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The Top Four Challenges Plaguing B2B Marketers in the Digital Age

  • - Pieter De Temmerman
  • 6 min read

Compared to their B2C brethren, B2B marketers have historically lacked scalable solutions that enable them to unlock the value of their first-party data and leverage third-party data to power their marketing initiatives. Furthermore, navigating B2B data and measurement is complex and comes with unique nuances, such as finding the right data at scale globally, creating custom audiences, and measuring impact at the account level.

eMarketer forecasts B2B digital spend will top $6 billion in the U.S. alone in 2019. As B2B ad spend and media mix increases, the unique set of challenges that B2B marketers face has been amplified. The first step is to detail these challenges at length and help paint a picture of what needs to be overcome in order for B2B marketers to successfully run campaigns at scale globally. 

Challenge #1: Scale

For most B2B marketers, scale is an issue that surfaces in a number of different ways. 

First and foremost, onboarding first-party audiences using traditional services results in audiences lacking the scale needed to run a digital campaign. This is due to two common factors. One, most B2B audiences start out much smaller than their consumer counterparts, typically by one or more orders of magnitude. Two, most onboarding services available are designed for onboarding consumer audiences resulting in very low offline-to-online match rates. By leveraging specific data onboarding solutions, higher match rates can be achieved, unlocking more of the power of your CRM data for use in digital marketing. 

Secondly, the issue of scale also impacts third-party B2B audiences which typically have significantly less reach (and frequently less variety as well) compared to third-party consumer audiences. For example, if you are selling an enterprise solution, your audience might be in the thousands to hundreds of thousands, while a brand selling smartphones to consumers potentially has upwards of tens of millions of prospective customers.

As a last point on scale, many B2B marketers are still finding limited data products and services available outside the U.S., and certainly outside the English-speaking world. This is true despite the fact that many companies see their biggest growth opportunities in Asian markets and have significant marketing and sales goals in global markets. A growing number of third-party B2B data sellers are starting to offer solutions with accurate and scalable audiences across worldwide markets.

B2B marketers need to utilize both first- and third-party data and leverage B2B specific solutions to reach target B2B audiences at scale worldwide.

Challenge #2: Fragmentation

B2B marketers face a challenge in compiling account-level and individual-level data into a cohesive dataset which can be leveraged to generate actionable insights. The challenge is that this data lives in multiple platforms, which are owned by different teams (e.g. sales, marketing, data science, etc.) and have varying states of accuracy and completeness. Dun & Bradstreet and Adweek reported 32% of B2B marketers globally list siloed or inaccessible data as a problem, and 30% state incomplete data is an issue. 

Bringing this data together in a timely manner under a common identifier that allows for different datasets to be merged to expose insights in the data remains challenging. Some B2B marketers leverage newly available third-party measurement and analytics platforms to help solve the issue of fragmentation, others opt to build an in-house solution and leverage a third-party vendor to help with identity (e.g. Dun & Bradstreet’s DUNS numbers to identify accounts).

The ability to bring together known and encrypted data from a CRM system, web data, ad server data, and third party data-sets in a privacy-responsible way is one of the most effective, yet challenging, ways for B2B marketers to understand how current and prospective customers are engaging with them and provide valuable insights into how the marketing and sales cycle can be optimized. Solving the issue of fragmentation and leveraging the resulting insights is one of the most valuable areas a B2B marketer can invest in. This also clears the path for holistic measurement, which we’ll talk about next.

Challenge #3: Measurement

Measuring the impact of advertising spend on sales activity may very well be one of the most challenging but important activities in B2B marketing. B2B measurement is made significantly more complex by buying cycles up to 18 months long, fragmented data, and purchase decisions made by buying committees that average roughly seven influencers and decision makers, with some purchases including many more. 

Campaign objectives can vary dramatically, including awareness campaigns, whitepaper downloads, event registrations, and helping opportunities move to the next stage of the buying journey.

Traditional consumer measurement techniques, which tend to focus on individual or household behavior, don’t work well in this instance. B2B measurement needs to resolve data from multiple channels to a specific account and provide metrics aggregated at the account level to reveal insights about the impact of marketing on the buying committee.

Newer account-based measurement solutions solve this problem by tying together disparate actions taken by professionals across media campaigns, website activity, CRM, other sales and marketing platforms, and third-party data (such as intent data) back to a named account. These solutions provide insights to optimize B2B campaigns (such as which channels and creatives are having the highest impact), providing sales with more qualified leads and insights useful for moving the conversation, and an omnichannel view of ROI.

Challenge #4: Data expertise

Data is complex and, as discussed in the first challenge, many organizations lack access to the data at scale needed to drive marketing success, and the expertise to derive the most value from the data they do have. As mentioned above, first-party data is often fragmented among different platforms and various teams within a company, and one team may not even know that useful data resides elsewhere in the organization. The first step is to break down internal barriers so that all parts of an organization have access to the full range of relevant first-party data. 

But first-party data alone is not enough to drive success. For example, your CRM may not include all the members of a buying committee, or all the companies that should be on your prospects list. Third-party data fills this gap by providing audiences that include your relevant prospects, based on professional attributes like title or role, company-level attributes like technographics (the hardware, software, and cloud services a company uses), B2B intent data, or account-based marketing (ABM) audiences.

Once you have access to the right data, you need to have the right expertise to truly unlock its potential. Lack of data expertise is listed as a major obstacle by 30% of global B2B marketers to succeeding with data-driven marketing. Having a trusted partner with data expertise can help B2B marketers navigate the complexities of data and measurement. When looking to add bench strength in data expertise, especially from an outside partner or resource, make sure they meet the following criteria:

  •     Take a consultative approach to understanding goals
  •     Advise on data strategy and provide expertise on targeting, measurement, analytics, and personalization
  •     Have a deep understanding of the third-party data ecosystem as well as the many platforms where data can then be leveraged
  •     Have a global mindset and understanding of the offerings in your target markets worldwide
  •     Have a deep understanding of global privacy regulations and ethical data practices

Accurate and actionable data provides savvy B2B marketers with a competitive edge, but its power is still largely untapped due to the hurdles of data unification, scale, and first- and third-party data access. As B2B marketers continue to grow their digital ad spend, they will need to effectively leverage first- and third-party data and measure their marketing impact at the account level to continue to reach the right audiences, drive nurture and conversion, decrease costs, and increase prospect and customer satisfaction.

This article first appeared in Mar Tech Series. View the original article here.