MarketingSherpa recently released its 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report. You can download the executive summary for free (or pay $400 for the full report). The summary reveals no shocking surprises but a few interesting trends:
78% of marketers identified “generating high-quality leads” as their top priority, while 44% said the same for “generating a high volume of leads” (so generating low-quality leads is a priority for some marketers? Strange.). Both figures were up slightly, but similar to last year. As MarketingSherpa notes, “Year after year, the greatest challenge that B2B organizations face is generating high-quality leads.”
A slightly higher percentage of marketers than last year (41% vs. 39%) called “marketing to a lengthening sales cycle” a top challenge. This may be just a statistical hiccup or it may be due to the continuing economic slump. While there’s no reason to expect sales cycles to shorten, an improving economy next year should help stabilize the length of the decision process.
Generating PR “buzz” and having a product perceived as “cutting edge” were called significant challenges by only about a third of marketers, unchanged from last year. “Soft” benefits tend to take a back seat to harder measures like leads and marketing productivity during lean recessionary budgets, but should increase in importance as economic conditions improve and companies shift from a cost-cutting and expense minimization to growth mode.
Of eleven different marketing categories, all of those in which marketers said they plan to increase spending in 2011 are online activities: website design / optimization and social media topped the list with 69% of companies planning larger budgets in these areas, followed by virtual events and webinars, SEO, email marketing and paid search. The categories with the largest percentage of marketers reporting plans to reduce spending next year were high-cost offline tactics: direct mail, trade shows and print advertising.
Asked to specify which marketing tactics are most effective, more than 90% judged online activities such as website optimization, email marketing and SEO as somewhat or very effective—not surprisingly given the responses to the previous question regarding 2011 budget priorities. Tactics like telemarketing, PR and PPC advertising fell predominantly into the “somewhat effective” camp. But strangely, social media—one of the top priorities for increased spending next year—was viewed as “highly effective” by only 16% of respondents, while 25% said it was “not effective.” Why would otherwise highly sensible, ROI-conscious marketers spend even more money on a tactic that they don’t believe works very well? MarketingSherpa’s explanation:
“Social media is undervalued in terms of effectiveness and this is a result of the infancy of this marketing tactic and the low level of experience organizations have in execution when compared to more seasoned marketing tactics. As B2B marketers become more mature with their social marketing practices, their perceptions on the effectiveness of this tactic will improve.”
The study also found that direct mail was judged as a low-effectiveness tactic. However, both social media and direct mail can be effective if done right (though social media results tend to start small and build over time). Perhaps more of these marketers should seek professional outside help in these areas.
Finally, in what appears to be bad news for marketing automation software vendors, 60% of respondents reported having this application in place, while another 20% (likely purveyors of lower value / short sales cycle / low consideration items) said they no plans to implement such software. That leaves only 20% of the market left to fight over. Now, it’s possible that the survey sample was biased in favor of early adopters or that respondents were confusing email service providers with true marketing automation, but it’s also possible that this market is simply maturing faster than its leading vendors have publicly acknowledged.