The theme of Forrester’s “Predictions 2020: B2B Marketing And Sales” report was “accelerating response to the great expectations for the B2B buying experience.” The report made five unique calls; one of them was mine: The number of organizations with audience-based structures will more than double. Since we published the report late last year, I’ve had some robust challenges to that call. So I figured that I’d better “Lorisplain” myself.

Customer centricity is already the design muse for vanguard organizations, directing organizational and technology decisions. While we’ve been making predictions around customer centricity for the past few years, this one is a little different — because a big part of it is structural. We predict that the shift will manifest itself in structural alignment around audiences.

This pivot is long overdue. We’re 20 years into the era of marketing automation and digital marketing. Despite all of the rhetoric around customer obsession, customer centricity, and customer experiences, most B2B marketers still build their go-to-market programs on some internally referenced basis — like products, key geographies, or an industry event. This really hit me when I looked at data from our recent survey of B2B marketers:

  • Just 47% told us that customer needs drove their marketing strategies.
  • Only 40% say that they prioritize solving customers’ problems over promoting their products.

The reason we highlighted structure in this prediction is because our evidence indicates that the problem is not in mindset, philosophy, or vision. I think that the problem is structural. B2B marketers cling to structural strategies of the past: 36% organize around industry segments; 43% organize by channel-specific domain expertise such as email, advertising, or social. And behaviors and execution conform to structures, not the other way around.

But if there’s any wiggle room in this prediction, it’s in the use of the word structures, which could mean:

  • Hard organizational alignment with straight-line reporting.
  • A matrixed or networked organization.
  • Agile teams.
  • Budget allocation or goals and rewards (if you really want to exercise the wobbles in the wigglyness).

To be fair, the actual prediction did eliminate the wiggle room by specifying that the percentage of B2B marketing leaders who say their companies are structured to support customer journeys will jump from 18% to 48%. I’m going to have to account for this prediction at this time next year.

Here are some of the questions that came up in our predictions webinar: “B2B Marketing And Sales Predictions 2020: A Conversation With The Analysts Who Made Them.” Full disclosure: This is a record of the call, not a transcript.

Question: A jump of 30 percentage points is a pretty big jump. Can you give us a little more insight into why you feel so bullish on this?

Answer: It is a big jump, particularly for me to forecast, as I’m rather conservative in my predictions. My bullishness is based on a few factors. First, this is just so long overdue. So many B2B marketers who have a really solid process have hit the wall on improving their conversion metrics and realize that a change in strategy is needed. But it’s also because B2B marketers are so close to doing this. A robust 73% of global B2B marketing leaders tell us that they have adopted journey maps within the marketing department, but only 35% say that they are the basis for marketing’s planning. The research and thinking has been done; now, it’s just the structural changes that will support customer-centric executions.

Question: Can you explain a bit more what you mean when you say “organize” to support customer journeys?

Answer: I can see that someone is trying to take away all my wiggle room on this prediction. But, as I said, I’m really talking about organizational structures — and those can take many forms, from hard organizational alignment to a more matrixed or networked organization. Or Agile teams. And I think different marketing leaders will make different choices based upon maturity and culture and a number of other organizational factors — like the strength of the marketing leadership team.

Question: What are the primary barriers in the move from adopting journey maps to using them as the basis for marketing planning?

Answer: I’m happy to see the action orientation of this question, so I don’t want to squelch it by raising the specter of too many barriers. But there are barriers to every change, so be prepared. The first problem that will arise is that you need to bring the stakeholders in the inside-out organization (product management, business unit heads) along in making this customer-centric shift; otherwise, they will fight being left behind. But I think the actual problem is managing scale. The same product or service delivers value in many ways to many different stakeholders with many different problems or aspirations. Each of these differences can result in a different journey. So, even with a small company, the journey portfolio can get intractably large very quickly. We recommend two approaches to managing scale. One is to make the pivot with a small portfolio of very high-value journeys. The second (and this is my favorite) is to categorize journeys into a small set of buying motions that reflect unique journey dynamics. Then build your engagement strategies for those buying motions. This is the idea behind our “go-to-customer” strategy matrix, and I’d be happy to discuss this idea further. Please schedule an inquiry if you’re interested.