Changes in B2B business environment
Competition in B2B markets is global, products and services are searched, compared and procured across the borders. Vendors have been forced to follow their customers, very few B2B companies can rely on domestic customers only. Local markets that used to be isolated with their own specific terms and conditions, are also changing: the same technologies, standards and processes are in place everywhere, making it easier to demonstrate and offer products by means of inside sales and marketing. Internationalisation also creates brutal cost pressure on all business operations.
Face-to-face meetings have traditionally played a central role in B2B sales. But today, customers are ready to meet sellers very late. According to a survey, on average, as much as 57% of customers´ purchase process is already over, before they are willing to meet with vendors. To win customer orders, vendor companies need thus to be able to present their offerings, references and other competitive advantages before the first sales appointment.
At the heart of the change is the Internet. It has become the first source of information for B2B buyers. And besides information search, the Internet significantly affects on all purchasing process stages. B2B company website and presence in social media are vital and indispensable anchors of Internet influence. The companies looking for information and solutions are then reached utilising inbound marketing techniques. Digital interaction with customers generates huge amount of data. Its utilisation will not only help to develop more competitive products, but also enables ever evolving customer operations. It is verified that B2B companies that effectively use digital methods and tools in their customer interface, are doing significantly better in acquiring customer leads, nurturing leads to paying customers and retaining their existing clients.
Besides evaluating overall digital marketing effectiveness, utilisation of real-time and predictive analytics as well as marketing automation are good yardsticks when estimating digital marketing maturity.
Real-time analytics (e.g. Google Analytics and Coremetrics) can be used, for instance, to follow how visitors will find company website and how they interact with it. This will improve, among other things, customer acquisition cost-effectiveness and understanding of clients' needs and priorities. In addition, it will sharpen marketing communications more relevant. Marketing Automation (for example Marketo and Pardot/Salesforce) automates communications and maintains customer interest in the marketer firm. It makes it possible to serve customers with higher quality and more cost-effectively – and thus get more sales. Studies show that B2B companies, utilising marketing automation, get more and higher-quality customer leads and grow faster than their competitors. Predictive analytics (e.g. Totango and Kissmetrics) with sensor-based customer listening capabilities can identify e.g. customers at risk of churn or intensify cross-selling and upselling.
Status of SMEs in Finland
Then, let us look at how digital tools and methods are used in Finland. A Finnish trade magazine, Kauppalehti,
database was used to pick randomly 108 B2B companies whose turnover is between 10 and 200 M€. Almost all the major industries were represented. Some, e.g. consulting, and construction were excluded, though the analysis is highly relevant to them, too. The selected companies are the best among their peers, so the general situation is hardly better.
To get an overview of digital marketing effectiveness, the companies were examined with algorithm based automatic tool, see also the box on the right. The results obtained can not in any way be regarded as an absolute truth, but anyway, the tool is accurate enough to analyse the situation.
We should be very concerned. The best Finnish B2B SMEs are below average in digital marketing, and almost every fifth of them are even rated bad, see the graph on the left. Only about 5% of the companies are good or excellent.
The situation by industry is uniformly poor, only software companies stand out better, see the graph below.
To get a domestic benchmark for the results, also the biggest B2B companies in Finland were examined (Finland top 20 in the graph). These enterprises are considerably
more advanced, even surpassing the software company results. Because there is a clear indication that the Finnish big ones are not at the utmost forefront of the global development, the SMEs sector is subject to a resounding wake-up call.
Next we examined the use of real-time analytics (by using an automated tool, see also the box above). More than one fifth of the surveyed SMEs do not take an advantage of it. It means that they in practise wander around in the dark, not understanding outcomes and shortcomings of their digital world activities. In the control group, on the other hand, all big companies in Finland are using the analytics. The most commonly used analytics solution, by the way, is Google Analytics that is free to use. US companies are a great international benchmark for the Finnish findings. There the big companies and also the SME sector seem to have faster adopted the use of analytics in their business operations than their Finnish counterparts.
Only 5.6 % of the selected Finnish small and medium-sized companies take advantage of marketing automation. There are no major differences across various industries, few pioneers are emerging in almost all sectors. Every fourth of the Finnish big corporation benchmarks are utilising automation. In the United States, it is estimated that 25 to 60 % of large B2B enterprises use marketing automation. Correspondingly, studies show that the penetration in US small and medium-sized enterprises is at least 10 to 25%. High-technology sectors, followed by consulting and manufacturing industries, are leading the pack in the United States.
None of the studied Finnish companies, neither large companies nor SMEs, used predictive analytics. Because of international examples, it is expected that those companies that have digital service elements in their offering will take the lead in adoption.
Lastly, we studied how digital awareness affects business performance. Business growth, profit, return on capital, as well as the size of international operations were picked up from the Kauppalehti database. The companies under investigation were divided into two categories, based on whether they are rated to be in the top half in digital marketing (> 50) or in the bottom (< 50), see the graph below. The conclusions are very clear: on average the digitally-leading companies are growing faster and their profitability is better than those of their lagging counterparts. In addition, the international operations' share of net sales was clearly correlated to the digital marketing maturity.
On average, even the best Finnish SMEs are not taking care of their digital marketing very well or even satisfactorily. This is reflected in comparisons with large Finnish enterprises as well as relative to international benchmarks. And because utilisation of digital methods and tools is a key lever to achieve business success, we are facing a similar kind of problem as the whole Finnish economy: though business premises are good, the SMEs are capable of delivering significantly less than available potential. As an outcome, a company might face e.g.:
- Sales of existing products is smaller than possible opportunities available, the reasons being inefficiency in acquiring new customers and inability to maximise customer life cycle revenues
- Renewal and innovation are built on less and thinner customer insights, resulting in more product- and technology -centric development
- Commercialisation and go-to-market of new products and business models are limping, potential customers and profits are not achieved
- There are unnecessary hurdles for internationalisation, because one of the cornerstones - customer operations - is not competitive