Executive Insights: Digitalization, Marketing Measurement, And The Engagement Economy

Fred Isbell

A fundamental concept of modern marketing is a balance between art and science. On one side of the equation is traditional creative aspects such as branding, messaging, and advertising, where actions are intuitive and thoughtful. On the other end resides analytical, quantitative, and reporting elements that require logical and analytical thinking and keen follow-through on resulting insights.

In today’s fast-paced world, marketers must find the best mix of art and science to drive and measure success. One vital source we reference annually is the ITSMA report “How Buyers Consume B2B Information,” a key deliverable of ITSMA’s “How Buyers Choose” research. In the 19th annual 2017 study, findings provided insight into the most useful content across the purchase process, social media use, selection criteria for solution providers, and post-sale information preferences that ensure service and solution adoption and value.

We had an opportunity recently to hear this year’s results from the architect and lead of this study, Julie Schwartz, Senior Vice President of Research and Thought Leadership at ITSMA. During our subsequent one-on-one, Julie addressed my questions about the report, issues around marketing measurement, and the future of modern marketing.

Q: Julie, congratulations on the recent “How Buyers Consume B2B Information” study. What did ITSMA learn after analyzing the engagement of prospective and current buyers? Were there any surprises about marketing information? Has anything changed over the past year or two?

Young businesswoman using digital tablet at business meeting

A: We see an acceleration of the trend where business-to-business (B2B) buyers want to engage with companies that provide highly tailored ideas and information oriented toward their specific business, industry, role, and situation. The survey data also shows that no particular marketing channel stands out as more effective than the others. Also, each buyer has a distinct preference. If you were a marketer 5–10 years ago, the data was more definitive that it is today. You could make decisions, and you could place your bets. But now, you must execute across multiple delivery channels.

Expectations for more personalized marketing are rising, and B2B marketers are moving as fast as possible to integrate the data, tools, and processes required to market to segments of one. As marketing organizations transform for the digital future, however, a gap between near-term potential and current reality remains.

Q: Despite a shift to digital consumption, ITSMA has revealed that marketers are using a mix of online and off-line use of information. What are some of the significant challenges of managing and measuring this new landscape? Are there any specific recommendations that marketers should consider?

A: According to our research on the purchase process for complex, high-consideration services and solutions, buyers spend nearly as much time off-line (43%) as they do online (57%). The key takeaway is to resist the temptation to over-rotate to digital.

When we talk about a digital-first approach, we don’t mean becoming digital-exclusive. You still need to invest in building relationships and engaging your buyers off-line as well as online. The most effective marketing programs find a creative way to integrate the virtual and physical worlds. Successful marketers tend to merge physical and digital experiences to deepen customer engagement.

Q: Julie, we have recently heard thought leaders refer to the concept of the engagement economy. With everything and everyone connected digitally, there is a fundamental shift between buyers and sellers and their organizations. How does ITSMA define this movement, and what top trends from your recent report support it?

A: In the engagement economy, it is all about delivering a superior experience. Our research shows that buyers are looking for experiences that are more personalized, proactive, people-influenced, and proven throughout the relationship lifecycle both before and after the sale. Marketing doesn’t stop with the transaction. In the changing engagement landscape, marketing needs to manage the total customer experience including adoption, retention, and expansion.

Q: With the advent of the engagement economy and real-time changes made possible by digitalization, what can the modern marketer do to measure and report this shift? What emerging best practices should marketers learn from and build on?

A: We are transitioning to a business model where a company’s success is defined by the customer lifetime value (CLV), not net-new logos. When CLV retention and maximization are the goals, the metrics for success are focused on adoption, usage, retention, cross-sell, and upsell. We are looking for reduced churn and increased satisfaction and loyalty. For presales, marketers need to move away from reporting activity-based and vanity measurements; instead, they should consider engagement and business outcome metrics such as the breadth and depth of relationships, pipeline velocity, and total contract value.

So much of our marketing is online. Even offline interactions are integrated with digital. This situation brings the potential to track marketing performance indicators in real time. With near-instant feedback, best-in-class marketers can foster an agile test-and-learn culture. They use metrics to fine-tune their marketing content, channels, and timing to maximize results.

Q: Ultimately, companies want to see customer engagement lead to tangible business outcomes. Are there any new or emerging ways to measure the true correlation – and eventual conversion – of the consumption of information, instead of merely reporting basic cause and effect?

A: When marketing complex, high-consideration solutions, it is very difficult to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between marketing and business outcomes. The sales cycle is too long, there are many players involved, and marketing activities rarely work in isolation. However, many solution providers are investing in Big Data and creating predictive models based on correlation. As machine learning and cognitive computing continue to evolve, marketers will become more proficient at designing and using these models. This has the potential to change marketing as we know it.

Julie, thank you for your insights. What you describe is truly a mix of art and science and an exciting challenge for the modern marketer. We look forward to hearing more from you including the annual ITSMA State of Marketing Address in early 2018, which is always a great way to kick off the new year.


Julie Schwartz is the Senior Vice President of Research and Thought Leadership at ITSMA. She is a leading researcher and the powerhouse behind ITSMA’s research and thought leadership on B2B services and solutions marketing. Follow Julie @julieitsma.




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About Fred Isbell

Fred Isbell worked at SAP for nearly 19 years in senior roles in SAP Marketing. He is an experienced, results- and goal-oriented senior marketing executive with broad and extensive experience & expertise in high technology and marketing spanning nearly 30 years. He has a BA from Yale and an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business.