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  • 14 B2B Trends for 2020: Future Forecasts You Should Know

14 B2B Trends for 2020: Future Forecasts You Should Know

Category: B2B News

Marketers and business professionals generally see B2B and B2C industries to have a wide gap between them. However, this gap is getting smaller. B2B companies are now looking for ways to make customer experiences as engaging as those of their B2C counterparts. Thus, the general direction that B2B trends tend to move towards is digital transformation. Yes, even chemical companies are now optimizing digital touchpoints to aid user journeys.

So, in this article, we will discuss current B2B trends that can affect your company in the coming years in light of these fundamental differences. Most will have something to do with digital adoption and user experience. Thus, these are trends B2B eCommerce professionals should not miss.

B2B trends 2020

In a B2B Trends McKinsey report, top B2B companies combine both human and digital interactions into one hybrid customer journey. One company improved sales productivity by 5 to 7% after augmenting face-to-face processes with digital tools. Furthermore, companies with the best digital capabilities generated an 18% total return to shareholders and even reduced their costs by 40 to 60%. Making hybrid processes can truly help companies. However, prudence requires us to tread carefully when jumping into this trend.

Experts warn us that digital transformation is not easy. This is because many companies don’t achieve the digitization results they want. In fact, 70% fall short of their potential as they became lost in transition. Some blame this on management behavior. They cite this as one major cause of 1/3 of unsuccessful digitization programs. Thus, digitization is not as simple as others may think. It involves leadership and, basically, the whole organization.

Importance of Digital Capabilities

1. Digital Gap in B2B: Digital Readiness

As mentioned, people see B2B and B2C businesses as separate things. Sure, there are similarities which we will discuss but the differences are more fundamental. For example, B2B buying and selling can be more complex. B2B organizations require more people to make decisions when it comes to purchases. Furthermore, decisions are usually made by experts in their fields who may or may not be the end-users of such products. They may not be the ones to use it in the company itself. On the other hand, B2C buyers are more intimate with the products they purchase. Thus, this creates a different dynamic.

There are four dimensions that McKinsey and Company reported to make up what it called the Digital Quotient in both the B2B and B2C industries. This measure looks into key digital characteristics required to improve financial performance. They found that strong scores across the four dimensions correlate strongly with higher margins and even shareholder returns.

Four Dimensions of Digital Adoption: Digital Quotient in B2B vs B2C

These four dimensions are (1) strategy, (2) culture, (3) organization, and (4) capabilities. We’ll quickly discuss them below, including some points where the B2B industry still needs to do more work to catch up. Also, we’ll identify some possible reasons for lagging.

Strategy: Lagging Behind

Most B2B companies lag behind their B2C counterparts when it comes to using digital tools and data to inform their strategy. Also, most of the time, they treat the overall strategy and digital strategy as  different. They put them in silos. However, this should not be the case. The digital strategy’s goal is to augment the overall strategy of the company. Furthermore, the overall strategy of the company that is blind to the digital factors in the industry and market will not be very useful.

The report stated that only 10% of B2B companies see digital as one of their top three investment priorities. Thus, they implement digital strategies in a fragmented manner across the enterprise.

Moreover, there are less than 24% of executives who understand how digital tech disrupts their industries. Additionally, only 6% of B2B companies have a mobile strategy. Compare this to the 30% of B2C companies and you’ll definitely notice B2B is lagging.

Culture: A Big Gap Between Leaders and Laggards

The researchers found that there is no great lag behind B2C counterparts when it comes to culture. However, there remains a big gap between digitization leaders and laggards in the B2B industry itself.

Fewer than 15% of companies adopted a test-and-learn approach to new digital business initiatives. This indicates that the majority are highly rigid organizations when it comes to tech adoption. Also, for about a third of B2B companies, they found that it takes more than a year to employ a new digital idea. These may be due to the scale of the implementation.

However, many large B2C enterprises have done so. There must be internal cultural factors at play intrinsic to B2B businesses. However, as the “consumerization” of B2B continues, experts believe that the pressure will get to leaders somehow to triple their efforts. This includes a cultural change within organizations.

Organization: Communication Problems

The average Digital Quotient (DQ) score for organizational maturity for B2B companies was 27. On the other hand, B2C companies score an average of 35. This indicates a struggle for the former to push for digital initiatives.

Communication is part of the problem. Only 25% of companies state that leadership is clear about digital strategy, roles, and ownership of such strategies.

Maybe, it is the sheer size of B2B companies or just the difference in the personnel makeup. B2C companies, in general, can have more customer service representatives or customer-centric job positions. On the other hand, B2B companies can largely be comprised of people on the technical side of things (e.g. engineers, technicians, equipment operators, etc.).

But this is not to say that B2C companies do not have these positions. However, digitization may just not be of prime interest among the personnel holding these positions in the B2B industry. Thus, a change of mindset is in order for many of our B2B organizations.

Capabilities: Lack of Skills

Arguably, B2B companies are not susceptible to quick changes in the market. Many B2B companies have fewer incentives to advertise on mass media before compared to B2C companies. They tend to be on the farther end of the supply side whose products and services are relatively safe from quick fluctuations of end-user demands and preferences.

Thus, this explains why B2B companies are behind the B2C sector in using data and advanced analytics. They don’t just historically have the organizational interest to do so; and, they did not develop the capabilities to easily adopt. Moreover, this can even explain why they are less likely to use digital platforms like marketing automation tools. In case you are not familiar with this tech, be sure to check out our guide on what is marketing automation software.

Additionally, B2B companies are more likely to use digital automation in their internal processes rather than customer-facing ones. Therefore, they are missing out on one crucial side of the business–if not the most crucial one.

Key Takeaways

  • B2B companies are less likely to use data and advanced analytics tools than B2C counterparts. When they do, it is mostly for internal processes rather than customer-facing ones.
  • The B2B buying and selling processes are more complex than B2C ones. This is why it is counterintuitive and questionable for B2B firms to be averse to using advanced analytics.
  • Leaders in the B2B sector need to educate their organizations and peers about the boon that comes with proper digitization. Communication is largely fuzzy in digitization programs. Thus, leaders must make sure that digital strategy is incorporated with the overall strategy of the firm.

2. B2B Buyer Preferences

Individual customer relationships are valuable for B2B companies. Each client relationship is worth millions of dollars for large enterprises as McKinsey and Company pointed out. Thus, B2B companies need to understand how to guide customer journeys better with the help of digital tools.

However, it is not all the time that B2B customers want to use digital tools. Instead, they want to use them in respective times in their respective user journeys.

A whopping 76% of B2B buyers find it helpful to speak to someone in person or on the phone when they want to purchase a completely new product or service. Unsurprisingly, 52% of buyers want to speak with someone when they are in the process of buying a previously purchased offering but with a different set of specifications. Only 15% want to speak in person when they want to buy the same service or product. Lastly, only 4% of buyers prefer to always communicate digitally.

Thus, when designing the support you are providing for your customers’ journey, you need to take into account such preferences. Of course, it is better if you do the survey yourself to have a set of policies tailormade to your very own customers. It is safe to assume that customer preferences change from industry to industry, market to market, and firm to firm. Thus, it is best to conduct your own customer surveys.

When B2B Buyers Want to Speak with Someone

76%

Completely new product or service

52%

Previously purchased product or service but with different specifications

15%

Same product or service as before

4%

Never--always prefer digital

Source: McKinsey and Company

Designed by

Key Takeaways

  • There is such a thing as “too much contact”. B2B buyers prefer a balance between in-person/phone calls and digital contact.
  • Every industry, market, or firm can have different sets of buyer preferences. Thus, it is a good idea to run customer surveys to find out.
  • Customer relationships in B2B setups can be worth millions individually. Thus, B2B companies take a great deal of care to improve such relationships.

3. Retaining the Human Touch Digitally

Another one of the B2B trends marketing professionals shouldn’t ignore is that 46% of buyers would purchase from a supplier’s website when given the option; and if the service was efficient. This is a great opportunity as there is only 10% of B2B buyers who purchase online. B2B businesses should capitalize on this. However, this is only just a part of more general trends eCommerce sellers should consider.

Firstly, B2B buyers have their online B2C buying experiences as well. Their expectations from their B2C experiences have spilled over to the former. Now, whether it is online or offline, B2B buyers want an immediate response. They want to find and use information effortlessly.

However, these expectations are not met.

46% of survey respondents representing B2B Buyers reported that they find it difficult to compare products online. Furthermore, they find it very dissatisfying that they cannot complete repeat orders easily on many sites. Also, slow response times frustrate them.

These and other reasons contribute to the fact that 30% of industrial tech buyers prefer to buy from distributors rather than manufacturers. As most of the time, the manufacturers take more time to respond to queries than distributors.

The challenge here is to bring superb customer relationship skills that B2B representatives provide online and support them digitally. Below are some tools that top companies use.

Customer-Facing Tools

Leading B2B companies employ comparison engines to help buyers with their purchasing decisions. This enables buyers to easily access information and compare company offerings. Furthermore, reliable click-to-chat support platforms can also help in providing digital “in-person” support to help speed up conversion. Many experts suggest that a hybrid chat is key here.

A hybrid chat is one that uses AI to suggest things for a representative to approve. This reduces response time and the representative can just take over any time personalization is needed.

Also, marketers mix in other tools such as popular mobile marketing tools to make texting an option. According to our list of SMS marketing data, sectors that take full advantage of texting include airlines, aerospace, & defense, business support & logistics, construction, machinery & homes, and the automotive industry.

Support Your Experts

Account managers of today are required to be experts. Thus, you must take full advantage of digital tools to help them share this expertise to your customers. As McKinsey and Company experts rightly state, human conversation facilitates and drives customization while digital tools bring quick visualizations and specifications. Neither work without the other.

This doesn’t just mean digital touchpoints like live chat or others. This pertains more to apps and the like that account managers use when they meet with their prospects.

For example, you can arm your account managers with digital apps on tablets like a product configurator. In this way, they will have an easier time configuring their sales proposals for products or services according to the client’s needs. Plus, it increases client engagement as well.

This tactic was tested and used by a medical products company. When they employed it, they found surgeon satisfaction increased by 10%. Sales increased by 12% as well. Furthermore, surgeons rate the rep’s expertise 30% better than the control group armed with just brochures and PowerPoint.

As shown by the discussion and example, buyers seem to prefer a good mix of analog and digital techniques. Thus, B2B companies must consider making hybrids to ease the customer journey. We will discuss more of this in the next section.

Key Takeaways

  • Buyers prefer a mix of digital and analog touchpoints. Thus, companies must design a hybrid experience to address these preferences.
  • B2B buyers also think like B2C buyers. Thus, many positive customer experiences from the latter have influenced their B2B buying preferences. Mostly, these aspects include the human touch. Expressing this digitally is a challenge. However, B2B businesses need only to translate their superb offline relationship management skills into a hybrid endeavor augmented by digital tools.
  • There are many customer-facing tools that B2B businesses can invest in such as live chat tools and mobile marketing platforms to bring experts closer to customers whenever they are needed.

4. UX or Customer Experience: The Six Journeys

As mentioned, companies must create hybrid protocols involving analog and digital interactions to support customer experiences. This goes in line with the current buzz surrounding the UX design trend. UX stands for user experience. This is defined as something that:

“…encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

Therefore, if you want to design UX, you need not only think about the user interface of apps or your current customer service processes. It should encompass everything including every single touchpoint. You create and curate the customer’s total experience. Some experiences are quite native to the B2B industry.

McKinsey and Company identified six journeys that shape customer experience in B2B industries:

  1. Identification of products and services meeting a need
  2. Selection of supplier and making an initial purchase
  3. Co-development of products with a supplier
  4. Dealing with unexpected events
  5. Usage of the product and getting the service
  6. Reordering familiar products and services

Identification

In this journey, a customer is looking for product or service specifications that can be translated into an explicit one via sales conversation and research. It is the job of the company to make this easier for their clients. One way to do this is to provide web apps that support research and comparisons.

To wit, this is exactly what an agrochemicals company did. They developed an app that allows users to analyze soil, and to try out yield-enhancing products in a simulation. Orders increased because of this according to the McKinsey and Company report. We can draw inspiration from this.

Selection

B2B buyers choose from several suppliers the products and services they want. Many go with price first. However, they’d later find out that the service is not that efficient. They get dissatisfied and may switch suppliers.

Thus, “soft” factors play into this journey. Therefore, companies must optimize the selection process by making digital tools available to augment customer service issues.  Tools include highly-functional websites with quotation engines that make offers transparent.

Also, keep in mind that B2B buyers try to align multiple stakeholders for a choice. So, it is good to remember that you are catering to multiple people here that influence the decision-making process. Thus, digital tools aiding selection are easily accessible.

Co-Development

As mentioned, B2B companies co-develop and customize products for their clients more than their B2C counterparts. It is good to note that this process has a spectrum. Many B2B relationships can range from mere selection to a multiyear joint R&D program.

Also, it is always good to keep in mind that the B2B buyer’s primary need is a return on investment. Thus, this journey requires a sense of partnership in this way. This is applicable to a one-time purchase or regular repeat purchases.

Digital tools you can use to manage longer partnerships range from CRM platforms to project management solutions. Marketers may use these to keep in touch with prospects and have records centralized. The same with salespeople and account managers. Of course, analog interactions should be a part of your toolset too.

Dealing with Unexpected Events

Of course, there are times when your relationship with customers don’t go smoothly. Customers experience delays and product breakdowns happen from time to time. Thus, you need to be there for customers when they are in need. Remember, their biggest need is ROI and events like these directly affect it. Therefore, you need to have the right communication tools and service protocols to deal with them.

Usage (and Getting Service)

There are also expected events such as planned maintenance that customers and suppliers deal with. Many B2B companies provide remote diagnostic tools to their staff to monitor service equipment sold. This helps in preempting serious breakdowns in operations.

Also, as planned maintenance goes, suppliers need to invest in communication tools and protocols to keep clients updated on their current status. This includes upcoming sessions and visits. You can do this via notification emails or a simple text.

Again, CRM and project management solutions can help enrich this customer journey.

Reordering

This is a major concern for customers who source raw materials and components. They want this to be as hassle-free and error-free as possible. One protocol that works for this is the empowerment of sales reps to make quotes. They don’t have to go back to their price manager to stay within guidelines. This can be done using reliable sales proposal automation tools.

With this, they would be able to format sales quotes and proposals faster and within specified bounds. This cuts down the average wait time for your precious B2B clients.

UX Design Proficiency

There are ways to become more proficient at UX design. It requires a “fail fast and fail often” approach that is hard for B2B companies with a conventional outlook to adopt. In fact, the fail fast platitude is often misunderstood. However, when rightly applied, UX design teams can benefit from it. What it essentially tells you to do is to execute rapid prototype creation and testing.

For example, you create a prototype p for a service protocol. You test this together with your conventional protocol and see which is better and find more points to optimize. Testing can happen in small groups of three to five respondents. When you have gathered pain points and addressed them, you then create an improved prototype p1 that incorporates improvements from your last testing. You do this over and over again until you find the right solution.

Of course, this is easier said than done and we couldn’t cover this in the article. However, you can read up on it in this UX toolkit proposing a human-centric approach.

Also, you can take a look at these relevant website and UX design data to gain further insights about it.

Key Takeaways

  • There are six customer journeys that B2B companies need to support using hybrid interactions and policies. These include both analog interactions and digital interactions.
  • UX or user experience is sometimes equated with customer experience. Furthermore, both refer to the totality of subjective experience that a customer has from all brand touchpoints. These should be curated in a way that customers execute the desired actions of your business.
  • The most important need of B2B customers is ROI. Thus, you should have a partnership with them from co-developing products to helping them properly maintain assets they procured from you.

5. The Shift to Agile

In a perfect world, business leaders create well-defined strategies and policies that subordinates can follow straight to success. All employees have to do is get with the program and everything will be well. It’s almost a need to know basis and each cog in the machine just needs to function according to what’s set in the handbook.

However, it is not a perfect world by any sort of measure. Teams run into unexpected obstacles big and small. Thus, this “waterfall” or top-down approach can be a liability when working in an uncertain environment. It simply couldn’t change course as quickly as it is required by certain circumstances.

Therefore, business professionals have been warming up to the Agile approach. You can read all about this in our article about what is agile project management. Roughly, this approach works via small increments over time. These are increments or efforts that slowly and surely lead to small victories.

And, there is really no end when it comes to business. It is a constant evolutionary struggle to keep “physical integrity” and thrive. Also, the ability to course-correct effectively, just like in biology, is an adaptive skill par excellence. This is what being Agile is about.

Moreover, Agile is highly related to UX design as discussed in the previous section. It values rapid testing and efficient course-correction even at an early onset. Basically, it takes inputs from end-users, system developers (managers), and employees. Its leanness is its greatest advantage. Thus, it is trending even in the B2B industry today.

A Good Starting Point for Agile

In this year’s 13th Annual State of Agile Report, data revealed that 51% of companies have adopted Agile to increase productivity. 34% adopted Agile to increase team morale and 28% wanted to reduce risk. Moreover, 41% adopted the approach to reduce costs.

Additionally, 50% went with the Agile approach to improve business/IT alignment. This, is likely, the best way for many B2B companies to start with their Agile efforts.

Remember, for B2B companies, technology adoption is slow. They don’t only lag behind B2C counterparts but they also miss out on the benefits that digitization provides. There is a mix of reasons for this. Sometimes the company culture doesn’t permit quicker adoption of new workflows. Also, the company’s organization can also be rigid. These causes are based on mindsets more than anything. And Agile is nothing but a mindset; an outlook if you will.

Thus, traditional top-down waterfall mindsets can be changed to be more agile.

One way to do this is to imitate what a diversified industrial-goods manufacturer has done successfully. They did not treat a litany of required changes to be one big block for a waterfall program to address. These changes, by the way, included organizational structures, IT needs, training needs, and brand new mind-sets.

What they did was choose a C-suite-level program owner and make one person responsible for each change. This became a “portfolio of initiatives” with various project owners. It became more Agile and addressed remaining uncertainties and roadblocks to organizational change incrementally.

Just like them, you can create small teams and progress in small increments. You distribute project ownership and give your employees stakes in their assignments. It gives them more room for creativity and responsibility; not just tasks, jobs, and requirements.

Also, if you want to manage agile teams, you can use Agile-friendly project management platforms.

Key Takeaways

  • Agile differs from traditional waterfall outlooks as it values small incremental progress using small loose and interconnected teams. It values an iterated test-and-learn approach to developing policies, products, and systems.
  • Companies adopt Agile not only to boost productivity but also to increase team morale and reduce costs.
  • There are project management solutions that cater to professionals subscribing to the Agile approach.

6. User Portals and Knowledge Bases

Remember that B2B buyers don’t want to interact all the time with a person. So, what you can do to help your customers find relevant information themselves is through the creation of self-service portals and knowledge bases. According to Vanilla, a self-service community a portal has the following components:

  • FAQ
  • Online Community
  • Ticketing Service
  • Getting Started Guide
  • How-To Videos
  • User Manuals
  • Help Documentation
  • A Search Function (to find answers quickly and easily)

One of the benefits of self-service portals is that they allow you to quickly give support (in a somewhat passive way) to your customers. Moreover, these lets you to lower your operational costs if you leverage customer support best practices. Many times, people find it annoying to talk to another person for a simple answer. That’s why Google is doing really good. We can just Google things and voila!

Thus, if you want your customers to find easy help online. You have to make sure to answer their questions there and make your self-service portals searchable. To wit, you should also focus on SEO.

73% of customers want to solve product or service issues on their own. This includes customizing products or service packages not just technical issues. Of course, self-service portals and knowledge bases can help out with this.

Also, another way to help them with this is to start using chatbots for online customer service like other companies.  This can work well together with self-service portals. Again, hybrid chat can add a personalized touch to this customer service aspect.

Key Takeaways

  • 73% of customers want to resolve product and service issues on their own. Many find in-person and phone-call interactions annoying and a waste of time. Thus, companies should provide self-service portals as support.
  • There are many types of media that you can use to provide relevant information. You can post user manuals and even add how-to videos.
  • As you want to connect your customers to relevant information, you should also optimize your content for SEO. Having an easy-to-use self-service portal available can reduce your customer support costs as well.

7. Analytics, AI, and Machine Learning

As mentioned earlier, B2B businesses are quite slower than their B2C counterparts in adopting advanced analytics tools. However, more and more B2B companies are investing in such tools nowadays. In 2018, 30% of B2B marketers used AI. This was an increase of 6 percentage points form 2017. Moreover, 50% of B2B marketers measure success and ROI using marketing analytics.

However, there are still challenges.

35% of B2B marketers report that they have challenges in creating a cohesive customer journey across different channels and devices. Company websites are now revenue streams. Social media accounts are also widely used for advertising. Businesses need a single view of everything that happens in their business scope.

There are no tools more apt for this than analytics, AI, and machine learning. All three are quite similar. However, there are fundamental distinctions. We’ll roughly describe them below.

Analytics is using digital tools to find patterns, assess data, and come up with solutions. AI is the simulation of human intelligence useful for personalization and product recommendations. Think chatbots and recommendation engines. Also, these AI systems can learn through machine learning where systems are trained to solve particular tasks through making their own inferences. Humans study how they do it and trust their inferential decisions to run complex systems such as search engines.

All of these will be used more and more to augment data gathering and decision making by businesses in the future. This is why there’s now an increasing number of vendors that provide business intelligence tools for small businesses and large corporations alike.

Moreover, it is important to stop lagging on this trend if you are. So, you better keep up with relevant business intelligence facts.

Benefits Companies Get from Using Analytics

Improved efficiency and productivity

%

Faster, more effective decision-making

%

Better financial performance

%

Competitive advantage

%

Improved customer experiences

%

Improved customer acquisition and retention

%

Identification and creation of new revenue streams

%

Source: microstrategy.com

Designed by

Key Takeaways

  • 50% of B2B marketers use analytics to measure ROI and success. This trend is likely to blow up in the coming years as more businesses would be pressured to make more data-driven decisions.
  • B2B businesses, 35% of them, struggle to create a “single view” for disparate marketing channels and business processes. Analytics and intelligence tools can help them create a real-time working picture they can trust.
  • Many business intelligence tools are perfect for small and large businesses alike. Many of them are free as well.

8. Factoring in Millennials and Gen Zers

Millennials and Gen Zers are coming into the fold. Many of them are digital natives. Many expect to be handed digital tools at work in B2B companies or as B2B buyers in other companies. Come to think of it, it may be the influx of new generational cohorts that could drive digitization faster. Thus, more and more B2B firms need to adjust and maybe even adopt an omnichannel approach to dealing with the incoming waves.

Omnichannel Approach and Personalization

As Lenati notes, Millennials have shifted the buying journey. They don’t want to be sold to. They want to buy on their terms. And, they want to buy across different marketing channels. They want personalization wherever they may be; on social media, email, or in-person. This is why it is important to adopt an omnichannel approach to dealing with clients and marketing in general.

What omnichannel does is incorporate all channels into a single hub where you don’t lose the context of every issue with every client. It doesn’t matter if your first touchpoint was a face-to-face conversation or Twitter. You and customer service representatives should have notes handy and handle every case in the appropriate context. There shouldn’t be any trouble with this even when switching mediums.

We must consider that Millennials are part of the technology purchasing processes. 73% of Millennials provide input while 34% are the decision-makers. Here are their general expectations:

  • They expect sellers of products and services to tailor their engagement to their individual needs. This means personalization.
  • Millennials are comfortable when using a broader variety of channels, devices, and technologies. Also, they expect a consistent experience throughout.
  • Immediate real-time communication is a huge preference for Millennials. Moreover, they prefer self-service and self-discovery both before and after purchasing.

Millennials have shifted the B2B industry into more like a B2C one. Customer success is paramount and customer success managers need to understand that they are today’s loyalty marketers as Lenati pointed out.

They need to make brand relationships deeper and turn customers into brand advocates. Moreover, they should take the role of advisors and should be available on whatever channel from SMS to chatbots.

Gen Zers as Consumers and Businessmen (Plus, Their Advocacies)

Gen Zers are 55% more likely to go into business than Millennials. Also, by 2026, there will be 82 million Gen Zers. They’d also have a purchasing power of around $44 billion to $200 billion. That said, Gen Zers are poised to be needle movers in the industries that they go into; both as employees and customers. They too have similarities with Millennials. Here are a few of them:

  • They like to give their business to companies that interact with them meaningfully
  • Gen Zers want to do business with companies who give to charities or sponsor events they like
  • Also, they are open to communicating face to face and even on social media beyond Facebook

Moreover, they are prone to social causes (not that it is a bad thing or their fault). It’s just part of the larger context they are in. Also, maybe this is a good thing.

Gen Zers were born around the time of 9/11. Also, they are immersed in a time where public and social discourse on social media is prevalent everywhere. Thus, Gen Zers are exposed to social advocacies at a very young age.

This can later mean that they want to do business with companies that put social good and environmental good first before profits. 39% of the generation feel that one measure of success is giving time and money to charity. Moreover, 20% of Gen Zers plan to start charities in the future.

When they go into business, we should expect them to carry on with their preferences. We can expect the same things when they choose to work for a company. Thus, we must keep up with the news and trends about these two generations. They’re coming in fast and hot.

Key Takeaways

  • Both Gen Zers and Millennials want personalization and meaningful interactions with companies. Also, they want fast real-time responses.
  • Both generations are arguably digital natives, thus B2B workplaces and customer journeys are likely to be designed to cater to such preferences in the future. Digitization could become faster as they come into the fold.
  • They tend to support advocacies and companies that see eye to eye with them in social and environmental issues. These will likely factor in when it comes to B2B purchases or choosing a place to work.

9. Performance Marketing

Performance marketing is not just a buzzword. It has always been around. The discipline grew from the tradition of giving out a finder’s fee for sales and from the popularity of affiliate networks. However, it is a broader term with bigger implications. Firstly, it maintains that marketers should only pay for results–for desired outcomes like clicks, lead generation, and sales. Performance marketers don’t like paying upfront to agencies or publishers to get things done. They pay for results and this is something that’s very enticing to business people nowadays.

If you don’t know what is performance marketing, here’s a definition of the term by the Performance Marketing Association (PMA):

“Performance Marketing is a comprehensive term that refers to online marketing and advertising programs in which advertisers (a.k.a., “retailers” or “merchants”) pay marketing companies (a.k.a, “affiliates” or “publishers”) when a specific action is completed; such as a sale, lead or click.”

In essence, both merchants and publishers share revenue for their particular investments. The merchants create products that meet some end-user needs. On the other hand, publishers promote the product and redirect prospects to the merchant via some affiliate link for some desired action. The desired actions could be sales, sign-ups, views, and whatnot. It is only when these desired outcomes are met that publishers get paid. Thus, it is safer for the merchant in principle.

A Note on Some Pros and Cons of Performance Marketing

Many have adopted this approach because you just pay for results. It shares the risks of creating campaigns with publishers. Also, merchants are happy to just tap into a sea of publishers vying to help them sell their products. There isn’t a downside to it when viewed this way. As such, performance marketing is predicted to grow at a 10% CAGR by 2020.

Furthermore, it has been reported that 62% of brand and enterprise marketing budgets went towards performance marketing. Moreover, performance marketers are almost ubiquitous in marketing land. They are mainstream now with 31% working for marketing platforms, 25% working for agencies, and the same amount with brands. Also, 16% of performance marketers are working for networks.

Thus, there is a rosy outlook for performance marketing. There is almost nothing wrong with adopting this approach. However, there may be some scenarios that can be problematic. We can’t discuss them all here.

One of them is when publishers do well enough to sell products in a single campaign that it is now less expensive to have hired them with an upfront payment and retainer free than going performance marketing. When this happens, brands often terminate their campaigns and just go back to good old sponsored content or plugs.

It is different for every firm. Thus, you need to create a marketing mix that incorporates performance marketing into your operations. You know best when it comes to the nuances of your company and market.

Ways to Get Started on Performance Marketing

If you want to join this trend, you should consider Affiliate Networks such as ShareASale and Clickbank. You will find many publishers there that are willing to give your products a go. Moreover, there are performance marketing-related B2B trends social media marketers should consider as well: influencer marketing and native advertising.

Using a social media monitoring platform, you can track down influencers on various social media networks. These are persons and accounts that pull in engagement. You can reach out with these personalities and give them affiliate links to your products. In this way, they can promote you in a highly personalized way for their very own niches. A B2B company selling SaaS to build websites has been known to market its services via affiliate links. The influencers they choose vary from those in the educational niche as well as those of stand up comedians.

Additionally, you can also go with native advertising. You can sponsor content by giving out free products and services to publishers. Then, publishers can review your product honestly and redirect viewers or readers to their special affiliate links. They can do this via video, short posts, or long post articles. The challenge is finding the right influencers and performance partners.

Key Takeaways

  • Performance marketing is trending among marketers. Its pay for results scheme sounds safe and enticing. The greatest challenge though is to find the right performance partnerships and influencers for your products or services.
  • You can start searching for the right partners through affiliate networks. In there, you’ll find a sea of publishers and affiliate marketers ready to give your brand exposure in their particular niches.
  • Performance marketing can help you increase your advertising reach and diversify your revenue streams. However, be careful when a partner is doing awfully good. Maybe, you share revenue so much with them that you’d do better with a retainer setup. Of course, if you are loyal to your partners, maybe you can find a way to still make it a win-win scenario.

 

10. Getting on Amazon

Amazon is bound to get more sellers in the near future. Feedvisor predicts that 72% of brands will be on the eCommerce giant in the next 5 years. This is not surprising as 44% of companies that sell on the platform get more than half of their eCommerce sales there. Furthermore, around 80% of B2B buyers in the US use Amazon to research and buy B2B products. It is the biggest B2B marketplace in the world.

What’s great about Amazon is that it is a user-centric company. In fact, Jeff Bezos stated that  Amazon is obsessed with their customers. This includes B2B companies.

Thus, it has created a self-service portal for business sellers called Seller Central. On there you can promote your products, sell, and even sign up for the famous Amazon FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon).

There are many ways that you can be a part of the “Amazon family”. You can either be a first-party seller where your products are getting stored, tracked, and shipped by Amazon. Or, you can go for a third-party seller setup where you sell your items yourself. Of course, you can continue managing inventory and deliver yourself, have Amazon handle it, or have a third-party fulfillment service. Thirdly, you can go for a hybrid approach where you choose which products you let Amazon fully handle and which ones you sell third-party.

The lesson is to just get on Amazon as it is a premier marketplace.

You will be losing out on sales and other opportunities such as advertising. If you don’t have an idea about the scale of the company, take a look at this compilation of data on Amazon to get you up to speed.

Key Takeaways

  • About 80% of B2B buyers research and purchase their products on Amazon.
  • Amazon is about to incur an influx of sellers. Thus, you don’t want to enter the marketplace when it is saturated. You want to get in a little earlier, grow some roots and familiarize yourself with the processes and opportunities.
  • There are three ways to go about selling on Amazon: 1st party, 3rd party, and going hybrid. There isn’t a single recipe for Amazon selling success. However, if you want to retain some control, you can start off being a 3rd-party seller, work your way up to a hybrid setup, then maybe go full 1st-party if you see the need.

11. AR and VR

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are very exciting technologies that are popular in the B2C world. Think about games and even marketing stunts. However, these immersive technologies are also making their way to the B2B world. This can let you conduct construction site tours and interactive marketing presentations. Also, consider its applications in architecture and design. Users are now able to simulate complex structures and see them in 3D before actually creating physical prototypes. Just imagine the savings this technology can bring.

Companies like Pepsi have used AR to create promotional stunts. These stunts drive engagement and further conversations. Moreover, AR apps can help companies showcase products or experiences digitally. In the B2C realm, cosmetics companies allow prospects to “try out” products such as makeup and lipsticks before purchasing. As marketing and consumer experiences between B2B and B2C firms blend, many firms will find similar uses for AR as well.

Key Takeaways

  • Like B2C companies, B2B firms can take advantage of VR and AR in their marketing communications and presentations.
  • B2B firms can leverage AR and VR technologies for training personnel and even designing structures. Also, these can be used for site tours and other simulation projects.
  • AR and VR technologies can help cut costs as they can simulate products or designs in 3D before actually creating prototypes.

12. Marketing and Sales Alignment

In the past decade, experts have emphasized that the marketing and sales departments shouldn’t be in silos anymore. Many heeded such advice. Thus, more marketing and sales teams work together to get to know customers and provide services better. This alignment between the two departments is very apparent in digital tools that support them.

For example, many sales platforms include marketing support processes and vice versa. Support tools don’t just treat these teams as silos. Software providers understand this and incorporate this concept into their designs. Thus, we see sales, marketing, and customer service features integrated into a single platform.

Of course, there are still problems when it comes to alignment efforts. Research points out that sales teams ignore 80% of marketing leads. Much has yet to be done to improve this. Many are on their way. So, you better not lag in your marketing and sales alignment efforts.

Key Takeaways

  • Sales and marketing teams are usually treated as silos. This results in inefficiencies. Thus, a trend is forming when it comes to aligning both departments’ efforts.
  • Software providers understand that sales and marketing teams need to work together. Thus, when they design platforms, they keep this in mind and incorporate it into their product designs.
  • If marketing and sales teams can align their goals and efforts, they can increase productivity and hit better marks on KPIs. Both need to align not just in tactics but also in strategic planning.

13. Email Marketing Trends

Email designs are not changing for marketing use. With the rise of AI and machine learning, marketers leverage technologies to personalize email experiences to meet user expectations and more. Now, marketers can tailor email content at a granular level.

Moreover, many are quite enthusiastic about eCommerce directly on email. Many want to retain their logged-in status even in email for 1-click purchasing. Well, we can say this for customers but maybe even more for email marketers. However, this may not be trending yet. But, we will likely see such functionalities in the future. Surely, this is so much easier for B2B purchasing.

Marketers are dreaming of ways to offer live content in emails. Live content include real-time countdown clocks for sales and other promotions. Emails can list current inventory data as well. B2B users will find this information pretty useful.

Thus, we will likely see a push for more interactive emails that include app-like functionalities and smoother animations.

Key Takeaways

  • Marketers are looking for ways to personalize emails better. This includes 1-click purchasing for B2B orders.
  • Many feel that live content is making its way to email marketing. B2B users can take advantage of live inventory data and other reports that go straight to their emails.
  • The opportunities for AI and machine learning to optimize email experiences remain to be great. They could even help users get insights on what types of content to put out on email campaigns.

14. Podcast Marketing

Some marketers have included podcasts marketing in their radio budget. This is because podcasts have highly-targeted audiences. Well, there are podcasts about almost everything. Podcasts come in every shape and size from comedy to history; from science to marketing. Thus, it can be as laser-targeted as possible.

Of course, there are also podcasts for B2B professionals. Firms can position themselves as thought leaders in their industry by producing podcasts and having experts on. Moreover, firms that don’t have podcasts themselves can send experts to guest on other podcasts to position themselves as thought leaders as well. The possibilities for podcast marketing are many. There are native advertising and affiliate marketing deals to boot as well.

Thus, we should expect more moves from B2B firms to take advantage of podcasting. Furthermore, some can even start producing podcasts for businesses as a business. So, this trend is really worth watching.

Key Takeaways

  • Podcasts have a highly-targeted reach in various niches. Also, there are educational podcasts with business professionals as listeners. There are many opportunities to leverage these.
  • B2B businesses can create their own podcasts to position themselves as thought leaders. Others who do not have the time and resources to maintain their own podcasts can send their experts to other podcasts to establish authority and reach.
  • Moreover, the growth opportunities using podcasts as a medium is so vast that having the expertise and resources to create and maintain one is an opportunity as well. Expect people to offer podcast products as a business in the coming years.

B2B in the Future: Blurring the Lines Between B2B and B2C

Basically, what is happening now in the B2B industry is in some ways catching up to B2C. This is in terms of being customer-centric and digitizing for productivity, cost efficiency, and for the generations to come. B2B business purchasing and selling are inherently more complex today than ever. Thus, we need to augment our own mindsets and capabilities with digital tools to better understand, predict, and react to changes and uncertainties.

Slowly but surely, the B2B industry is catching up and we are likely to see a surge in technology adoption in the next five to ten years. This is especially so as Gen Zers and more Millennials will come into the workforce and become B2B buyers and employees. We are likely to see B2B customer journeys to mimic B2C journeys more. There will be hybrid touchpoints in every step of the way.

Right now, B2B professionals have a choice. To lead, follow, or lag. For more information about where the industry is headed, be sure take a look at our compilation of the latest B2B facts and figures.

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

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