A significantly greater percentage of B-to-B marketers report retaining customers and increasing brand awareness as a top business challenge than they did a year ago, according to a recent survey by market research group B2B International.
The survey collected responses from marketers at more than 250 large global B-to-B firms. Of the firms surveyed, 117 were based in the U.S. and reported an average revenue of more than $7 billion and an average workforce of 35,000 people.
In 2014, only 44% of respondents identified retaining customers or making customers more loyal as a top five challenge for their organization. The number jumped 10 percentage points in 2015, to 54%. Also jumping 10% was the number of respondents that named increasing brand awareness as a top 5 problem, increasing from 36% in 2014 to 46% in 2015.
Julia Cupman, global director of B2B International, believes that the rise in customer outreach difficulties stems from shifting resources away from traditional B-to-B marketing spaces in the pursuit of digital presence.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get heard in the market now. So many B-to-B brands have been influenced by their consumer cousins that digital marketing is the way to go and they’ve pulled a lot of their investment in traditional marketing media like conferences and events and trade journals and invested instead in digital media such as e-mail campaigns and social media and banner advertising and everything else,” Cupman says, who adds that she sees digital B-to-B marketing as vitally important.
“But because everybody has jumped on that bandwagon, it means it’s extremely difficult to get heard because the digital market place is so crowded. When everybody is using the same medium to try get heard, it gets very difficult.”
As for the customer loyalty issues, Cupman singles out the proliferation of impersonal touchpoints as the cause of B-to-B marketers’ anxiety.
“Because of the rise of the Internet and e-commerce and online transactions and the like, there are so many more touchpoints,” she says. But, she points out that these touchpoints make ensuring that the brand delivers a strong customer experience increasingly difficult.
The survey also reported a significant increase in the percentages of B-to-B marketers focused on value marketing. “Value marketing is recognizing the fact that B-to-B buyers do not buy on price alone, they buy on value. It’s critically important for B-to-B brands to better demonstrate and communicate the value they provide the customer,” Cupman says.
There were two areas of note where U.S. firms broke away from their global competitors. One involved resources, with U.S. companies investing more heavily in marketing and research. “More companies in the U.S. are investing in marketing and research to help them with the growth of their agenda compared to Europe,” Cupman says.
However, U.S. B-to-B marketers also reported much lower levels of influence over their corporate boardrooms. Asked why she thought that was, Cupman said she didn’t know. She did, however, venture that, “One of the things that did strike me is the constant battle we noticed between marketing and sales teams, and the sales teams have a very strong impact on the board of their companies because the boards are under pressure from the shareholders.”
The numbers, Cupman says, “reflect that fact that a lot of these companies, many of which are in the U.S., are feeling the pressures of pleasing the shareholders and will defer more strongly to the sales teams, who arguably have a louder voice … because they have a more direct financial influence on the company.”
Cupman says, if that indeed is the case, then corporate boards need to better understand the value of marketing in helping businesses drive more profitable revenues. “If they continue not listening to marketing, then they’re hurting their brands,” she says.