B2B, we’ve arrived. Despite fearful cries from post-pandemic skeptics around the resurgence of our industry, December 31st marks the first full calendar year since we crawled out from under the shadow of COVID-19, and thankfully, experts forecast that we have clear skies ahead of us in 2023.

Way back in 2020, leaders with the foresight to recognize a climate of change saw the opportunity to pivot their companies away from outdated practices that made them obsolete and move toward modernization that could propel them ahead of their competitors and position them for a future of growth.

Nowhere was this pivot more evident than in the areas (and intersections) of sales and marketing.

In 2022, we witnessed the outcomes of their timely implementation, a historic shift in the success of B2B marketing and sales tactics—and the displacement of traditional strategies that have held back the industry for decades. Now more than ever, B2B marketers are optimistic about change, and as an agency on the front lines of the revolution, we couldn’t be more excited for the year ahead.

Looking to 2023, we’re outlining our predictions for B2B advertising to help our clients understand what trends to expect and how to stay abreast of the tools and techniques that can engage with modern buyers and meet their evolving needs.

Without further ado, here are Spire’s 2023 New Year’s Predictions for B2B.

Prediction #1: “A2A” Marketing Will Replace Traditional B2B

Each year, the divisions between B2B and B2C buyers become less distinct. While both groups still maintain a unique set of characteristics, their shared attitudes toward marketing are becoming more closely aligned, particularly regarding digital advertising.

Gartner expects that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur in digital channels. For B2B marketers, this means it’s time to get serious about learning from B2C.

Media consumption has become ubiquitous in our daily experience, which means we’re all feeling overloaded, overstimulated, and more selective than ever about which content we engage with. Are you home? At work? It doesn’t matter; our psychology toward the barrage of messages, ads, and offers we receive is the same. We end up distracted and numb.

Enter “A2A” marketing: a hybrid of best practices pulled from both industries that, when implemented properly, creates efficiency in marketing and sales tactics to engage with the modern decision-maker no matter where they are.

What does B2C bring to the table? Creativity, testing, user experience, analytics, and end-to-end attribution.

What about B2B? Buyer journeys, subject matter experts, industry insight, and vast resources.

While most of the learnings flow in one direction, (B2B has a long road to modernization) marketers on both sides would be wise to refine their approach based on their counterparts’ successes.

For B2B, this means a commitment to more engaging media (video, 3D/augmented reality), more effective websites (CRMs, lead funnels, and automation), proper data collection (analytics), and personalized awareness, nurture, and drip campaigns that target buyers on the platforms where they spend the most time (social, email, podcasts, etc.).

To put it bluntly, the adoption of the “A2A” approach could determine whether your B2B business still exists in the next 10 years.

Prediction #2: B2B Will Outspend B2C in MarTech

On that note, let’s dive into the digital ecosystem further with a focus on the technology that powers it: MarTech. As of 2022, most B2B companies don’t have a MarTech stack, and the ones that do often feel plagued by internal red tape or operational silos that prevent them from leveraging the technology to its full potential.

To prove that MarTech can work, B2B CMOs will have to stand their ground while trying to convince their fellow executives of the facts. In forecasting B2B budgets for 2023, Insider Intelligence/EMarketer found that B2B MarTech spending will hit $6.59 billion by the end of the year and exceed $8.5 billion by 2024. B2B growth will outpace B2C. This figure is up significantly from 2020, where B2B spent only $4.75 billion. That’s a big jump.

Broken down annually, it’s an average increase of 15.94% per year that is being allocated exclusively toward MarTech. B2B now accounts for 30% of all spending in the category. Let me say that again: 30%.

If you’re not investing in MarTech in 2023, your competitors absolutely will be.

But tech is only half of the equation in an effective stack. The other half requires securing another (more difficult) type of buy-in people. Finding internal stakeholders who believe in the efficacy of the technology, and who are willing to champion it within their teams, is essential to achieving results.

Invested and well-trained salespeople + MarTech = unprecedented revenue growth.

Prediction #3: Omni-Channel Sales Will Set the Bottom Line

Let’s talk about salespeople.

Like all people, they come in two varieties: (1) open-minded or (2) close-minded to change. Unfortunately, time waits for no one. So, eventually, we all must embrace the changes driving our industry forward or face being left behind by those who will. In the case of B2B sales, the future is “omni-channel.”

Omni-channel is a broader (and more aggressive) take on the popular multi-channel strategy of recent years and is defined as the seamless integration between sales analytics and a buyer’s journey across all touchpoints. This includes both in-person selling events (tradeshows, meetings, etc.) and online experiences (websites, campaigns, etc.).

Imagine that instead of manually logging calls, notes, and emails for a prospect, you had a lead profile that showed a timeline of their lifetime interactions with your company. You could review every trade show check-in, every time they visit your website (and what specific pages and media they interact with), and every ad or promotion they clicked on.

With this knowledge, you can engage with them on the channels (and with the messages) they prefer instead of fishing for answers their online behavior has already provided.

According to McKinsey, B2B customers now regularly use 10 or more channels to interact with suppliers (up from just five in 2016). In order to cover that scope, salespeople need to leverage technology to apply their personal selling efforts most effectively.

With omni-channel, salespeople just sell and let the marketing automation and analytics sort their prospects into hot or cold. Pitching that idea to resistant salespeople is how you get them to buy-in and their buy-in is critical.

For B2B leaders stuck with begrudging, resistant salespeople, here is a bombshell from McKinsey: Buyers are more willing than ever before to spend big through remote, or online sales channels, with 35% willing to spend $500,000 or more in a single transaction (up from 27% in February of 2021). Seventy-seven percent of B2B customers are also willing to spend $50,000 or more.

Commission on a $500,000 order, just to let an algorithm do most of the work? That doesn’t sound half bad, right? Omni-channel isn’t a condemnation of personal selling, it is personal selling plus automation done to perfection.

Prediction #4: B2B Brands Will Get Personal

So, A2A broadens B2B’s strategic approach, and MarTech supports omni-channel sales to make more money for your business, but what do these things specifically offer the buyer that make them so superior to a traditional approach? One word: personalization.

Don’t worry, the handshake isn’t going away. But, in a sense, it is being replaced with several smaller personalized (and automated) handshakes before the deal is won. This is a good thing. It saves marketing and sales teams wasted time in trying to qualify leads that aren’t serious, and it delivers relevant, refined messages to more serious buyers with well-defined needs.

In a study by McKinsey, they found only 8% of B2B organizations are currently set up to deliver highly personalized marketing—but of that 8%, three-quarters report growing market share.

But what about existing customers? How do we reduce our attrition rate? I’m glad you asked.

Personalization helps nurture cross-sell and upsell opportunities with existing customers because it communicates that their value isn’t summarized by an account ID and a generic stack of purchase orders (even if that is the financial bottom line).

According to Forbes, 34% of marketing decision-makers plan to increase the budget for customer engagement headcount by 10% or more. The primary focus is tied between increasing the value of post-sale engagement programs by sharing customer experiences and demonstrating the impact of customer advocacy and references.

Stop treating your brand like it’s “just business” and engage with new and existing customers through end-to-end personalization that makes their accounts feel like real relationships.

Prediction #5: B2B “Dark Social” Will Disguise True ROI

“Dark Social” is a new term this year, but it describes a phenomenon (a problem, really) that existed with marketing analytics long before the term was coined: attribution.

Forbes reports that nearly 85% of CEOs and vice presidents say they use social media to help make purchasing decisions.

But which platforms are they deciding on? Does anyone have a guess?

If you said, “No clue…” you’re on the right track.

In the beginning, we were concerned with cross-channel attribution. B2B marketers only had to track the conversion path of a customer across two to three platforms and devices. Now, we have upwards of seven to ten touchpoints where customers make decisions, and most can’t be tracked at all. These include emails, messaging apps, private online groups, etc.

It’s in these “dark” parts of digital, where our customers spend a lot of their time, that we lose the thread of key decisions they’re making about our products and solutions. How do we define a buyer’s path across all of these winding routes and digital backroads? Well, in most cases, we don’t … because we can’t.

If that chart above alarms you, the Forbes estimates are even more shocking. They claim 77% of all social shares happen “in the dark,” so where does this leave our ability as B2B marketers to prove ROI?

Our salvation: Data, data, and more data.

The important thing to remember is that not all “dark social” can be captured (that’s sort of the point), but with best practices in analytics applied across all channels and a centralized customer database to collect and organize that information, B2B businesses can begin to develop models that are better at end-to-end attribution.

In the end, a solution to “dark social” is really a debate over internet privacy. While staying abreast of legislation, we will recommend that B2B marketers collect what is available to them, and use the security of that robust data infrastructure as a guide into the uncertain future of an evolving space.

Bonus Insight: Securing Buyer Loyalty

Here are some quick stats gathered by McKinsey after they asked respondents: “Which of these experiences are required for you to stay loyal to a supplier before seeking new relationships?” (Measured by the percentage who said “Yes, I require this experience.”)

  • Performance guarantees offered during sale – 77%
  • Product availability shown online – 74%
  • Ability to purchase from any channel – 72%
  • Real-time/always-on customer service - 72%
  • Consistent experience across channels – 72%

Some things never change. There will always be an emphasis on product quality, credibility, trust, and personal service in B2B buyer relationships. But isn’t it interesting that three of the five top answers respondents gave were based on their ease of experience and flexibility within digital channels? These simple changes to marketing and sales infrastructure really can make a difference, and they do. We’ve seen it first-hand with our clients.

Our Final Thoughts…

We hope that you found these predictions insightful and that the ideas presented here help you stay ahead of leading trends and position your B2B business for growth and success in 2023. To our clients, especially, we’re excited for the year ahead.

To stay up to date on Spire news, awards, and blog posts in the new year, subscribe to our Spire Wire newsletter.

Luke Bryant is a Senior Account Executive at Spire, and is also Ad 2 Dallas president and an Ad 2 Dallas “32 Under 32” recipient.