B2B Marketers Show an Appetite for Continued Digital Growth

By Rob Sanchez, Chief Executive Officer, MeritB2B

With economic conditions and key indicators on the rise, B2B marketers are taking stock of their business to take advantage of what should be a very strong 2021. They’re dealing with some new elements of their business compared to one year ago. Both clients and new prospects have continued to transform to online interaction and online research.

As B2B marketers plan where to invest, and where to engage with these two important groups, the signs point to continued data-driven digital. Even in the second half of 2021, when in-person meetings and even some events will come back, foundational marketing tactics from search to display and email will continue to play a bigger role than ever before and will set up marketers for further expansion including advanced analytics, multichannel marketing and to test new channels like video and OTT.

New Customer Acquisition In Digital Performance Channels

Prospects are more wedded to digital channels than ever before. According to McKinsey, between 70-80 percent of B2B buyers prefer remote human interaction and digital channels to in-person meetings, and they don’t plan on going back.

For B2B marketers, this means that the heavy focus on in-person events, direct mail and sales meetings has given way to a focus on search, email and display advertising, not to mention a hefty dose of content marketing. Luckily, that trend is already happening based on a recent survey of B2B marketers in our database. We found that for new customer acquisition, B2B marketers are well along the road to changing their marketing mix.

When we asked B2B marketers how their spending on different channels has changed, we saw big growth in digital channels. Search grew the most, with 20 percent of respondents indicating that they have added this channel since the start of 2020. Next, we saw a surge in display advertising, with 18 percent noting that they added this new channel. Email was third, with 10 percent of B2B marketers using this channel for the first time.

Client Retention In Digital Engagement Channels

What works for lead generation and new prospects is not necessarily what works for keeping current customers engaged. What B2B marketers have added reveals the important differences in marketing strategy.

Email was actually the channel most likely to be added since the start of the pandemic for customer retention, meaning now, nearly 100 percent of B2B marketers rely on this channel for customer communication and marketing. The second was direct mail, which is a costly investment and makes the most sense for customers, who are already valuable to the company. For any B2B marketer with a need for high-touch interaction, direct mail can still provide a tangible touchpoint that goes beyond digital.

Room For Further Growth

Our data was encouraging that B2B marketers are poised to capture the (mainly digital) increases in activity we’re likely to see this summer and fall. While 31 percent added new channels by moving the existing budget, 13 percent actually got a new budget in order to expand into new territory. This paves the way for an increased appetite for the most sophisticated digital marketing based on analytics and automation.

Most encouraging of all is that the investments are already paying off, with more B2B marketers reporting an increase in average order value (36%) than those who saw no change (20%) or those who saw a decrease (31%.)

We don’t expect the story to end here. B2B buyers are showing signals of pent-up demand. About 29% of our respondents noted that they are seeing a higher volume of activity from clients and prospects all day long, while a few saw increased activity just in the morning or the evening. Only a small handful saw decreased activity.

This is an encouraging sign, not only for future sales but also for future expansion of marketing strategies. With higher activity comes more insights, and more touchpoints that B2B marketers can use to further improve their approach to both new customer acquisition and client retention. B2B marketers will learn quickly how new channels like search and display drive behaviors on the site and will fine-tune their content strategies for further optimization. And, the positive momentum from this new investment in growth will encourage more B2B marketers to explore experimental channels like OTT and video, as a change to further differentiate and create new opportunities for engagement.

Analytics will continue to play a key role in these advancements. Not only do B2B marketers need to understand changes to prospect and customer behavior, but they also need to understand the effects of adding new channels to the mix. Investing in analytics is just as important as investing in more media spend or new content. Marketers need insights that consider the entire omnichannel marketing strategy to understand how to drive more leads, how to combine messaging on different channels, how to keep clients engaged, and much more.

The future is extremely bright for B2B marketers who continue to make moves further into data-driven, tech-enabled omnichannel marketing. Our insights show the enormous positive signs of growth and our findings point to a bullish outlook for B2B marketers as they continue their digital transformations and journey forward.

Rob Sanchez, CEO and Founder of MeritB2B provides commentary about the study and how B2B marketers are poised for the next phase of digital growth, including multichannel and analytic improvements to bring these new digital capabilities together.