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Econsultancy last month held Europe's largest conference devoted to B2B marketing and sales.

Our London FUNNEL event at the Emirates stadium saw some of the world's leading B2B business experts present to an audience across four streams: Plan, Align, Attract and Engage. 

The thoughts and insights shared that day, along with case studies illustrating best practice, have been used to create our B2B Digital Marketing Briefing, which is free to download.

To supplement our summary of the FUNNEL presentations contained in this report, we asked various B2B experts for additional input and advice for those seeking to improve their sales and marketing funnels, to create great content and invest in marketing automation.

Below we've included tips from Adam Sharp, Bob Apollo, Catherine Toole, Daniel Rowles, Doug Kessler, James Gurd and Steven Elliott.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for B2B marketers looking to improve their sales and marketing funnel?

James Gurd, Owner, Digital Juggler

I think the number one challenge is understanding the buying cycle. B2B purchases are often more complex than B2C as they involve multiple decision makers, and take longer to complete. Marketers need to identify the people involved and then define the personas and what channels & content are required to communicate effectively with each person.

It can be really helpful to visualise the sales cycle, mapping out each stage and who is involved. Then you can start to assign marketing activities to each stage and define what content and response mechanisms are required to satisfy each stage. Good advice is to use a marketing checklist that lists all activities, what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and by whom. This can help everyone involved know what role they play in supporting the sales and marketing funnel.

Doug Kessler, Creative Director and Co-founder, Velocity Partners

The biggest challenge for B2B marketers right now is driving and managing culture change – not just in their own department but in sales and across the executive team. You can’t do the new B2B without aligning the company around it. Ignore this at your peril.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for B2B marketers in this context?

Adam Sharp, Group MD, CleverTouch 

B2B marketers need to start operating strategically and not tactically. They need to be thinking about a coherent end to end sales and marketing technology architecture, one that reduces their own ‘Silo Misery Index’.

Steven Elliott, Managing Director, MarketOne International

To win respect in the boardroom, increase influence (and budgets) and begin to genuinely drive rather than support the business. And to stake a claim for the same compensation packages as top sales people.

What is the most important strategic step while embarking on organisational change towards more effective and joined-up sales and marketing?

Bob Apollo, Managing Partner, Inflexion-Point

You need to ensure that your marketing and sales organisations have a common, clearly-documented agreement with regard to the common characteristics of your 'ideal customers', the things that are likely to cause a prospect to take action, who the key stakeholders in the decision making process are, and how those prospects typically go about making buying decisions.

Until and unless this alignment is achieved, you’re likely to continue wasting a huge amount of time, money and effort on things that contribute nothing to the task of identifying, attracting, engaging qualifying and converting more of the right sort of customers. Both teams need to focus on outcomes, and not on activities. There’s no point in generating large volumes of 'leads' that the sales team does not follow up.

Instead, marketing and sales needs to work together to identify where the most significant obstacles to revenue growth are – whether at the top, middle or bottom of the funnel – and jointly implement programmes that are designed to eliminate or obliterate these barriers to success.

Is there a specific tactic relating to any area of B2B marketing and sales which you believe is particularly effective?

Daniel Rowles, Managing Director, TargetInternet.com

Even before we get to marketing automation, which can be hugely powerful, we need to understand the fundamentals. That is, what content do our potential customers need, and when, to help them make their purchasing decisions. It all comes down to right content, right place, right time.

What should buyers be looking for in a marketing automation tech vendor?

Steven Elliott, Managing Director, MarketOne International

As with any technology, most users only take advantage of 20% of the functionality within an automation platform. The first thing is to identify the things you want to do that can't be done with a traditional email service provider. Beyond that, it’s hard to predict what your needs might be in two years’ time as the business grows in size and sophistication. The cost of the technology itself is a fraction of the overall cost of ownership (TCO), and once it’s fully integrated with your systems and processes, it becomes expensive to migrate to alternatives. So we’d always recommend investing in a platform that can scale and keep pace with your evolution.

Adam Sharp, Group MD, CleverTouch

Firstly, a consultative partner and not someone who is really just a sales hungry company masquerading as a marketer. Secondly, a company with a coherent ecosystem. Marketing automation can provide a lot of the features a market needs in the reduction in marketing silos but not all and so marketing automation providers are increasingly opening up their platforms to be wholly integrated and inter-operable with other platforms for a single view of the customer.

Thirdly they need a partner network who can optimise and bring out the best in the technology. The partner network needs to understand the technology but be experienced marketers to be able to apply the technology to a practical use. A classic example is around lead scoring, there is way too much emphasis on lead scoring models by the vendors – it is just another feature – the reality is its business benefit which is around pipeline predictability and the flow of less but better quality leads.

What do B2B marketers need to do to make sure they create compelling content?

Catherine Toole, CEO, Sticky Content

The biggest mistake I perceive in content marketing strategy is when people plan around platforms, rather than mapping content to customer personas. So suddenly the need to do 'something on Pinterest' negates the need to make it relevant, effective, customer‐facing etc. If you start with everything you know about your sales cycle and the people who influence it at the customer end, you’ll often get content you’d never have dreamed of doing – but which works brilliantly.

It makes me smile when B2B marketers approach us apologetically saying 'it’s really hard to do our content because what we do is really boring and complicated'. These are often the clients who turn out to have the most incredible content ideas hidden somewhere in a white paper or whose subject matter experts tell the most engaging stories. And for those clients you can often do a really effective, measurable, content marketing campaign.

Doug Kessler, Creative Director and Co-founder, Velocity Partners

Great content lives at the intersection where the things your prospects care most about meet the things you’re best qualified to talk about. It then leverages your expertise to make their lives easier. Oh and it should be fun to consume, not dry as toast.

Monica Savut

Published 18 December, 2012 by Monica Savut @ Econsultancy

Monica Savut is Head of Research Services at Econsultancy. Follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn or Google+.

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