We analysts aren’t much good at wish-granting. It’s usually the case that we have to tell people the answer is harder than they’d like it to be and that it will take a lot of work to do something really good. Wouldn’t it be great if we could give you a marketing wish hotline, where sticky problems get transformed into simple ones with a wave of the presentation-slide changer and some Disney-quality fairy dust? Alas, the best I can do is share the three areas that will make the biggest difference for B2B marketing in the year ahead. These are my very best wishes for 2011: 

1) Focus. What’s more precious and in-demand than time and attention? For the marketers I talk to every day, their focus is divided among so many things, from marketing automation deployment to email deliverability problems to social media. Their customers’ and prospects’ time is divided too, with our data showing an average of 20 marketing messages hitting their inbox every week. The only way to make sense of all these competing priorities is to decide which ones really are priorities. While you’re at it, make sure these priorities are based on buyer and customer needs and those actions that will contribute to meeting your goals. Everything else is just noise. The areas of focus that will make the biggest impact in 2011 include: 

  • Planning: What are the very few messages that you want to be known for in the market? Do buyers respond to them? Once you know that, what are the sources of information those buyers value? What is the best way to deliver them? How do needs and preferences change as they move through the buying process? Effective planning will take all these inputs and provide a marketing roadmap that uses a handful of messages, reinforces them via the right sources, and delivers them in a way that’s preferred by the individuals you want to reach. Focus on developing this roadmap.
  • Data: It’s impossible to do good marketing if you have bad data. We estimate that on average 30 percent of records in marketing databases are bad, meaning they can’t be used. That’s a big problem, but it’s one that can be fixed if it gets attention. If you’ve put it off in 2010, make it a key area of focus in 2011. Better data does a lot to help make planning easier, too.
  • Measuring results: Better planning makes clear the chain of desired outcomes from investments in marketing, and that means you need to keep score to know if you’re delivering those outcomes. Measure the impact of what you do in terms of how it supports marketing and overall business goals. Be ruthless about choosing the right measures to show impact. New leads to sales is only part of the story. Know where and how marketing is investing in all aspects of the buying process, and how those investments show up, then tell the story with data.

2) Integration. By nature, most marketers are collaborative. Why, then, do we keep isolating ourselves in silos of technology and activity? One of the great opportunities for marketers in 2011 is to amplify their efforts by combining them with the efforts of others to support the entire buying process, not to mention the customer lifecycle. Here are two areas of integration opportunity:

  • Data integration: If information wants to be free, then it wants to be free to get together with other information and tell a story. The linkage of marketing and sales data delivers a rich view of what happens to every prospect and every dollar invested in moving them them through the buying process. But there’s an “if” coming: The data can only tell that story if the process is there to collect it, and if the data can be integrated for analysis and insights. Start by defining the information you need to make better decisions, then figure out how to be sure you’ll get it. Technology isn’t enough.
  • Message and activity integration: Our data shows that when top-of-the-funnel marketing activities are designed to reinforce and amplify the messages used in later-stage demand creation and sales enablement activities, there can be as much as 40 percent improvement in the conversion rates of opportunities.
  • Start with messages: Focus on a few messages and systematically incorporate them into every inbound and outbound marketing activity, from social media to email to traditional events. Next, work on activity integration. Use standardized, integrated planning to define what activities will support of buyer’s journey, regardless of who executes, from online to events to PR. When you start with buyer needs, it’s easier to understand how all these separate activities can be brought together. 

3) Insights. Guessing is just not good enough for best-in-class marketing organizations. The best marketing work in the year ahead will be done by those companies who get actionable knowledge from all that data they collect. The the next big thing for marketers is finding and using insights to make marketing deliver better results. The insights that will do the most good in 2011 are these:

  • Customer and buyer insights: For a better plan, use data to know your buyers’ needs and preferences. Know how they interact with you and each other. Use those insights to inform all marketing investments to reach them and help them through their decision making. This is extra true for existing customers, by the way. We already know who they are and what they buy from us now, plus a whole lot more that would help us to do better marketing to grow that business. Make the effort to put those insights to work.
  • Performance insights: Performance data becomes actionable insight when it’s combined into a story that shows what to improve, as well as where are pockets of brilliance to celebrate and emulate. Based on measurement that allows tracking the activity of buyers, the movement of leads from phase to phase, and the performance of tactics offered to those buyers, there’s a lot we can learn from our own information. Don’t miss out on what the experts on your team can teach.