3 ways the right B2B agency can enhance your go-to-market strategy in 2021

The year ahead brings opportunity and challenge in equal measure. For tech marketers, under pressure to do more with less, getting the right external support can make a big difference to performance.

VUCA. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous. For B2B marketers, 2020 was definitely VUCA. It would be nice to think that 2021 would give us a well-earned rest but things are still pretty VUCA out there, and for B2B Tech, there are no signs of a slowdown anytime soon.

Digital transformation accelerated exponentially in 2020 and it’s expected to continue growing at over 20% per year to 2027. IDC predicts a decade of ‘multiplied innovation’ as businesses of all sizes scramble for advantage in Industry 4.0. 5G will move beyond hype. AI will become table stakes. Data will be the new oil.

In EMEA, global B2B tech firms are in a race to maximise their share of sales in key industries. The battleground is enterprise and account-based selling and marketing has never been more in demand. Needless to say, for now, everything is digital. We B2B marketers may have to wait a decade or so for a rest.

For CMO’s, the pressure is on to do more with less. In their Annual CMO Spend Survey, Gartner found that 34% of senior leaders polled said they had furloughed staff in 2020, 65% had imposed hiring freezes and 44% of CMOs saw budget cuts.

Despite these cuts, the demand on marketing continues to rise: the same report cites that 45% of CMOs aim to introduce new products to existing markets in 2021. Forrester also predicts that 57% of B2B marketers will focus on improving their customer experience this year.1

57% of B2B marketers will focus on improving their customer experience this year.

The State Of Better And Best Practices In B2B Marketing“,
Forrester Infographic, July 28th, 2020

In a recent survey of our own EMEA clients’ challenges, lack of resources and poor alignment were top of the list. The challenge of localising effective campaigns with global or US content was a constant frustration. This was compounded by difficulties achieving alignment with regional sales teams and global leadership. 

The net result? Marketing teams often reported feeling overwhelmed: buffeted by constant ad hoc requests from sales and by struggling to see long-term momentum. The drive to scale in EMEA is hampered by misalignment, moving goalposts and its sheer complexity. The competing demands of reporting, team management, tactical activity and internal initiatives have stolen time from the critical job of nailing go-to-market strategy. 

Opportunities, pressure, challenges, constraints: it’s a familiar situation. Any agency can provide the extra capacity to produce more output but, without the right strategic approach, more does not equal better. The core job-to-be-done by EMEA marketers is to help drive pipeline and sales in key industries, segments and accounts. With this in mind, here are three ways that a good B2B agency can help you go to market faster and better:

Empathise with your customer at every stage

“It’s hard to see the label when you’re inside the jar.”

Why does this matter? Because buyers see through and filter out product-centric messages. Forrester reports that 65% of B2B buyers complain that most vendor material is biased toward the vendor. Depressingly, a majority of buyers consider it ‘useless’.3

The solution to this problem is genuine customer empathy. In a world where buyers are drowning in a sea of whitepapers and product demos, what they’re really looking for is some connection:

Show me someone like me who’s implemented this product before.
Show me someone’s authentic experience using this product.
Show me someone like me who’s achieved personal success with this product.

In fact, four out of five tech buyers say it’s important to have a credible, authentic story that shows how you help customers succeed.4 A good B2B agency will help you get—and stay—in your customers’ shoes. The buyer insights and design thinking tools they bring, will enable you to move from customer understanding to ideation to prototyping successful audience-centric campaigns.

For EMEA marketers, local customer insight is often required at scale—across many industries, personas and accounts and this can be one of the most challenging aspects of the job. According to the Worldwide Partners CMO Council, 67% of CMOs rate their organisations below satisfactory in their capacity to adapt global marketing content across the local markets and channels they serve. Adding to that, over 90% of CMOs rated their local market intelligence as “average” or “poor”.

So here, an agency might be the only feasible solution to help stretched marketers to build, maintain and share the customer insight need to create audience-centric campaigns in their complex organisations.

Use frameworks to create alignment & order

“Without structure, strategy is doomed to fail.” 

This leads us to the importance, not just of insight, but of structure in go-to-market strategy. Too often we encounter regional marketing teams, who are struggling to see the long term impact of their intense efforts: they’re often bogged down in short term, tactical activities that fail to deliver sustained growth. Or, their own efforts to be customer-centric fall on deaf ears due to  Account Exec’s defaulting to product selling too early in the buying cycle. Sometimes, their own view of the regional market conflicts with the global go-to-market strategy and globally developed campaigns feel hopelessly off the mark. 

Nothing hinders the work of field marketing teams like a lack of alignment on go-to-market strategy. Simply put: “What kind of customers are we going after and where? What are their needs and how will we target them with integrated campaigns?” All demand generation programmes flow from this shared plan—it’s fundamental to everything from sales and marketing alignment to customer intelligence gathering to campaign development. And yet, time and again, we see that a clearly mapped go-to-market strategy either doesn’t exist, wasn’t shared, or isn’t commonly agreed.

Building on this foundation, value proposition and messaging frameworks, developed at the industry or persona level, will greatly enhance ABM or lead generation campaigns and CX. Campaigns  should be built for the long term. They should follow documented frameworks integrating reputation building, demand generation and customer engagement.

Campaigns should be built for the long term. They should follow documented frameworks integrating reputation building, demand generation and customer engagement.

In our experience, the relationship between sales and marketing improves when these frameworks are in place. Marketing’s role shifts from MQL factory to business partner and collaboration opportunities reveal themselves across the full customer life cycle.

But let’s be honest, most tech marketers are just too busy to build and implement new frameworks and new processes. They need campaigns to happen fast— on time, on budget and with real impact. An experienced B2B tech agency has a framework for everything. They have honed their models and systems over time. And they have the knowhow to help client teams be more collaborative and successful.

By now, the best agencies will have built their frameworks into digital collaboration tools for today’s remote world. They will be adept facilitators, used to gaining consensus from diverse stakeholders.  And able to build shared understandings of the most complex go-to-market strategies.

Use ‘magic’ to elevate campaigns and content

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

No EMEA tech marketer ever became a trailblazer by just localising HQ’s marketing. Yes, you’ll be known as a reliable partner, but will you be called upon when a complex, sticky problem arises? A good tech-focused agency understands your world. But they also understand your customer’s world and offer more holistic, creative solutions to your problem. Agencies are full of curious, pushy people that are driven by solving problems in novel ways. Their ‘outside the jar’ perspective and creative processes brings the magic that attracts the right attention from your peers and leaders.

EMEA marketers in global firms rarely have the autonomy to develop ‘fame’ campaigns but creativity plays an equally important role in delivering the empathy and emotional connection that buyers crave. Research by Binet and Field for LinkedIn’s B2B Institute shows that emotional strategies outperform rational ones by a ratio of 1.4 to 0.2. Emotion matters in B2B because the stakes are high in major purchases (professional advancement or failure) so buyers rely on gut instinct. In fact, CEB/Gartner found that ‘personal value’ was twice as important as ‘business value’ in B2B commercial outcomes.

The best B2B marketing campaigns go beyond problem-solution messages. They create a vivid picture of ‘what’s in it’ for the buyer, based on their personal and professional goals. As Forrester puts it: ‘Most B2B messages move too quickly from problem statement to product capabilities. Compelling stories predict winners and losers and explain what a better, future state will look like.’3 Brands like Salesforce have perfected this approach. They’ve built an emotionally engaged community of customers, users and advocates.

Choosing the right B2B marketing agency

Underpinning all these strategies are the tools and qualities of a good agency: customer-centric thinking, creative ideas, emotive storytelling, attention-grabbing imagery and copy. A great agency invites its clients into the creative process. It uses proven techniques like design thinking to integrate diverse perspectives in ideation. It’s fun and rewarding and most importantly, it creates campaigns and brands that B2B buyers gravitate towards.

Footnotes

  1. The State Of Better And Best Practices In B2B Marketing“, Forrester Infographic, July 28th, 2020
  2. “The B2B Consumer Grows Up“, Forrester Report, March 2nd, 2020
  3. Customer-Centered Messaging Helps Boost B2B Revenues By Motivating Buyer Action“, Forrester Research, October 24th 2019
  4. “Credible Empathetic Content Wins Over Elusive B2B Buyers“, Forrester Research, April 30th 2020

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