New ways B2B marketers use technology to enhance customer engagement

Kenneth Alan Grossberg (Waseda University, Tokyo, USA)

Strategy & Leadership

ISSN: 1087-8572

Article publication date: 19 January 2015



Grossberg, K.A. (2015), "New ways B2B marketers use technology to enhance customer engagement", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 43 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

New ways B2B marketers use technology to enhance customer engagement

Article Type: Conference reports From: Strategy & Leadership, Volume 43, Issue 1

Kenneth Alan Grossberg

Kenneth Alan Grossberg is Professor of Marketing and Strategy and Director of the Waseda Marketing Forum, Waseda University, Tokyo ( and a contributing editor of Strategy & Leadership.

The 2014 B2B Marketing Forum in Boston, MA in October was abuzz with one word – engagement. Whether the topic was content marketing, lead development or other aspects of marketing automation, every speaker linked it to the idea of commanding the attention of a company’s target audience and keeping customers in thrall to a company’s product, service or content. The payoff for strategic marketers: the conference showcased a host of new analytic tools for sorting data to manage engagement.

For example, some companies, like Marketo, have been notably successful in utilizing big data analysis and the ever more sophisticated software tools to build a powerful franchise in the business-to-business marketing world. Even those companies that employ dashboards and other software as a service (SaaS) tools often use them in concert with Marketo’s software or other lead-generating products to generate sales leads. As an example, Panasonic’s marketing team is transforming itself to become the steward of the customer journey and is utilizing the Marketo engagement marketing platform to gain insight into the online behavior of prospects as a means to build personalized, long-term relationships.

Data fragmentation

But there is a price to be paid for the craving for ever more data. The more data we have the messier becomes the picture, as Danah Boyd, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, pointed out in her keynote address “Privacy, Ethics, and Social Media: Understanding What You Think You See.” We are moving inexorably towards a world of networks, and we keep looking for meaningful correlations between the data points they generate. And because it is hard to know the right questions to ask, we try to cluster the data, which as a result gets reinforced and compounded, but not necessarily correctly, insists Boyd. She stated what should be the dirty underbelly of B2B and indeed, consumer marketing as well: marketing is shifting to a data world that is hard to make sense of. Despite our predictive analytics, we are creating an increasingly fragmented universe of things to count and understand.

According to Jon Miller, VP Marketing and Co-Founder of Marketo, one of the heavy hitters in this field, marketing automation should be based on four activities – understanding, managing, orchestrating and measuring. First of all, you must understand your customers’ behaviors, affinities and context. Second, you must manage the coordination and planning of marketing activities across your organization’s teams. Third, you need to orchestrate personalized interactions in a continuous and directed way, based on what your customers do. And fourth, you should measure and maximize the impact of your marketing investments across all channels.

The customer life-cycle

Miller’s views are supported by another member of the same panel, which was called “The Present & Future of Marketing Automation Platforms.” John Stetic, Group Vice President, Products at Oracle Marketing Cloud, when asked how does one connect across the entire customer lifecycle, offered the following five important points: 1) Content is king; 2) True cross channel coverage is necessary, because email has expanded to mobile and other platforms; 3) Obtain data from everywhere in your company in order to create actionable customer profiles; 4) Make data-driven decisions using predictive analytics; and 5) Utilize an open platform, which means integrating other parties and your own systems into your marketing ecosystem.

On that same panel, Atri Chattergee, CMO at Act-On Software, urged marketers to move beyond customer acquisition in their use of marketing automation, in order to facilitate the customer lifecycle task. He recommended that we need to get more prescriptive and not just predictive in order to get better insights about our customers and explore to learn which metrics really matter.

Marketing automation drives revenue

When it came time to give specific examples of how marketing automation (MA) can be applied more effectively, Jon Miller mentioned Sungard, which had turned MA from a cost center into a revenue driver by identifying measurable key metrics and increasing their alignment and visibility from the “marketing funnel” to the sales funnel. In this success, Sungard used Marketo to triple its direct pipeline contribution and not only increased its revenue from marketing by 30 percent but also increased its average deal size generated from marketing leads by 30 percent. John Stetic of Oracle talked about Dell, which engages in behaviorally-driven nurture campaigns. Dell leverages the Oracle Marketing Cloud system – which involves cross channel marketing + real-time decisions + a Shutterfly cloud connector, with the Dell team focusing on creating the content and the system and then structuring its use. Results were a quadrupling of response metrics improvements, 18 percent average order value increase and a 287 percent year-on-year volume growth.

Skills training

One key to improved engagement with customers is the ability to integrate the organization’s multi-channel marketing apparatus and to make the buyer the central focus for everything, which demands a strategic approach to innovation in demand generation. Carlos Hidalgo, CEO of Annuitas, pointed out that 48 percent of B2B marketers lack a documented strategy for doing this at the same time that 58 percent of B2B buyers spend more time researching their purchases than last year, 41 percent waited longer to initiate a contract with a vendor, 34 percent indicated that the number of team members involved in a purchase decision has increased, and 57 percent of the B2B purchase process is complete before the buyer ever engages with a vendor. Hidalgo concluded that marketers are juggling too many tactical efforts and that they must become more buyer-centric. They need to build revenue-oriented demand generation programs to maximize their customers’ lifetime value, and these must be integrated and orchestrated by treating the sequence from engagement to nurturing to conversion of buyer demand into revenue as a series of steps that can be both managed and optimized. In order to do this, marketers need new skill sets. 70 percent of B2B marketers get no training or are self-taught, and more than 65 percent of companies spend less than $1,000 annually on skills training. Surprisingly, only 21 percent of organizations provide training for their (B2B) marketers.

New leads via search and social media

A starting point for getting those important high quality leads requires developing a good overlap between intent and identity. Janet Driscoll Miller, President of Marketing Mojo, suggests that we can obtain information about intent via search engines and about identity via social media. This means one can now build customized audiences using Google Adwords and Facebook (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1

From Facebook we can obtain the following information for targeting a customer: “likes,” gender, status, updates, geographic region, education, age, and income. From LinkedIn there are two B2B advertising options: 1) LinkedIn Marketing Solution and 2) LinkedIn Self-Serve Ads. The first of these requires a minimum spend for display and social ads of $25,000 over a three month period and includes a dedicated LinkedIn account manager. LinkedIn Self-Serve Ads are text ads with small images, no minimum spending limit, and the cost per impression (CPM) or cost per click (CPC) can be as low as $13 per 500. LinkedIn enables you to exclude individuals in your targeting and to target specific job titles. When you combine identity with intent via an integrated campaign you can increase both your revenue and your click-through numbers.

Another panel dealt with this theme from a different point of view by comparing the strengths and weaknesses of leveraging social media vs. focusing on search engines. In answer to the question, “Are people more engaged through social media or search?” Heidi Cohen, Chief Content Officer at Riverside Marketing Strategies, asserted that social media comments are all about engagement; that Google “engages” visitors, but that this is not necessarily good for marketing. Andy Crestodina, Principal & Strategic Director at Orbit Media Studies, Inc. countered that on search, people buy all the time. The conversion from visitor to lead to customer is ten times greater on search than what it is on social media, because people do search when they are ready to buy. In answer to the question as to which delivers better long term results, Cohen stated that a mix of media was necessary, including video, because YouTube is the #2 search option. Crestodina maintained that long term results benefit search, because the popularity of links grows incrementally. There is no limit to the number of pages you can create or phrases you can target on search.

Cohen and Crestodina then gave attendees tips for doing successful social media and search. Notable recommendations included:

  • Spend 20 percent of your time on content creation for social media and 80 percent of your time on distribution. Diversify distribution.

  • Go deep into your topic for search – “go long” with content pieces of 1,000-1,500 words.

  • Format to try to keep people on your page because the higher the “dwell time” the higher your rank will be on Google.

  • Use bullet points and bold images and don’t scroll. Text alone is “death”.

  • Fold links from old content into new content.

  • Make friends with bloggers.

  • Collaborate with influencers because search is all about relationships. You have to do social media to succeed at search.

  • Never write a paragraph longer than four lines – make it easy to scan. This is content optimization. You are guiding the reader through the content.

An entire session of the conference was actually devoted to using Facebook to leverage branding strategy. Joel Book, Principal, Marketing Insights at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, described Volvo Construction Equipment (VCE) for North America’s multi-channel market strategy involving Twitter, Facebook, YouTube,, and trade shows, with everything in their engagement leading to email. Of all the social media channels, Facebook has become VCE’s major producer of leads. In Spring 2013 they started using Facebook advertising, targeting customers and non-customers differently. They drove the download of a VCE insider application which generated 650 clicks and 131 installations of the app. VCE also launched a VCE fuel efficiency promotion and something called the Volvo LEGO Technic Sweepstakes. The latter was to drive brand awareness for Facebook members interested in earth-moving equipment of this sort. In these various examples Facebook is the means to win the goal – an email subscriber. Facebook is being used for direct response; it is addressing people. The LEGO project is for brand exposure. To emphasize a point which was made throughout the B2B Marketing Forum sessions, the strategy for using social media is not to sell, but rather to engage the target market.

IBM’s Facebook page

Katie Keating, Social Engagement Strategist at IBM discussed how IBM’s Facebook page was managed. She recommended that B2B marketers should think the way B2C marketers do – how do people interact with IBM? She stressed empowering employees because they give authenticity to the communication, and geo-targeting because it drives engagement. With new tactics like Facebook chats and influencer searches IBM found a massive audience in India, for example. She also recommends using paid advertising and letting the audience “exhale” a little bit by including some “fun” content. All work and no play is apparently not good for social engagement – even in an openly business context.

Amanda Maksymiw, Content Marketing Manager at Lattice Engines (which sells predictive lead scoring) creates educational content for the company. Lattice’s goal on Facebook is 1) to humanize the brand to increase employee loyalty; 2) to drive engagement with the target audience, which consists of lead generation-scoring specialists, and 3) to retarget influencers, prospects and customers. Lattice also uses Marekto and gets leads from there, too. Joel Book recommended that not just lead scoring but engagement scoring is also needed. Then you can reach out online – because serving (with permission) is the new selling. In the VCE example, if you download the VCE app then Volvo can contact you for a maintenance check or other service.

Customer personas

Glen Drummond, Chief Innovation Officer at Canadian branding firm Quarry, presented real life stories under the heading “Leading with Personas.” He recommended that the clients use personas because in order to compete on the basis of the customer experience it is no longer enough to improve that experience only a little bit. Asserting that most corporate DNA sits in the upstream assets of the product, he urged companies to refocus to a more customer-centric operation which involves the challenge of shifting the employees’ understanding of their business model downstream – in their proprietary knowledge of how to keep their customers satisfied. To do this he recommended using personas. Personas involve scenario building to foster collaboration within the firm so as to develop empathy with the target customer. Drummond gave a case example of a marketer whose breakthrough came with role-playing – asking the staff what their experience was in their specific role. This enabled them to uncover uncomfortable truths about the real customer experience. In the old procedure the customer is assigned a sales consultant, but with the new consciousness of the customer experience the customer now selects its sales consultant. This new positioning became a major brand initiative for the company that did it.

In a second case study, a client’s competitor was using its technology to cherry-pick the client’s highest-value customers. The persona exercise involved thinking about the customers with respect to the jobs they want to achieve with the client’s product, so the project studied people at home using deep ethnography. The client identified the right target and the failure was identified as occurring between product development and marketing: the marketers had demographic definitions of the customer where they needed psychographic ones. The lesson from this case is that product teams require other groups to understand and execute on their innovation, and if your product innovation and marketing reflect different customer models, then you can fail.

Strategic possibilities

This case teaches us that, in the new “experience economy,” tactical initiatives have strategic potential. Engagement innovation follows from paying conscious attention to unarticulated customer needs, and role-playing with personas can reveal uncomfortable truths about your company’s sales processes. Personas are relevant to change leadership because they 1) make complexity manageable, 2) displace prior biases and assumptions, and 3) shift “empathy” from an individual to a collective aptitude. In the experience economy, product development and marketing should not be different. They should have a common segmentation base.

Just as the new technologies are revolutionizing the B2B marketing profession they are shredding what we used to assume was true about consumer marketing as well. The revolution is here, and as this year’s B2B Marketing Forum proved, marketers are deep in the trenches trying to gain some traction amid the cacophony of noise and data confusion in order to adapt successfully to the challenge of total digital engagement.

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