What on earth is going on in B2B marketing lately? There’s a storm brewing that’s making it way harder for marketers to drive results. Suddenly, the tried-and-true playbooks we’ve relied on seem unreliable. Acquiring customers now feels more like a tough battle.
Over the course of 15+ interviews, we learned that B2B marketers are seeing key metrics take a nosedive:
- ROI is decreasing across the board. Companies are having to spend way more to get fewer quality leads. Not exactly the direction we want things to go!
- Outbound response rates have dropped big time as inboxes overflow with pitches. Email service providers are also coming down hard on deliverability.
- Traffic and conversions from SEO are harder to juice now too. More AI-generated content means way more competition. Google’s forever tweaking its algorithm doesn’t help either. And social media’s become the #1 place people go for real insights from others rather than sift through oceans of keyword-stuffed blog posts.
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Understandably, teams are having strong reactions to all this chaos:
- Most are doubling down on what still demonstrably works—SEM, SEO, LinkedIn, email. But they’re recalibrating their benchmarks and expectations way lower.
- Others are betting big on quality content, hoping something will hit a nerve and go viral to cut through the noise.
- Some are getting back to marketing basics—focusing more on overall campaign lift than last-click conversions. They’re taking an old-school test-and-learn approach to see what moves the needle.
The bottom line? Marketing is getting harder before it gets easier. The reliable old playbooks have been tossed out. As audience behaviors shift, new and better approaches will emerge centered on smarter audience targeting. Just not the targeting methods we know today.
ROI Dropping as Costs Skyrocket
Let’s talk more about this decrease in ROI. For a long time now, marketing teams have pushed budgets higher to fuel growth. When things are good, boards don’t blink at increases. But now the trend lines are pointing down, way down, just as budgets balloon. Not exactly the ideal scenario!
Here’s what’s happening from the money side:
- CAC is climbing. To hit lead goals, SDR and sales teams have to spend more time and effort nurturing each deal. With buyers doing more research on their own, it's taking way more interactions to close.
- Prices keep rising for paid ads and sponsorships. As more companies compete for the same digital real estate and attention, ad and sponsorship costs eat up bigger chunks of budgets.
- Tracking and attribution are tricky. Between privacy changes and multi-channel journeys, connecting spending to revenue gets more complex.
On the other hand, the revenue part of the equation has stagnated:
- Lead quality is down. Marketers score fewer sales-qualified opportunities even as outgoing pitches scale up. Prospects tune out due to copycats and misaligned messages.
- Sales cycles now drag on. Buyers demand more proof before committing. They want tailored messaging specific to their use cases. Generic pitches just don’t cut it anymore.
- Customers now churn faster too. With many similar solutions available, loyalty gets divided among vendors. This constant search for alternatives makes retention tougher.
With lower quality and quantity of leads, plus longer sales cycles and briefer customer lifecycles, revenue growth has downshifted just as costs increase. Suddenly healthy ROI becomes elusive. For now, teams must adjust expectations on returns until new methods match today’s realities.
Outbound Contact Rates Sink as Inboxes Overflow
B2B marketers are facing a frustrating challenge these days—outbound contact and response rates are plummeting. Emails are piling up in inboxes, spam filters are getting stricter, and even the most compelling subject lines and targeted outreach seem to disappear into thin air.
First, the volume of emails and cold calls is skyrocketing. Sales teams are desperate to meet quotas, so they're bombarding prospects with messages. Inboxes and voicemails are quickly becoming overwhelmed, even with automated filtering.
Second, a lot of the messaging being sent out misses the mark. Copycats and spray-and-pray approaches are turning prospects off, as they instantly tune out messages that are only tailored to basic firmographic data.
Third, contact data is constantly changing. Employee moves and role changes make purchased lists unreliable, and it’s getting harder to identify the real decision-makers. If you’re considering which data provider to choose, our latest guide will help you avoid common missteps.
And finally, algorithms are making it even more difficult to reach prospects. Precise sender reputations have a big impact on whether outreach gets flagged as spam or lands in the inbox. Stricter domain authentication, like DMARC, is only adding to the deliverability struggles.
In response to these challenging circumstances, sales teams often resort to blasting out even more messages. But this tactic is reaching a point of diminishing returns. Open and response rates are decreasing as recipients reflexively delete emails from unknown senders without even reading them. Too many irrelevant emails have trained them to ignore further outreach. Plus, when prospects see that other people are ignoring a particular sender, they're more likely to do the same. It's a classic case of negative social proof. Persistent cold contacts are causing frustration and negative reactions towards B2B sales in general, making it even harder to break through.
To overcome these obstacles, B2B marketers need to rethink their approach and personalize their messaging. It's not enough to just keep blasting messages without direction. Quantity alone won't deliver quality conversations. Marketers need to take recipient preferences into account and create meaningful connections. By doing so, they can increase their chances of driving engagement and building valuable relationships with their prospects.
SEO Traffic Stalls Under More Competition and Algorithm Shifts
SEO performance and organic traffic have been experiencing a decline lately, which is quite puzzling. The techniques that used to boost website rankings don’t seem to be as effective anymore.
There are a few reasons why SEO is struggling:
- AI-generated content: Nowadays, there's a flood of content created by AI tools. These tools can produce blog posts, social media content, and even whole websites without much human input. As a result, the uniqueness of content gets diluted, and it becomes harder to stand out in search engine rankings.
- Evolving algorithms: Google is constantly updating its algorithm, which makes it challenging to top of the rankings. Marketers have to constantly adapt their tactics just to maintain their previous positions.
- Shift towards social proof: People are increasingly looking at personalized insights from communities, forums, and influencers. They rely on the opinions and experiences of others who have already used certain solutions. This shift in behavior reduces the reliance on SEO-optimized content.
All these changes make it more difficult to drive search traffic and conversions through SEO:
- Rankings become unpredictable, requiring continuous monitoring, testing, and optimization to maintain organic reach.
- The perceived value of top-ranking content diminishes as it often comes across as a sales pitch or superficial thought leadership.
- Referral traffic from search engines decreases as users turn to communities and influencers for authentic feedback.
Maintaining a strong organic search presence now requires more resources for less impact on brand influence. SEO is still important, but it operates under different rules. To succeed, marketers need to focus on creative link building, producing unique and valuable content, and leveraging influencers. These strategies are more likely to drive search visibility and deliver actual business results in this evolving landscape.
Teams Double Down on Proven Tactics But Adjust Expectations
When faced with decreasing ROI, dropping response rates, and stalled SEO traffic, many B2B marketing teams stick to what has proven to work. Instead of taking risks with unproven ideas in this challenging climate, smart marketers focus their spending on activities where they have more control over the outcomes.
For example, they refine their SEM campaigns to make small improvements in bid strategies, ad copy, landing pages, and negative keywords, hoping to squeeze out a few more conversions. They also continue to work on their SEO foundations, like on-page optimizations, link building, and content development, with goals now shifting from ranking gains to traffic retention and minimizing position losses.
Rather than invest in new social channels, they choose to make the most of their existing ones. Why spend additional money to build audiences on untested platforms when they can focus on maximizing their impact on platforms they already have a following on?
Another tactic is to rely on known high-performing outbound lists. Instead of wasting resources on long-shot targets or copycat messaging, marketers pare down their sending volumes to focus only on the most predictably responsive segments.
By focusing on these tried-and-true methods instead of taking risks on uncertain experiments, marketers can better control their outcomes and minimize the chance of negative ROI. However, it’s important to adjust expectations when evaluating the performance of these tactics. Clicks, conversions, and response rates will likely be lower than historical rates, and higher costs per outcome should be accepted due to inflation and shifting dynamics. Multi-touch attribution may also lose some of its luster, as the effectiveness of campaign combinations and sequences may not be as clear when the underlying plays are weakening.
Although many teams are cutting back their experiment budgets to focus on the fundamentals, they still understand the need for investment in proven strategies. These strategies should be framed in the context of what is possible in the present rather than comparing them to past best-case scenarios.
In summary, B2B marketing teams are navigating a challenging landscape by relying on what works while adjusting their expectations. It’s about working with existing tactics and levers rather than taking risks on untested ideas that could lead to negative results. Marketers can still achieve success even in this difficult climate by staying focused on proven plays and being mindful of the current realities.
Content Quality & Creativity Become Differentiators
Investing in valuable and unique content that captures people’s attention is becoming more popular as the abundance of AI-generated and copycat content increases. Some B2B brands are taking a big leap by relying on their content teams to create truly useful, inspiring, or fascinating content that stands out from the crowd. Projects like Slack’s Shared Channels campaign and Drift’s Conversational Marketing Summit have gained immense awareness and interest by providing distinct, high-value experiences.
We see brands finding success when content:
- Solves chapter-and-verse use cases. Customers crave specific solutions to pressing problems. Easy recipes for addressing key scenarios provide tangible value beyond promotional pitches.
- Attracts organic sharing and links. Personality-led points of view prompt readers to pass along content and bring their networks into the conversation. Traffic and links follow based on merit rather than budget.
- Sparks Word-of-mouth intrigue. Memorable glimpses behind the scenes pique curiosity about brand principles. When content prompts audiences to talk and speculate positively, it hits a nerve.
- Entertains or informs uniquely. Investigative reports, experimental forums, and mixed-media productions captivate through creativity and surprise rather than succumb to tropes.
However, producing standout content carries greater risks and costs compared to using recycled, template-driven content. Testing and iterating original ideas requires more time and resources. Ultimately, the decision to invest in inspirational content depends on whether it can convert viewers into customers more effectively than recycled thought leadership.
For brands willing to take a gamble on talent and creativity, the goal is to win over audiences who are less responsive to generic sales pitches in crowded spaces. But for many, this path may seem costly and uncertain, especially when base tactics still yield satisfactory results. Despite the challenging business climate and the desire to tighten budgets, distinctive content remains an appealing option for those willing to take an aggressive approach.
Marketers Return to Marketing Fundamentals
Some B2B teams are leaving popular performance channels altogether right now and getting back to basics—testing unconventional brand-focused plays and measuring overall lift versus direct attribution.
Rather than obsessing over the incremental tweaks possible in maturing channels, these marketers take an old-school “air cover” approach:
- Buy out-of-home ads to blanket target regions. Billboards, wrapped transportation, and experiential spaces become proving grounds for brand lift even lacking definitive foot traffic attribution.
- Saturate podcasts and streaming audio. Highly targeted sponsorships raise awareness and associations among desirable professional audiences open to new solutions for recurring problems.
- Sponsor in-person events, publications, and memberships. Highly contextual brand exposures reach engaged groups during relevant mindsets compared to interruptive virtual outreach.
The key shift here? Measure the influence through lift generated over time, not precise sales tagging. Tactics get judged on how they trend key metrics:
- Did website visits from a metro increase after an OOH campaign began there?
- Are more registrations and inquiries coming from podcast listeners?
- Does the audience at an industry conference ultimately become customers faster?
By taking this lift-oriented approach, these teams are focusing on the bigger picture rather than trying to tag every single interaction. While it may not provide the micro-level attribution that some executives and investors are used to, it offers evidence to support brand-building budgets in today’s multi-touch journeys, where the influence of traditional sales funnels is declining.
So, instead of relying only on historical playbooks, these teams are exploring different channels and strategies with a focus on serving audience needs first.
To sum it up, B2B marketing is no walk in the park these days. We're facing some serious challenges, like declining ROI, sinking response rates, and stalled SEO traffic. The trick is to be adaptable and get personal. Tailor your messages to your audience and give them something they can't resist. Valuable content is key here. By building those real connections and delivering top-notch stuff, you'll stand out from the crowd.
Sure, it's not going to be a cakewalk, and the path might be a bit bumpy. But if you stay committed, keep up with the changes, and truly understand your audience, you can conquer those challenges and find success.
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