Targeting remains a challenge for B2B marketers

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Half of B2B marketers admit to only a basic understanding of how to target.
Half of B2B marketers admit to only a basic understanding of how to target.

B2B marketers lag far behind their counterparts in sales when it comes to targeting their messages to key customers, according to a survey released today by Demandbase and Ziff-Davis.

Experts interviewed say the study shines a spotlight on a long-overdue need for cultural change in B2B marketing organizations, and marketing executives who took part in the study apparently agree: Half of them admitted they have only a basic understanding of how to target their markets.

B2B marketers “tend to focus on their products and services and how great those are, but today's customers don't care. They want to know about solutions that address their challenges,” says Brent Leary, cofounder of CRM Essentials. “[Marketers] think they can solve it by applying new tools, but what they really need to do is change the way they think.”

Indeed, 60% or more of the 100-plus marketers surveyed by Ziff-Davis said they were applying social media and organic search to their online marketing efforts, but the study's sponsor believes they're not making the best use of the results. “They are finally figuring out how to leverage social media, but so much of its success is measured by how many leads are generated,” says Demandbase Director of Marketing Jason Stewart. “What they really should be doing as marketers is generating awareness so that leads will be generated at the companies that will produce the most business.”

B2B marketers are stuck in a marketing Catch-22, according to the study. They know that targeting will produce more revenue per account, but they say they lack the resources to target high-return accounts. Forty-five percent of respondents say they used company size as a key consideration for lead scoring, but only 25% say they commit time and budget to targeting larger companies. Likewise, 35% say they valued leads from named accounts, though they devoted only 25% of resources to those accounts.

“Thirty-one percent of the marketers in this study said they had a complete understanding of their target markets, which says to me that only 69% of the marketers in this study are telling the truth,” notes PointClear CEO Dan McCade. “Markets are the things most misunderstood by B2B marketers.”

That's an area marketers at B2B companies can take a lesson from coworkers in sales, according to Stewart. “If a good salesperson is tasked with a certain number of appointments each quarter, they look at their accounts and say, “Which people bought and who are similar to these people? They often start with finding more passageways within the account where they made a big sale,” he observes, “whereas marketers are still renting lists or advertising with publishers that are all title-based, not account-based.”

Yet Stewart sees a ray of hope in the study that B2B marketers may be ready to change their ways. More than half of respondents (56%) say that targeting companies by industry vertical was of high importance, and almost half (49%) say they're dedicating resources to reach them.

“We took that as an encouraging sign,” he says, “even though industry vertical is the easiest entry point for targeting. Where it gets more difficult—identifying key characteristics, discovering what sort of CRM tools they use—is what salespeople are really good at. Having access to this data empowers both sales and marketing to agree on what's important.”

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