As marketers, we have heard it time and time again and in 100 different ways: “What’s the ROI?” “How are you measuring this?” “Which KPIs define success here?” “Will it generate any tangible results?”
To this day, the answer to that ever-present (and justified) question varies with each marketer who has had to answer it. Now, though, a rapidly shifting digital market and buyer behavior is not only making the ability to the impact of marketing more measurable, it is also making it fundamentally more tangible to the business.
Both sales and marketing are responding to those shifts by creating a new buyer approach that allows marketing to take more responsibility for the company’s bottom line. Where traditionally marketing and sales had specific B2B or B2C approaches that kept the two operations very siloed, those approaches are quickly being morphed into the all-encompassing business-to-individual (B2I) category.
The concept of B2I, where businesses sell to an individual’s wants, likes, and needs, has come about due to dramatic changes in the way customers and brands both discover each other and the ease with which they can now interact. The many ways of discovery, online and offline, has forced marketing to take on traditional sales processes. No longer just responsible for the difficult to measure tasks of “gaining mindshare” and “awareness,” in the B2I world, marketing is facilitating the customer’s desire for self-serve investigation, evaluation of solutions and benefits, and engaging with the vendor. Ultimately, marketers are now tasked with driving sales actions such as trialing, buying online, or even acting as an interim salesperson.
This marketing managed customer process doesn’t always just end with a hard sale either, carrying through to the service and renewal cycles. Each of these steps are now monitored, measured, and tied to revenue. Customers, regardless of consumer or business, are now buying in a pattern of “read, read some more, read even more, buy, engage, get exposed to more brands while learning about how to use your product, potentially renew” instead of “hear, read a little, try briefly, maybe buy.”
The rise of competition due to the decreasing cost of building and delivering parity products is only accelerating the shift to B2I as well. This is especially true in technology-driven industries where the the value of what customers buy is increasingly digital and easily copied. Like choosing between Dropbox and Box, there is little separating the two, and what is different is very readily apparent. What it comes down to is a battle of which company can tailor its business model best to the individual buyers’ wants and needs.
Marketers need to craft their business models to more customer segments, going beyond just the questions of who your customers are, what they buy, and at what price. The big questions become what payment schemes they like, what channels they prefer, and what cues they need in the discovery, use and engagement phases.
So where does that leave marketers?
It leaves us in a world where customers are increasingly demanding vendors to engage them on their terms and put the pieces in place for customers to make a purchasing decision through sales or increasingly through self-service options to try, buy, or use on a freemium basis. This is a world of interactions and measurable actions that marketers can tie directly to an individual buyer, with the self-service sale being a revenue source generated directly by marketers.
The challenge and the opportunity is that much of the infrastructure to do this is still siloed in marketing and sales departments. Those that are able to embrace B2I and support a more seamless customer experience across sales and marketing will be able to make every customer engagement a potential point to transact and exchange value, and when appropriate, monetize. These organizations can more quickly tailor products, services, go-to market approaches and their business models to the buyer.
Exciting? Intimidating? Both? It is how we are increasingly seeing the question of ROI and marketing being solved. Not to get lost in the new flurry of metrics that are now being generated by digital marketing channels, the bottom-line metrics of sales and revenue are increasingly attributable to marketing as “selling” is happening on marketing’s turf. By becoming a key path for customer discovery, education, nurturing, and transacting, B2I marketers go beyond just fluffy metrics to the position of drivers of commerce and sales for their businesses.