One emerging trend in business-to-business marketing is the growing use of marketing automation technologies by B2B companies.  Marketing services providers who serve B2B companies need to be aware of this trend because, over time, it will change the way B2B companies approach marketing and the kinds of marketing services they will require - and be willing to pay for.

While there are many similarities between B2B and B2C marketing, there can also be some significant differences.  For example, many B2B companies have selling cycles that are measured in months, and B2B purchasing decisions can involve several "buyers."  Today's  B2B marketing automation technologies are designed to address these important and distinctive characteristics of B2B marketing.

B2B marketing automation systems - also called demand generation systems - are software tools that are designed to help marketers acquire, nurture, qualify, and distribute leads to sales.  Demand generation systems automate four types of B2B marketing activities.

Lead Generation - Demand generation systems enable users to create and execute lead generation e-mail campaigns.  They can also host landing pages and the forms that are used to capture campaign responses.  Most also have some ability to track visitis to Web pages at the company's main Website in addition to the campaign landing page(s).  Support for channels other than e-mail and Web pages is inconsistent.

Lead Nurturing - Lead nurturing is the process of communicating with prospects on a regular basis until they are ready to buy.  For example, a lead nurturing program might involve sending a prospect a particular sequence of e-mails on a specified schedule or in response to the prospect's behavior.  Demand generation systems automate the execution of lead nurturing programs.  Automated lead nurturing is probably the most important feature of demand generation systems because nurturing programs are difficult to implement without automation.

Lead Scoring - Lead scoring is a method of qualifying prospects by assigning numerical "points" based on information provided by the prospect and on the prospect's behavior (e-mails opened, white papers downloaded, Webinars attended, etc.).  Demand generation systems allow users to define scoring criteria and assign scoring values to those criteria.

Lead Distribution - When a prospect's lead score reaches a pre-determined value, or when some other specified event occurs, the lead is deemed to be sales ready, and the demand generation system automatically passes the lead to sales.  Most, if not all, demand generation systems offer integration with, and some vendors offer integration with other sales automation and CRM products.  This integration makes distributing leads virtually seamless.

Forrester Research has estimated that only 2 to 5 percent of B2B companies have implemented demand generation systems, although the adoption rate has certainly grown since that estimate.  I believe that this market is on the cusp of a huge growth spurt.  This growth will occur for three reasons.  First, demand generation systems exist for virtually all sizes of B2B companies.  Monthly costs start as low as $200, and I know of at least one company - LoopFuse - that offers a free version.  Second, all of the major demand generation systems are sold as a hosted solution, which means that companies don't need extensive IT resources to implement and use them.  And finally, there is a growing body of evidence from early adopters that demand generation systems can significantly improve marketing and sales performance.

B2B demand generation systems can be very affordable and easy to use from a technological perspective.  For MSP's, the important message is that how these technologies are used is what really determines success.  And companies - especially small and mid-size companies - will need help to leverage the full capabilities of these systems.  This opens the door for MSP's to offer a new set of services, and I'll talk about some of these new services in a future post.