In what should have been the first year, ‘back to normal’ after the pandemic, a disruption in the supply chain, delays in shipping, a looming economic downturn and staff shortages impacted the B2B industry.
According to Shayla Price, the Founder at PrimoStats, 2022 was the year where “marketing teams learned how to do more with less. With tight budgets, teams stretched themselves to the limit to achieve quarterly goals. These new constraints injected creativity and ingenuity into marketing activities. It also was an opportunity to think differently about how marketing teams serve their customers.”
As businesses adapt to the ever-changing macro environment, we reached out to several B2B professionals across all industries to hear their insights on the year that was and what B2B marketers should focus on right now and into 2023.
How has the B2B marketing landscape changed this year?
“The mood in B2B SaaS has changed this year from exuberance to gloom. The markets dropped from dizzying heights, especially for tech companies. While there was still growth in B2B, many marketers faced major challenges to hit their targets given market conditions,” shared Joe Kevens, Director of Demand Generation at PartnerStack and the Founder of B2B SaaS Review.
With the likelihood of businesses facing tighter budgets this year, now is the time to get creative with marketing campaigns and focus your budget on areas that will result in the highest return on investment.
Chirayu Akotiya, Global Head of Marketing of Leena AI adds, “the recession fears and funding winters are causing marketers to rethink their strategies toward a more sustainable marketing spend, keeping ROI the obvious starting point for each campaign. This trend will continue to evolve as the market changes, making ROI a byproduct of intelligent and measured marketing campaigns that can prove ROI immediately.”
The B2B marketing landscape is not all doom and gloom. In any period of time where there is a lot of disruption and change, it allows the best to rise to the top. It provides an opportunity for teams and businesses to work smarter, cut things that don't work, streamline processes and gain a bird's eye view on business health.
This is also when innovation happens. Advancements in AI and tech have allowed busier-than-ever marketers to streamline processes and ultimately do more with less. In fact, Ortto’s Co-Founder and CEO, Michael Sharkey, shared his own tips on how companies can position themselves for growth during an economic downturn. And it all starts with, “operationalizing your customer data.”
In the video below, Sharkey will, “show you how to use your most valuable asset: your existing customer data and how to operationalize it to acquire, retain and grow your customer base.”
9 B2B marketing tips to survive a downturn
Learn more about your customers
Ask yourself this, how much do I know about my ideal customer? “First and foremost, its important to have a firm understanding of your target audience. What are their needs and how can your product or service help them,” agrees Rajesh Namase, Co-Founder at TechRT.
B2B marketers need to become familiar with online behaviors across multiple channels. Each click a user makes contributes to an extremely valuable stream of data that helps identify interest, intent and affinity for brands, products and services. It will help you deliver relevant digital experiences to customers, at every step of their journey.
Beyond following their purchase path on a platform like Google Analytics, there are other ways to find out more about your customers. “Whether it’s through surveys or interviews, customer feedback holds the key to unlocking the right product positioning and increasing sales,” shares Founder of Primo Stats, Shayla Price.
By combining all this collected data into your CDP, you will build a central hub or source of truth to see an overview of your audience. Here you can use these customer interactions to optimize your brand communications, segment your audiences to the customers more likely to convert, or look for trends and patterns to make better, data-driven marketing decisions.
If B2B marketers focus on learning more about their customers they will be able to predict their needs, wants and future behaviors.
Build your personal brand
Ryan Turner of Ecommerce Intelligence believes that, “building a personal brand is becoming more valuable than ever in the B2B space and marketers should start to invest time and effort in this.”
“Using platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn to build personal brands in niche areas will be a big focus for us in 2023,” he shared.
With competition fiercer than ever before, creating a strong digital brand can help you stand apart from others. Be genuine, articulate and ensure it's an accurate depiction of you and your enthusiasm for your business and industry you’re in.
“Things have certainly become more competitive which is why we're focusing on building personal brands to power our demand generation strategies and set ourselves apart from the competition,” continued Turner.
Set up your customer data collection strategy
The way data is collected is changing. From GDPR to CCPA, heightened consumer privacy laws have restricted brands from acquiring third-party data in many regions, and Google’s looming plan to kill cookies from Chrome is causing further uncertainty for marketers. Other major players like Safari, Firefox, and Apple have also made changes that restrict access to third-party data.
With all this in the works, it is essential to prioritize your customer data strategy now. In fact, brands who prioritize and utilize first-party data for key marketing functions increase their revenue by 2.9 times.
Zero-party data (self-selected by the customer) and first-party data (directly connected to the customers activities and behaviors) are the reliable forms of data your collection strategy should focus on.
This will help you deliver the kind of hyper-personalized experience that customers have come to expect and set your company up for long-term success.
"As someone who works on the organic side of marketing, I've certainly seen more of a shift toward organic inclusion, in contrast to what was more commonly a heavy B2B reliance on paid media spend," shared SEO Consultant, James Taylor.
"With rising costs and a recession, it's not surprising that businesses are looking to see how they can trim upfront spending from paid media and invest in organic marketing to reduce spending over the long term," continued Taylor.
"If you're serious about reducing spending from your paid media budget, start your content and link-building processes now. SEO is a notoriously slow process, so the sooner you can look at investment into organic marketing, the less you'll have to wait to reduce your reliance on paid media spending into 2023," added Taylor.
“Businesses are now leveraging the various social and digital channels to activate an education-first approach to reach their target audience,” shared Vanhishikha Bhargava, Founder at Contensify.
Bhargava has seen a shift in buyer habits where there is a, “need for information and education before making a commitment or a purchase. This has impacted our sales cycle by making it slightly lengthier - but it has also helped drive better conversions by giving us a chance to build strong relationships with the various audience segments.”
To be a leader in the B2B content marketing space can be incredibly challenging, by dedicating time and resources to building a comprehensive content marketing strategy, you can break through the noise.
Ryan Turner, Founder of Ecommerce Intelligence, has seen a change in the effectiveness of demand generation compared to traditional lead generation. He shared, “we're finding it much more worthwhile to focus on educational content and building our brand to generate demand for our services than doing typical lead gen and contacting companies directly.”
“We've been using a lot of content-led advertising to build warm audiences as our main demand generation strategy, and the results have been great,” continued Turner.
Leads and customers will always be looking for an up-to-date library of material they can refer to when figuring out who your brand is, what you do, how you do it, and why they should spend with you instead of your competitor. With a proper strategy in place and investment in the right areas, you can break through the noise and capture your intended audience's attention.
Head of Growth at Instrumentl, Will Yang agrees, “as a B2B marketer professional, I would say that the most important thing that marketers should be focusing on right now is content creation. There's so much more to marketing than just buying ads and making sure your website looks good—it's about creating value for your customers.”
“You have to create content that speaks to them in a way that makes them want to reach out and engage with your brand,” Yang continued.
By prioritizing the development of a strong content marketing strategy, every piece you publish will be that much more powerful.
Turning to peer communities
“Buyer habits have definitely changed in recent years. The biggest change that we've seen is that buyers are now much more likely to research a purchase online before they buy it. They'll read reviews, compare prices, and look for the best deals before making a decision. This change has definitely impacted our business,” shared Rajesh Namase from TechRT.
“We've had to adapt by making sure our online presence is strong and we're offering competitive prices. We've also had to ensure that our customer service is top-notch so that we can build positive relationships with our customers.”
Founder of B2B SaaS Review, Joe Kevens has also noticed this trend, “B2B buyers are turning to peer communities for their opinion before buying. While software review sites will continue to play an important role in the buying process, many buyers are turning to their peers to get direct feedback.”
Choosing a SaaS marketing strategy like community-led growth can help you foster a strong, engaged and enthusiastic community that will in turn impact your product’s growth. In fact Kenneth Burke, VP of Marketing at Text Request is, “expecting to see community and community-led-growth explode throughout 2023.”
This community focus needs to be consistent for it to work well. And when executed correctly your loyal customers will help you through the tougher times. Take a note out of Notion or Figma’s book, who invested time and resources into creating online communities and forums for users to go and share ideas, templates, tips and help one another.
This can also fall under influencer marketing, which Michalowski from Spacelift is planning on paying more attention to in 2023. “This [influencer marketing] involves working with individuals with a large following and credibility within your industry to promote your brand or product.”
Again if we use Figma and Notion as an example, they have a range of ‘influencers’ who promote their respective brands by using the product and highlighting features. For example, Notion has an army of Notion creators on Twitter to show off the product.
Level up your customer support
Customer service and support should always be at the top of your list of things to prioritize. This could be your easy win for 2023, with a few small changes and dedication to improving your customer’s experience when they face a barrier, the reward is tenfold.
“As consumers’ shopping habits continue to evolve, we have seen a significant increase in the number of consumers researching products and services online before ever contacting a business,” shared Matthew Ramirez from Rephrasely
“It has made it more important than ever for businesses to respond quickly and effectively when contacted by a customer. If a customer contacts a business with a question or concern, there is no longer any excuse for it to take days or weeks for a response to be sent. Now, businesses need to respond within hours or even minutes if they want to stay competitive,” continued Ramirez.
Just remember it’s a lot cheaper to nurture and keep customers than to acquire new ones, so in a period where budgets may be smaller, leveling up your customer support should be a priority.
Examine your social media presence and tone
As social media plays a significant role in many other aspects of our lives, it only makes sense that B2B marketing follows suit.
When building out your B2B social media strategy, remember that there is a societal change occurring, where millennials and even Gen Zs are now entering decision-making roles, so ensure you are building content for these increasingly important audience segments. A comprehensive social media strategy will help ensure you’re in front of the decision-makers, and speaking in their language.
Mariusz Michalowski from Spacelift has witnessed, “the rise of social media as a primary channel for B2B communication. Businesses are now using social media not only to distribute content but also to connect with potential customers and partners.”
In terms of social media assets built for B2B markets, Michalowski foresees that “more live streaming and virtual reality [will be used] for product demos and customer engagement.”
Utilize artificial intelligence
According to Stacey Kane, Business Development Lead at EasyMerchant, “marketing efforts now heavily rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to understand customer needs and preferences, identify potential customers, deliver targeted content, analyze customer behavior, and improve customer service. The impact of AI on marketing is still being determined, but it will play a significant role in the future of marketing.”
There were a few common AI themes raised by the interviewed B2B professionals, primarily the aspect of marketers increasing their use of AI to assist with content creation. “AI is a fantastic tool to use as something to help outline and structure the content businesses create - especially blogs and articles,” shared Ryan Turner of Ecommerce Intelligence.
This AI tip suggestion comes with a warning, “it is only a tool. Relying on AI to write full content pieces, particularly in complex markets, could be a risky strategy,” added Turner.
Overuse, or solely using AI copywriters is not recommended, “especially as Google gets better at sniffing out AI content,” adds Dan Gower from Buddy Gardner Advertising.
“AI will play a significant role in B2B marketing in 2023. Businesses will be able to allocate their resources more efficiently and achieve better results from their marketing efforts,” concludes Michalowski from Spacelift.
What should B2B marketers be focussing on?
If the last three years are anything to go by, 2023 will be a year of adaptation, working agilely, creatively, and possibly to a reduced budget. Here are some of the hot takes our interviewees had to share:
“B2B marketers should be bracing for a recession. That means budgets will tighten, and selling cycles will get longer. B2B marketers and sales teams can overcome tough economic conditions by keeping an intense focus on nurturing leads and adding value. If you try to rush conversion, you might hurt your relationship with the prospect” - Dan Gower from Buddy Gardner Advertising.
“B2B marketers should be focused on the short-term for survival. While some may argue that now is the time to invest in things that will pay off in the long term because few others will, that’s not a luxury many B2B Marketers will have. Now more than ever is the time to collaborate with Sales on how to get revenue in trying times.” - Joe Kevens, from PartnerStack.
“B2B companies need to be ready for a new kind of customer who will enter the market in the coming years. These customers will be much harder to sell to as they have grown up in a world where they have access to information and products 24/7. They will have high expectations, and a low tolerance for pushy salespeople and long sales cycles.” - Matthew Ramirez from Rephrasely.
“Convenience is always a competitive advantage, but particularly in our line of work, we see the businesses offering the most convenient customer experiences and marketing motions will be the ones to win. As B2C brands have gotten increasingly good at offering more and more convenient options, those same buyers are now expecting similar buying experiences in their B2B jobs. Whether it's scheduling, registering for a service, promotions, bill pay, or anything else, convenience will be key to getting the job done.” - Kenneth Burke from Text Request.
Is your B2B ready for 2023? As the marketing landscape continues to shift due to numerous outside pressures, it’s time to audit, adapt, and evolve your marketing strategy. The marketing tips mentioned above will help you to stay competitive and retain high-quality customers in what’s forecasted to be a tough year, but also rife with opportunity.