What Has - and Hasn't - Changed in B2B Marketing



"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun."

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (New International Version)

"Don't throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again."

"Everything Old Is New Again," Peter Allen and Carole Sager, 1974

The last two decades have been a period of almost nonstop change in B2B marketing. Over the past fifteen years, we have witnesses the proliferation of marketing channels, the explosive growth of marketing technologies, and the appearance of several new marketing techniques, including inbound marketing, content marketing, and account-based marketing.

Over the same period, major consulting firms such as McKinsey, CEB (now part of Gartner), SiriusDecisions (now part of Forrester), and ITSMA introduced an array of concepts and models describing the B2B buying process and exploring the role that marketing can/should/does play in revenue growth at B2B companies.

Most of these developments have felt new, and many have been presented as new. But in fact, many of these "new" models of B2B marketing and buying aren't really new at all. They have antecedents that go back several decades.

This phenomenon can be seen in a 1972 book titled Organizational Buying Behavior by Frederick E. Webster and Yoram Wind. Here's how Webster and Wind described the six distinctive attributes of "organizational" (a/k/a B2B) buying:

    1.    "First, and perhaps most important, organizational buying decisions are made more complex by the fact that more people usually are involved in them and different people are likely to play different buying roles."

    2.    "Second, organizational buying decisions often involve major technical complexities relating to the product or service being purchased."

    3.    "Third, organizational buying decisions typically take longer to make than consumer (individual) decisions."

Neighbourhood Creative, a marketing agency for the new era.

    4.    "Fourth, the greater time required for organizational buying decisions means that there are significant lags between the application of marketing effort and obtaining a buying response."

    5.    "Fifth, each buying organization is likely to be significantly different from every other buying organization in the potential market in ways that may require viewing each organization as a separate market segment."

    6.    "Finally, the organizational members participating in the buying function are neither purely 'economic men' nor are their motives purely emotional and irrational. Rather they are human beings whose decisions and behavior are being influenced by both task- and nontask-related variables."

If I change a few words here and there, it would be easy to believe these six attributes were written this year instead of nearly 50 years ago. The first attribute captures the essence of what we now call a B2B buying group, and the fifth attribute is remarkably similar to the original concept of account-based marketing.

Organizational Buying Behavior also presents a thoroughly modern view of marketing's ultimate purpose and mission:

    "In a nutshell, the marketing concept as it exists today is a business philosophy that sees the fundamental purpose of the business as the creation of satisfied customers . . . The responsibility of marketing management, according to this philosophy, is to interpret conditions in the marketplace and to coordinate and influence the direction of company operations so as to ensure that the company's offerings of products and services have the highest probability of satisfying customer needs."

Again, with just a few word changes, this statement could have been written this year by a B2B marketing or customer experience leader.

All this  may seem like a "random but interesting" segment on Brian Sullivan's "Worldwide Exchange" show on CNBC. But this is one example of a larger and more important truth.

The pace of change in some aspects of B2B marketing has been so rapid over the past fifteen years that it's far too easy to lose sight of the fact that many of the core principles of marketing and buyer behavior have changed very little. The tools and techniques we use are certainly different, but the thoughts and emotions we need to evoke in customers and prospects are essentially the same today as they were decades ago. 

Propelling Brands Through Experience

More from Neighbourhood Creative

Why Your HR And Marketing Team Needs To Work Together
What Is Influencer Marketing?