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Customer Experience

On the right path?

The two biggest trends driving the evolution of B2B marketing and sales

Everyone needs a bit of validation occasionally, right? It’s good to know that you’re on the correct course, that you’re not alone in believing something to be true, that you’re not missing the wood for the trees (or indeed, speaking of trees, barking up the wrong one!).

Well, that’s what I get in spades at Forrester Summit – for me personally and for PathFactory in general. I love Forrester Summit – always have done, always will. And after 3 years of virtual experiences, it was absolutely great to be able to do a lot of (to borrow Christine Polewarczyk’s, VP, Research Director at Forrester, term) “peopling” – the smiles, handshakes, chatting, networking, and general face-to-face time – with PathFactory’s customers, prospects and partners that I’d sorely missed.

So, what validation did I get from Forrester Summit? Specifically, two macro trends that we’ve believed are important for a long time are most definitely driving the evolution of B2B marketing & sales. Let’s dig into these two macro trends in more detail.

1. Marketing & Sales has evolved well beyond their historic MQL obsession

The shift from lead-centric funnels /pipelines (and ensuing lead management processes) to opportunity-centric pipelines ideally, or failing this, at least account-centric, is now a mainstream idea and increasingly a reality, not just a pipedream (geddit? Sorry…). Indeed, it’s the foundation for best-in-class Demand Generation & ABM (the boundaries of which are increasingly blurred /irrelevant)*. In some ways this isn’t news – it was an inevitability and the logical conclusion of the widespread adoption of ABM (just good DG marketing? Discuss!).

But it also just makes a ton of sense. Of course, (good old Bob!) isn’t the only person responsible for buying $250K worth of corporate governance risk software! Of course, there’s a large (>10 people) buying committee! Of course, we need to know what they’re all engaging with and doing (known and anonymous, on and off your digital footprint)! Of course, we can’t mandate and prescribe the entire buyer’s journey for this many people and personas, but rather need to be responsive and relevant wherever and whenever we see someone at this account! Of course, sales and marketing need to be aligned and working together to help the buyers buy!

If this sounds familiar, it should. The ABM evangelists have evangelized parts of just this for years. But ABM has evolved too; we need more than 3rd party intent and IP-to-account data, we need to know about what 6sense, for example, now refers to it as the Dark Funnel (now there’s some really good marketing, right there – love the Dark Funnel).

To facilitate the move from lead-centricity to opportunity- or account-centricity, marketing and sales need all the (relevant) buyer signals across the entire journey for multiple buyers, some known, far more anonymous, from your and others’ digital footprints. Buyer signals that will help sellers sell and enable you to deliver experiences that help buyers buy. Marketing and sales don’t need or want more data, they need actionable insight that tells them the next best action further down the pipeline—not just when the lead is handed to sales. The first part of this – insight for sales and marketing – is being called Revenue Intelligence and it’s why every martech vendor out there is getting them some of it ASAP (if they don’t have it already) – e.g. Salesforce, Oracle, the ABM vendors as it were (6sense, Demandbase, etc.), the sales enablement platforms (Seismic, Highspot, BigTinCan, etc.), Gong, etc. You’re going to hear a lot about Revenue Intelligence over the coming years as we continue to see the differentiation between marketing-led and sales enablement solutions.

2. CX needs better content data; it needs Content Intelligence

Content is now mainstage – literally**. Christine Polewarczyk and Phyllis Davidson’s excellent keynote presentation, “Time Travel and Transformation: The Future of B2B Content”, was the first time there’s ever been a content-focused keynote at Forrester Summit. Not before time, I’d suggest – the lion’s share of (increasingly digital) buyer journeys is engagement with content, and to properly understand these engagements we need to understand not just the buyer but the content too. We call this Content Intelligence; we’ll come back to this shortly.

Starting from the correct premise that content across the customer experience is broken (“Customers often receive content across their lifecycle that exposes a lack of alignment co-ordination, or cohesiveness from the functions that engage with them”***), Christine and Phyllis identified 3 things the B2B content engine of the future will need to do:

A. Deliver highly contextualized experiences – i.e. using AI to dynamically deliver contextually-relevant, real-time content experiences specific to the visitor across all channels. This necessarily involves a) an engine that’s making autonomous decisions based on the visitor’s behaviour (in-session and historically) and b) rich visitor (e.g. topics of interest) AND content data (e.g. rich content metadata on the finished asset being presented to the visitor).

B. Create the core of the CX data model – put simply, we need Content Intelligence, i.e. a 360 degree view of content and its myriad attributes such as metadata (manually curated and AI-generated), engagement metrics, audience characteristics, etc. Without this, with only visitor data (e.g. industry, job title, persona, etc.), we only ever have half of the equation. Better content data gives us better lenses through which to view content performance and the necessary fuel to deliver the highly contextualized experiences of A above.

C. Merge human and machine – not human vs. machine but human + machine working together harmoniously. For example, AI is great at creating ontological topic models – i.e. identifying the distinct topics (think of them as ingredients) that comprise our content corpus; in PathFactory’s case, these topics include “Demand Generation”, “Form Strategy”, “ABM”, “Virtual Events”, “Content Management”, etc. – but it isn’t always great at naming said topics, mainly because machines don’t do collective nouns. We need a “human in the loop” to help name the topics, with the AI helping the human to make this process as painless as possible. The implications of human + machine across the content lifecycle are profound; as Christine explained, this will likely require a rethinking of roles and responsibilities to achieve “a content force multiplier”. All hail enterprise-wide content centres of excellence and content engineers!

If I wouldn’t have got strange looks from my fellow attendees and been, I suspect, deeply off-putting to the presenters, I would have been on my feet loudly applauding the whole way through Christine and Phyllis’ presentation; it was that good and we here at PathFactory couldn’t agree more. It’s pretty much our raison d’etre.

My only minor quibble is with the title – “the future of B2B content”. Because here at PathFactory, we’re helping our customers achieve lots of this today. Phyllis profiled PathFactory customer Blackboard as an example of an organization delivering highly contextual experiences on their website today using Content Intelligence. Because PathFactory has “read” Blackboard’s content and turned it into structured data (e.g. to understand what each asset is about and how assets relate to each other) and is dynamically building topics of interest profiles per visitor, account and industry, we’re able to make relevant content recommendations to visitors in-session that increase content engagement and accelerate buyer journeys. Granted, that does sound like some future science fiction stuff and most B2B organizations aren’t doing this yet but it’s actually very similar to how services like Netflix, Amazon and Spotify all operate. We’re only delivering the type of experience that consumerized B2B buyers now expect.

So, how does this second macro trend relate to the first? The answer is simple: they are inherently linked and connected. Content Intelligence is a vital part of full Revenue Intelligence – without it, you may know that an anonymous visitor visited a webpage but you’re not going to understand what that webpage was about, what role this visitor is playing in the buying committee, or what content Sales should share with this person next. Content Intelligence gives marketing and sales rich first-party insight about real buyer interests and comparative levels of engagement and education with recommendations on the next best content assets. This is why PathFactory recently launched PathFactory for Revenue Enablement to add Content Intelligence to Revenue Intelligence solutions and bridge the gap between marketing and sales in a meaningful, contextual way. We need Content Intelligence to deliver on the move to opportunity- or account-centric pipelines.

But it’s more than simply giving better insight to sales and marketing. As Blackboard demonstrates, Content Intelligence can power the types of contextually relevant content experiences that B2B buyers demand and that are required to accelerate buying committees efficiently through their buyer journeys. Yes, Content Intelligence can help sellers sell but even more importantly it can help buyers buy. And this double whammy is terribly exciting – because there’s no greater validation for any of us than our effort positively impacting our organization’s pipeline conversion metrics and ultimately revenue. If you want a sneak peek at PathFactory for Revenue Enablement, click here.

* For more on this, please see Terry Flaherty and Amy Hawthorne’s excellent session “Goodbye MQLs, Hello Opportunities: A Phased Approach To Transformation” at Forrester Summit 2022.

** There were several other excellent content-focused sessions at Forrester Summit 2022, especially Phyllis Davidson and Jessie Johnson’s session titled “Schrodinger’s Cat And B2B Content: The Quantum Mechanics Of Contextualization” and Christine Polewarczyk’s session titled “Building a More Intelligent Content Stack with AI, Automation and Analytics”; both are “must watch”.

*** Confirmed by a live poll of the session’s attendees