Marketing Automation

3 Marketing Lessons from the Fortune 500’s Best B2B Companies

As a follow-up to the article I wrote for ClickZ the other day, I wanted to talk a bit more about the use of technology and the adoption of best practices in large B2B organizations.

My research for the ClickZ article looked at B2B companies on the Fortune 500* and their adoption of modern marketing tools. But when you look at the raw data, it becomes clear that there are three easy lessons for any B2B marketer.

Lesson 1: Technology is only the beginning

When adopting radical new technologies, the technology itself is often only part of the story. The other part is a shift in thinking or action. This is so true for marketing automation. It is a tool, but it is more about learning to think about your marketing in new ways, and building out campaigns for one person at a time.

This is why this technology is such a big deal. It allows you to automate one-to-one marketing. The problem we saw with many Fortune 500 companies is they adopt the technology but fail to realize its true power. They plug it into their current marketing framework, which is one-to-many. They fail to adopt best practices such as using Progressive Profiling on their forms, keeping their forms shorter than 10 questions, sending follow up emails after form submissions, and using personalization.

These companies have adopted the technology, but hardly any of them adopted best practices on how to use it. Technology is a step in the right direction, but it is nothing with out understanding--and it is only a fraction of the solution to driving higher demand.

Lesson 2: The basics never go out of style

Across all the comanies we studied, the average number of question asked in web forms was 10--and two companies did not have any type of web tracking at all. Seriously, they didn’t even have Google Analytics. These are companies that do online lead generation, and didn’t even have a free tool to track their website. So this was a double fail on some serious basics of modern marketing.

The basics are called “basic” for a reason. These are things that are really effective, and they are usually amonth the first things you should do. Basic stuff like not asking too many questions on a form. Basic stuff like tracking your prospects. Basic stuff like following up with someone who fills out a “Contact Us” form. You would think these are all basic concepts; however, that is not what my research showed.

Before you take a dive into advanced technologies, make sure you have your basics down pat. If not, adding more technology will only get you a fraction of the tool's potential value.

Lesson 3: Test it. Don’t debate it.

In defense of these large companies, it is easy to understand that change is hard in a big organization. However, in today’s digital world this is complete BS. I recognize there might be a lot of red tape to change their website; however, that doesn’t excuse them from figuring out how to be nimble and get things changed.

Also in their defense we might say, “Bosses usually squash forward-thinking ideas.” I get that. To be clear, I work for the world’s coolest boss, but I can image having one who stifles creativity for fear of backlash (shameless attempt for a raise). However, there is no excuse for not testing ideas and proving them. I didn’t see any split testing on any forms, on any pages, or any of the content I accessed.

If companies are going to debate the use of new ideas, the best thing they can do is to test them. This is a best practice for anyone, not just the Fortune 500. If you have an idea, test it out first, see what works, and then improve and launch it live.

In closing, this report was a lot of fun to put together. My goal was not to be harsh on any segment, or to rant about how bad someone’s marketing is. I was happily surprised at the 25% adoption rate of marketing automation among these companies, but I have to be honest when I can say I was also very disappointed at their lack of best practices. Either way, take what you want from this information, but make sure you are sticking to the basics first, implementing new technologies second, and testing all the time.

For more on marketing automation and the future of marketing, check out Inspired Marketing Predictions for 2013.

*Fortune 500 companies surveyed were only those who are specifically B2B, and those who are likely to adopt modern marketing tools and technologies for B2B lead generation. Excluded from this research were: government contractors, businesses who sold very low volumes of very high-priced items (such as planes), companies who made a significant portion of their sales from B2C channels, B2C exclusive companies, financial service companies, and companies who sold or dealt with commodities. Those types of companies traditionally have very different sales and marketing models than other B2B companies. When these filters were applied there were only 38 companies who fit this profile on the Fortune 500 list.

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