In a recent survey conducted by ITSMA, business-to-business (B2B) marketers worldwide expect that understanding buyers will be their #1 responsibility in two years (85%).

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Managing “marketing technology tools” and “market/competitor analysis” round out the top three marketing duties predicted for 2016, representing 76% and 75% of respondents, respectively.

Of course, with a staggering amount of technology available to marketers (1,876 vendors as of Scott Brinker’s latest count,) and Gartner’s predictions that the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO by 2017, it comes as no surprise that managing this technology took it’s place as a major responsibility in the survey.

What may come as a surprise is the sudden emergence of “understanding buyers” to a top responsibility in 2016, especially compared to the top duties reported today. Respondents said brand and positioning, lead generation, and brand communications were their top three leading responsibilities as of November 2014, the time of the survey.

Why Customers? Why Now?

So where does this prediction (or perhaps dread) related to the need for buyer understanding come from? All survey data is open to some interpretation (see this eMarketer writeup, and this coverage in MediaPost) but from where I sit, this research is an encouraging indication of where B2B marketing is headed.

My interpretation of these results starts with an understanding that the B2B buying experience has fundamentally changed. Forrester and Gartner support the notion that today’s buyer embarks on an increasingly digital, empowered, and complex buyers journey. IDC has found that an average of 7 people influence each B2B technology purchase, and Aberdeen Group coined the “hidden sales cycle” where buyers identify challenges and do their own research while keeping vendors at arm’s length.

Here’s the point: B2B buyers have never been so difficult to understand. But it has never been so important to try and understand them. 

Marketing for the New B2B Buyer

As indicated in this ITSMA survey, B2B marketers will be increasingly looked to as the resident experts on the customer.

5 years ago we all accepted the fact that marketing had evolved from a cost-center to a revenue-generator. Now, the B2B marketing team of tomorrow is a customer experience conductor, orchestrating the various touchpoints that comprise the modern buyers journey. They must foresee and manage the experience these buyers have with their brand, from first interaction to closed deal, and retention beyond.

In addition to this shift in responsibility, marketers must fight for eyeballs in a content marketing environment that gets more cluttered every day. The content produced for inbound, lead nurturing, and sales enablement must be hyper-relevant, or risk being lost in the abyss of un-opened emails, ignored ads and forgotten social posts.

To combat this, marketers have made it clear that knowledge is power. Understanding who your buyers are – their goals, motivations, preferences, influencer dynamics, challenges, concerns, KPIs, research habits, thought process, even personalities – can help to inform more customer-centric (and more effective) decisions and strategy in marketing, sales, product and beyond.

This strategy is only possible if information is shared effectively within an organization. As it relates to team structure, the ITSMA study notes that B2B marketers expect to shift to a hub-and-spoke organizational model (rather than hierarchical) where materials and information is collected at the hub, or center, and distributed along the spokes to different areas.

The real challenge for marketers will be how to aggregate the right information about buyers from disparate places in a way that makes it actionable across the marketing department, as well as across the business.

Leverage Cintell to ensure your personas are shared easily throughout your business, constantly refined and up-to-date, and integrated with your business systems. Get your free, custom demo now.

As for you, our reader, are you surprised at the survey results?