What does LinkedIn's $3 billion ad business say about B2B marketing?

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Getty Images

B2B is starting to look more like B2C.

While some might have been surprised when LinkedIn surpassed $3 billion in ad revenue before Twitter ($1.1 billion) and Snapchat ($2.6 billion), it’s a sign of how B2B marketing has evolved into a digital game. 

As a two-decade B2B marketing vet who owns a company and was previously CMO at Salesforce, what’s remarkable to me is how quickly this shift is happening.

The pandemic accelerated B2B industries’ shift to digital, as in-person conferences and meetings were no longer options. Enterprise marketers were forced to pivot away from relying on proven venues for producing sales leads. You knew people would attend events for a few days, be receptive to new products and services and have time to chat over coffee, drinks or dinner. The connections made at these events were real. 

Marketers traded that in for webinars and virtual events, where attendees are always one click away from leaving if they feel bored or get distracted. You do not have their attention in the same way. It’s a digital challenge that needs digital solutions.  

Melding B2B with B2C

Before the pandemic, B2B was already starting to look more like B2C marketing in the digital and customer experience (CX) realm. Now, the trend has sped up. 

Nearly 70% of B2B CMOs are increasing their digital spending this year, and 75% are more focused on CX than any other area. Salesforce, which went from $5 billion in revenue to $20 billion over the last five years, has proved how powerful digital intelligence is in bolstering CX, as it’s largely driven the B2B marketing boom of the last decade. 

Modern buyers expect instant gratification. On digital platforms like LinkedIn, marketers can create relevant conversations. Just as sneaker shoppers will quickly abandon Shoes.com for Zappos (or vice-versa), B2B buyers now dart from one website to the next and make purchasing decisions based not just on price, but CX.

In many cases, B2B customers are millennials, who are now as old as 40, making purchasing decisions for their employers and spending 3.7 hours a day on their phones. B2B brands need to move at the speed of this digital-first generation, or lose out to competitors. This new customer expects personalized, real-time experiences. That entails digital intelligence — required for any B2B brand that wants to thrive with this young generation. 

That’s where LinkedIn comes in. We’ve increased our budget on the platform by 270% year-over-year and plan to continue using it as a key sales tool, even as the pandemic subsides. Data-powered marketing helps B2B brands personalize their communications with customers and prospects.  

Looking ahead

B2B marketers have had to find new ways to talk to prospects and customers as in-person meetings were shelved.  

At the same time, in-person conferences are coming back, such as the Viva Technology show in Paris in mid-June and Salesforce’s Dreamforce in September. Expect attendance numbers for in-person and online conferences balloon now that B2B marketers have been forced to think about digital-first experiences. 

Kraig Swensrud is co-founder of Qualified.com.

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