Sunday, June 24, 2018

Why You Need a "Systems" Mindset to Optimize Martech

At the recent MarTech West conference in San Jose, California, Scott Brinker unveiled the new version of his famous (or perhaps infamous) marketing technology landscape supergraphic (shown above). To no one's surprise, the new graphic shows that the number of marketing technology solutions continues to grow at a breathtaking pace.

Scott's 2018 graphic includes 6,829 technology solutions from 6,242 unique vendors. The new graphic has 1,448 more solutions than the 2017 versions, which constitutes a year-over-year growth rate of 27%. But the expansion of the marketing technology space is even more dramatic when you consider the growth that's occurred over the past few years. Scott Brinker made this point in a recent blog post:  ". . . the size of the 2018 landscape is equivalent to all of the marketing tech landscapes we assembled from 2011 through 2016 added together."

With so many technologies available, the task of assembling the right combination of marketing software applications (the marketing technology stack) can easily feel overwhelming. And because technology now plays such a vital role in marketing, it's become critical that marketers get technology decisions right.

Fortunately, there's a well-established and proven process for evaluating business software applications, and there are abundant resources describing that process. For example, many providers of marketing software solutions have published "buying guides" that can help marketers navigate the software selection process.

But in addition to making sound decisions when selecting individual software applications, marketers must also focus on assembling a marketing technology stack that, as a whole, will deliver maximum results for their company. This adds a layer of complexity to the technology selection process, but using a "systems" view will help marketers design and assemble an optimal martech stack.

Think Ecosystem

Today's customers and prospects routinely use multiple communications methods and channels to interact with companies. They expect to find whatever information they want or need, whenever they want or need it, via the channel of their choice. And they increasingly expect companies to remember their interactions as they move from channel to channel. These expectations put special demands on marketing technology systems.

In order to optimize the performance of their marketing technology tools, marketers need to think of their marketing technology stack as an ecosystem of interdependent capabilities. This interdependence means that the components of the stack must be integrated at appropriate levels to produce maximum results.

Recent research has shown that many companies have more work to do to achieve the necessary level of integration. For example, in the 2018 Digital Trends study by Econsultancy (published in association with Adobe), 43% of survey respondents said their marketing technology stack is "fragmented" with "inconsistent integration between technologies."

Lack of integration has a particularly adverse impact on a company's ability to provide personalized marketing communications and customer experiences. In a recent survey by Dynamic Yield, only 24% of respondents reported having an integrated tech stack that allowed them to personalize communications and experiences across all touch points.

All of this means that marketers need to ask two critical questions when they're evaluating a new marketing software application:

  1. How will this application complement or enhance the performance of our existing marketing technology ecosystem?
  2. Can the application be easily integrated with our existing marketing technology tools?
Illustration courtesy of Scott Brinker.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

B2B Buyers Prefer to "Do-It-Themselves" - Except When They Don't

One of the major themes in B2B marketing and sales over the past decade has been the emergence of empowered and independent buyers. Numerous research studies have shown that business buyers are using the wealth of easily-accessible information to perform their own research regarding potential purchases.

Some research has also shown that many B2B buyers are delaying conversations with vendor sales reps until later in the buying process. Several years ago, for example, SiriusDecisions said that 67% of the B2B buying journey was being done digitally, and CEB reported that a typical B2B buyer was 57% through the purchasing process before he or she engaged with a potential supplier's sales rep.

The idea that B2B buyers prefer a "do-it-yourself" approach has become part of the conventional wisdom of B2B demand generation, but it has not gone unchallenged. For example, in the Altify Buyer/Seller Value Index 2016, two-thirds of surveyed buyers (67%) reported that they sought input from potential suppliers before they began evaluating solutions.

The latest insight on this issue is provided by CSO Insights' 2018 Buyer Preference Study. This study was a global survey of B2B buyers in 25 industries who are responsible for making purchases of $10,000 or more at companies with revenue of at least $250 million.

In this study, 70.2% of the survey respondents said they prefer to have a clear understanding of their needs before they talk with a sales rep. Almost half of the respondents (44.2%) said they also prefer to identify possible solutions before they engage with a sales rep. So CSO Insights did find that many B2B buyers have a strong preference for self-education in the early stages of the buying process.

This study also revealed, however, that buyers' behaviors are more nuanced than some pundits have suggested. For example, CSO Insights found that buyers are open to engaging with sales reps early in the buying process under certain circumstances. There is more interest in early engagement when a business challenge is:

  • New and unfamiliar to the buyer
  • Perceived as risky for the buyer's company
  • Perceived as risky for the individual buyer
  • Complex
These findings are consistent with the results of a recent survey of business buyers by McKinsey & Company. In the McKinsey survey, 76% of respondents said it was helpful to speak with a salesperson when they are researching a new product or service. That figure drops to 52% for repeat purchases of products with new or different specifications. And only 15% of respondents found it helpful to speak with a salesperson when they are repurchasing the exact same product or service.
So what should we glean from these research studies? One important point is that B2B buying is a complex phenomenon that cannot be adequately described by a few high-level survey statistics. As humans, we have an inherent tendency to seek simple answers to complex issues, and this often causes us to reach oversimplified and inaccurate conclusions. As Albert Einstein once said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
The most appropriate watchword for B2B buying might well be "diverse" or "varied." For one thing, not all B2B purchases have the same attributes. Some are far more complex, require significantly higher investments, and entail substantially more risks than others. It shouldn't be surprising, therefore, that a rational buyer doesn't use the same process for every purchase that he or she participates in.
In addition, not all B2B buyers are alike. They have different personalities and decision making styles, and these differences affect how they prefer to learn about business issues and possible solutions. The CSO Insights research revealed that buyers with certain decision making styles are far more likely than others to prefer engaging with a sales rep early in the buying process.
The belief that B2B buyers are self-educating and delaying conversations with sales reps has driven several profound changes in the practice of B2B demand generation. It has provided the impetus for the use of content marketing, led many companies to expand the role of marketing in the demand generation process, and been the catalyst for establishing or expanding ecommerce capabilities. Overall, these responses have been appropriate and beneficial.
But this model of buyer behavior is an oversimplified representation of reality. It is not (and never was) universally true or completely accurate. This means that B2B marketers must be prepared to help sales reps have meaningful interactions with buyers early in the buying process.

Image courtesy of Meaghan O'Malley via Flickr CC.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

New Insights on Personalization - Usage, Value, and Challenges

A few weeks ago, I published a post discussing the major findings of a survey by Dynamic Yield regarding the current state of personalization in marketing. A new study by Researchscape International (in association with Evergage) provides more valuable insights about marketers' attitudes regarding personalizaion and current personalization challenges and practices.

The 2018 Trends in Personalization study consisted of a survey of 300 marketers and other business professionals representing nineteen industries. Ninety-three percent of the respondents held marketing related positions. Most of the respondents (93%) were located in the United States, and they represented a wide range of company sizes. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents were affiliated with pure B2B or hybrid B2B/B2C organizations.

Like several other research studies, the Researchscape survey found a widespread belief in the importance of personalization. For example, 88% of the respondents believe their prospects and customers expect a personalized experience, and 74% believe that personalization has a strong or extreme impact on advancing customer relationships.

Researchscape also found that the use of personalization is widespread. Ninety-two percent of respondents said they are using personalization in some form. About three out of four respondents (77%) are personalizing emails, and about half (52%) are personalizing websites.

Most of the marketers in this survey said their company has received value from personalization. Eighty-seven percent of the respondents reported a measurable lift from personalization, and more than half (53%) said they had experienced a lift of more than 10%.

Despite the relatively widespread use of personalization and recognition of its value, many of the marketers in this study see significant room for improvement in their personalization efforts. For example:

  • While 70% of they study respondents were slightly or moderately satisfied with their level of personalization, only 12% were very or extremely satisfied, and 18% were not satisfied at all.
  • Nearly half of the respondents (46%) gave themselves a grade of "C" on their personalization efforts.
  • Over half of the respondents (52%) rated their personalization maturity level as limited, and another 33% rated their maturity level as moderate.
Having the right data is essential for effective personalization, and many of the marketers in this study see data-related issues as a major challenge. For example, more than half of the respondents (55%) do not believe they have sufficient data and insights to personalize content and messaging. 
Marketers at B2B and hybrid B2B/B2C companies appear to face greater data challenges. Fifty-eight percent of surveyed marketers in B2B companies, and 60% in hybrid B2B/B2C companies don't believe they have sufficient data and insights, compared to only 39% of respondents in pure B2C companies.
The problem is not the complete absence of data, but the lack of centralized data. Nearly half of the respondents (48%) said they store their customer and prospect data in four or more systems. This fragmentation of data may help explain why many marketers find true omnichannel personalization to be challenging. In this survey, only 27% of respondents reported having half or more of their marketing channels connected. Forty-six percent of the respondents said they have "a few" of their channels connected.
Finally, Researchscape found that B2B and hybrid B2B/B2C companies are less aggressive than pure B2C companies at adopting new personalization technologies. For example, among those respondents not currently using machine learning to support personalization, 26% of B2B respondents, and 49% of hybrid B2B/B2C respondents said they would begin using machine learning in the coming year, compared to 55% of B2C respondents.

Illustration courtesy of John Bonham via Flickr CC.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Decoding the Vital Attributes of Great Customer Experiences

Most senior business leaders understand the strategic importance of customer experience (CX). They recognize that providing great experiences has become a key means of differentiation and a primary driver of competitive advantage.

To provide great customer experiences, marketers and CX leaders must understand what specific aspects of experience their customers value most. The results of a recent study by PwC provide several valuable insights on this critical issue.

PwC's Future of Customer Experience study consisted of an online survey and in-field interviews of a representative sample of 15,000 people. Four thousand of the respondents were from the United States, and the remaining 11,000 were from 11 other countries around the globe.

The results of the PwC study are not particularly surprising. The research revealed that customers highly value speed, convenience, knowledgeable and helpful employees, and friendly service. Almost 80% of the U.S. respondents rated these factors as the most vital aspects of a great customer experience.

What I found most interesting in the PwC study is that customers still place high value on the human aspects of customer experience. Overall, 75% of the study respondents indicated they would want to interact more with a real human being as technology improves. It's not that customers don't use technology to interact with companies. They clearly do. But today's customers expect technology to work, and they don't typically notice CX technology tools unless they malfunction or otherwise disrupt the customer experience.

Providing poor human interactions is also an easy way to lose customers. PwC asked its study participants what would cause them to stop doing business with a company. The top four factors selected by respondents are listed below. Three of these factors are directly related to the quality of human interactions.

  1. Bad employee attitudes
  2. Unfriendly service
  3. Untrusted company
  4. Unknowledgeable employees
The PwC study focused on consumers, but research by other firms has shown that B2B customers share many of the same attitudes and preferences.
For example, a 2017 survey of CX leaders and influencers by Walker Information found the personalization, ease, and speed are the three core dimensions of B2B customer experience. Walker's research found that B2B customer experience professionals believe customer expectations have risen across all three of these dimensions and will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
In this survey, Walker asked participants to rate the level of customer expectations for personalization, ease, and speed at three points in time - in 2013, in 2017, and in 2020. The following table shows the percentage of respondents who said customer expectations were/will be high:

A 2017 study by KPMG Nunwood Consulting (B2B Customer Experience:  Winning in the Moments that Matter) provides more evidence regarding the importance of the human touch in B2B customer experience. This study consisted of a survey of 2,974 members of decision making units in B2B companies.
One objective of this research was to identify what "relationship management model" survey participants preferred. The clear winner was the model in which a relationship manager owns the customer relationship, and serves as the customer's primary, if not exclusive, contact.
The survey report states "[customers] frequently prefer to have one person to deal with and have them acting as their ambassador - the one person in the organisation that champions their interests and ensures that the services are provided to them in the highest standard."
Collectively, these research studies make two important points. First, many of the aspects of experience that customers value most are utilitarian - e.g.speed, ease, and convenience. And second, great B2B customer experiences still require a deft human touch

Illustration courtesy of Jeff Djevdet ( via Flickr CC.