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Our next disruptor is emerging for many reasons, from the availability of data, to the capabilities of digital commerce, even due to changes in the habits of buyers themselves. For perhaps the first time, marketing is in the driver’s seat in terms of defining, leading and managing the B2B customer experience. From using pricing transparency as a lead generation tool to using data for creating rules-based, technology-enabled pricing mechanisms, the marketing departments at many B2B organizations are growing both in size and influence. The need to build what many call “digital trust” is taking marketing out of the back office, and into the limelight.

Forrester reported, in a study this year, that “B2B marketing is shifting from supplying leads to the load-bearing sales force to architecting engagement across the customer life cycle.” Obviously eCommerce has created a situation where less of the buying cycle is steered by sales, or by expensive pricing and quoting departments. As more of the functions move online, manufacturers need to focus their efforts on creating much stronger marketing departments in 2018.

Part of this disruption is due to the schedules of actual buyers themselves. For many years the primary knowledge about the customer resided in the heads of the sales team. As CRM’s began to be implemented, more of that data was captured but sales still drove most of the cycle. But the days of meeting with customers in person, much less treating them to “team” lunches are disappearing. The same need for efficiency on the part of the manufacturer, combined with the desire of the customer for self-service, is driving a new paradigm where sales is enabling the process, not defining it.

The need for a sales force that can handle complex or larger ticket sales is still a requirement for success. Much like channel partners, however, sales needs to focus their value added activities on supporting the buying cycle, not owning it. In return, the marketing in manufacturing team has to be able to hand over much more qualified leads. That may include new customers being nurtured from an initial online sale that meet the characteristics of newly developed target personas. Both sides of the marketing and sales equation need to provide strong value to the organization within the context of a connected commerce environment that combines online and offline processes.

Building that engine is not an easy task, but it begins by building a bridge between sales and marketing and the rest of the enterprise. As the customer experience becomes more automated, sales is still required to manage many aspects of a complex buying cycle. Without a strong relationship with marketing, this cannot happen effectively.

Insite Software’s Vice President of Marketing and Customer Experience, Karie Daudt, remarked that “In order to meet the challenge of this unique disruptor, manufacturers must understand the importance of having a strong marketing engine that meets all the needs of a connected commerce environment.”

A strong marketing engine includes many different components. It often means creating a more efficient sales funnel through the use of account-based marketing techniques. Perhaps marketing technology can be implemented that introduces sophisticated lead generation tools to capture potential and new customers online, qualify them, and deliver them to sales. Content marketing and even social selling can provide further value in the process. Finally, tools that provide integration with enterprise systems can update key information for marketing both during the planning process, and for sales out in the field.

Determining the right investment in marketing depends on the factors that deliver ROI within a manufacturing organization, and those factors may vary. The overall way to manage this disruptor, however, is to give marketing in manufacturing its dues in 2018.