I don’t think so. I think it was just that I was talking about B2B.
Let me explain.
Last week, I was in San Francisco talking at a marketing technology conference. My session, in which I was a co-presenter, was going to be about psychographic profiling and artificial intelligence -- in B2B marketing.
It was supposed to start immediately after another session on “cognitive marketing.”. During this prior session, I decided to stand at the back at the room so I didn’t take up a seat.
That proved to be a mistake. During that session, which was in one of three tracks running at the time, the medium-sized room filled to standing-room-only capacity. The presenter talked about how machine learning -- delivered via IBM’s Watson, Google’s DeepMind or Amazon’s Cloud AI solution -- is going to change marketing and, along with it, the job of a human marketer.
I found it interesting. The audience seemed to think so as well. The presenter wrapped up, the moderator got up to thank him and introduce me as the next presenter -- and about 60% of the room stood as one and headed for the exit door, creating a solid human wall between myself and the exit door.
It took me -- the fish -- about five minutes of proverbially and physically swimming upstream before I could get to the stage. It wasn’t the smoothest of transitions.
I tend to take these things personally. But I honestly don’t think it was me. I think it was the fact that “B2B” was in the title of my presentation.
I have found that as soon as you slap that label on anything, marketers tend to swarm in the opposite direction. If there is a B2B track at a general marketing show, you can bet your authentic Adam West Batman action figure (not that I would have any such thing) it will take place in some far-off corner of the conference center, down three flights of escalators, where you turn right and head toward the parking garage.
My experience at this past show was analogous to the lot of B2B marketing in general. Whenever we start talking about it, people start heading for the door.
I don’t get it.
It’s not a question of budget. Even in terms of marketing dollars, a lot of budget gets allocated for B2B. An Outsell report for 2016 pegged the total U.S. B2B marketing spend at about $151 billion. That compares respectfully with the total consumer ad spend of $192 billion, according to eMarketer.
And it’s definitely not a question of market size. It’s very difficult to size the entire B2B market, but there’s no doubt that it’s huge. A Forrester report estimates that $8 trillion was sold in the U.S. B2B retail space in 2014. That’s almost half of the US gross domestic product that year. And a huge swath of the business is happening online. The worldwide B2B eCommerce market is projected to be $6.7 trillion by 2020. That’s twice as big as the projected online B2C market ($3.2 trillion).
So what gives? B2B is showing us the money. Why aren't we showing it any love?
Just digging up the background research for this column proved to be painful. Consumer spend and marketing dollar numbers come gushing off the page of even a half-assed Google search. But B2B stats? Cue the crickets.
I have come to the conclusion that it’s just lack of attention, which probably comes from a lack of sex appeal. B2B is like the debate club in high school. While everyone goes gaga during school assemblies over the cheerleading squad and the football team, the people who will one day rule the world quietly gather after class with Mr. Tilman in the biology lab to plot their debate strategy for next week’s match up against J.R. Matheson Senior High.
It goes without saying that parents will be the only ones who actually show up for the debate match. And even some of them will have to stay home to cut the grass.
Those debaters will probably all grow up to be B2B marketers.
It may also be that B2B marketing is hard. Like juggling Rubik’s Cubes while simultaneously solving them hard. At least, it’s hard if you dare to go past the “get a lead and hound them mercilessly until they either move to another country or give in and buy something to get you off their back” school of marketing.
If you try to do something as silly as try to predict purchase behaviors, you have the problem of compound complexity. We have been trying for some time, with limited success, to predict a single consumer’s behavior. In B2B, you have to predict what might happen when you assemble a team of potential buyers -- each with their own agenda, emotions and varying degrees of input -- and ask them to come to a consensus on an organizational buying decision.
That can make your brain hurt. It’s a wicked problem to the power of 5.4 (the average number of buyers involved in a B2B buying decision, according to CEB’s research). It’s the Inconvenient Truth of Marketing.
That, I keep telling myself, is why everyone was rushing for the door the minute I started walking to the stage. I shouldn’t take it personally.