Part 1: Smart Money Is on Data-driven B2B Marketing

B2B Marketing Best Practices Part 1
By Craig Weiss
True Influence Chief Operating Officer

If the last 12 months have taught us anything, it’s that you can’t predict the future with 100 percent confidence, even with data-driven B2B marketing. But that doesn’t stop pundits from trying, and a favorite topic for prognostication always turns to annual budgets.

For 2021, these predictions were a mixed bag. Some analysts forecast that B2B marketing budgets would dramatically increase, then followed up with the qualifier that these gains were really only a reset to 2019 spending levels, before COVID-19. Others suggested that CMOs should look to invest heavily in their martech stacks this year, while others said B2B marketers need to jumpstart revenue funnels that have ground to halt.

Data-driven B2B Marketing: Focus on what’s working right now

My advice? Ignore the predictions and focus on what’s working right now. There’s simply too much uncertainty to take risks with your B2B marketing and sales channels based on anything other than data you are collecting and analyzing today.

Obviously, you have to budget a few quarters out, but those plans should be based on what you can see and measure now. If conditions change, react accordingly, but only because the data tells you to – not because of unfounded optimism or success stories you read about other people’s businesses.

What Analysts Say About 2021 Marketing Budgets

Before I go any further, let’s put some numbers behind the most talked about projections for 2021 marketing budgets.

Gartner reported that about three-quarters of CMOs expected their budgets to increase either this year or in 2022. However, this comes with the standard disclaimer that much of this spending will be dedicated to refueling stagnant pipelines or projects that were deferred in 2020. Not surprisingly, given that last point, 68 percent of B2B CMOs said they expected to spend more on technology in 2021 – so you can guess the type of projects tabled last year.

All told, 61 percent of B2B marketing budgets in the B2B tech sector were cut last year, according to a report by 10Fold Communications. Only 10 percent of respondents said they saw an increase in budget during the pandemic. This is not surprising, since another report found that B2B tech spending was down at about half of B2B buyers. That said, the 10Fold study found that KPIs on marketing spend had held steady for about 60 percent of surveyed sellers. So prudent marketing spend did produce results.

A similar study by Deloitte notes that in 2020, B2B marketing budgets actually rose to the highest overall percentage of budget since it’s been doing such surveys. But, again, that was largely due to budgets across the board being slashed to the bone.

Overall, about 6 of 10 B2B CMOs in the Deloitte study said they believe that the importance of marketing to their businesses has actually increased during the pandemic. But about 70 percent said they think overall B2B marketing spend will continue at lower levels through 2021.

B2B Marketing: Digital Shift Is Real

One thing everyone can agree on is that the spending shift to digital channels accelerated by the pandemic is here to stay. An eMarketer study predicts that U.S. companies increased their spending on digital advertising last year by about 23 percent, which kept pace with annual growth rates in the segment over the last five years or so. And this during a major economic crunch. Much of this growth can be attributed to shifting dollars away from live events, a trend also cited by another recent study. 

In addition to reaching prospects wherever they might be – which in a pandemic is pretty useful – digital is entirely measurable and can re-targeting or re-allocated on the fly. It’s simply the most cost-effective channel for engaging prospects at the high funnel. These attributes aren’t going to become less valuable after life returns to whatever normal looks like, so continued growth in data-driven B2B marketing is one prediction you can take to the bank.

In the second part of this series, I look at how to take that data-driven focus one step further, and activate it with what’s working now. 

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