results, as advanced firms grew faster than beginners and intermediates.

Forrester identifies the following key differences between advanced firms and the rest of the pack:

  • Seventy-two percent of B2B marketing decision makers at advanced firms reported revenue growth of 10 percent during the most recent fiscal year. That was more than 1.5 times higher than nearly half (46 percent) of intermediate companies and twice that of a full third of beginners.
  • The contribution of marketing to revenue at advanced firms is 20 percent higher than at intermediate firms and 50 percent higher than at beginner organizations.
  • Marketing is more strategic at advanced firms. Nearly all (98 percent) of B2B marketing decision makers said all functions within their companies involve marketing when setting strategy related to customers. Only 15 percent of marketers at beginner firms agreed.
  • Innovation leaders prioritize customer problems over promoting products.
  • Advanced innovators reported specific metrics that demonstrate marketing’s impact on overall business. More than half (55 percent) of beginners did the same. Measurements for advanced innovators include goals and governance, not just simple metrics. Additionally, advanced innovator companies said their marketing teams and policies align around shared goals.

To build competency in innovation, Forrester recommends that companies examine their strategies, structures, processes, measurement techniques, and technology to ensure they are all aligned for innovation.

The first step is to make innovation part of everyone’s job, according to Wizdo. Doing so will help keep good ideas alive until they are adopted.

The innovation culture should include play as well as work to help relieve some of the stress that B2B marketers feel. Wizdo recommends that companies ensure people have time to brainstorm with others and “accept that some portion of your budget and time will not result in a positive ROI.”

Marketing leaders should also give innovation teams space to bring opportunities to life. Wizdo recommends “meetingless Mondays” to help marketing teams further consider ideas they had over the weekend without the interruption of a meeting.

And finally, change and innovation should be introduced cautiously, Wizdo advises. “Establish short- and long-term goals so that team members and other stakeholders can support the pace of change. Keep a constant program of communication and engagement in play to facilitate your transformation to an innovation engine.” 

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