To learn how to defeat their enemies, kings and other rulers once relied on soothsayers who read animal entrails or on astrologers who charted the stars to divine the future. More recently, farmers (and others) relied on the Farmers' Almanac to decide whether that new winter coat or snow blower would be a good or bad investment.

Gaining a glimpse into what tomorrow holds has always been a strategic advantage. Fortunately, today we have something a little better than entrails or stars to guide us—namely, hard data.

Although statistics and the trends they reveal may not always be entirely accurate (ask any stockbroker about that), they certainly give us a quantifiable advantage when making decisions about strategies and tactics for the future.

With that advantage in mind, consider the following five significant trends that will affect B2B marketers in 2012, according to GlobalSpec.

1. Content will be more critical than ever

As more content becomes available online that helps B2B buyers build internal business cases and justify purchasing decisions, the demand for relevant content will increase even more.

That growing demand is part of a rapidly accelerating cycle that shows no signs of leveling out—a trend that should signal to B2B marketers that they must continue to produce quality content.

Moreover, the greater the average order size, the greater the amount of content that marketers need to make available, according to GlobalSpec's research. When the average order size is less than $1,000, 83% of buyers surveyed said they review three or fewer pieces of content. When the average order size is more than $10,000, however, 70% of buyers said they review four or more content pieces.

And where are they going for all this content? In the industrial sector, 85% of engineers go online to obtain product specifications, as well as to search for components, equipment, services, and suppliers, according to GlobalSpec. The research also finds that 81% are going online to conduct research: 78% are looking for instructional manuals there, and 77% are looking for pricing information.

That doesn't mean everything you create has to be new. You can often repurpose content for use across several media. For example, you can use a whitepaper as the basis of webinars or videos, or break up a technical article into pieces that you use as blog posts.

What's important is to make sure that the information your customers and prospects need to make informed buying decisions is available to them. Increasingly, that means cranking up the content machine and placing the results online when you're finished.

2. Marketers will need to take greater advantage of technology

As online and email marketing become more sophisticated, continually looking for new ways to produce greater results from your marketing efforts becomes more important. Technology can definitely help in that regard.

Smart B2B marketers will invest in marketing automation software that can help segment audiences more precisely, ensuring they deliver the right messages to the right audiences at the right time in the demand cycle.

3. The C-suite must be appeased

With budget dollars remaining tight, demonstrating the return on investment (ROI) of each marketing activity will remain critically important. That's not all bad, though, because the ability to demonstrate ROI means cutting the budget will be that much more difficult for the C-suite.

The key is to create measureable programs, and then measure and report on them. Be sure you specify the metrics that define success and continually adjust your program to achieve those targets. Of course, the more you can tie the success of marketing programs to sales goals, the more significant those successes will be.

4. Marketers will be more focused on what works in social media

Now that social media has been around a while, industrial and other B2B marketers are ready to get past the hype cycle and start focusing on what actually works and makes sense for the business. Understanding how their customers and prospects use social media—or whether they use it at all—will provide marketers more guidance on how much time and effort they should spend on each channel.

Overall usage remains low according to GlobalSpec's annual survey of social media use among engineering, technical, and industrial professionals. But that may not be the case in other industries or professions.

The key is to identify which channels, if any, deliver more return than others. Then, ensure that your level of investment matches your audience's use of that channel.

You should also understand what social media will and won't do. GlobalSpec research has found that social media is great for networking, building relationships, and generally engaging with customers and prospects. But social media is not the single solution to replace your other B2B marketing efforts.

5. Continue to shift budgets to online activities

In the industrial sector, engineers are using a variety of online channels to search for products, services, and suppliers, including the following:

  • General search engines
  • Supplier websites
  • Online catalogs
  • Industry-specific websites/tools
  • e-newsletters

GlobalSpec's research shows that 98% of industrial professionals visit at least two different work-related websites each week, and 63% visit six or more. Most important, those numbers signal a continual shift toward online research, which means B2B marketers need to follow suit if they are going to continue fishing where the fish swim. After all, even the Farmers' Almanac is available online these days.
* * *

No one knows for certain what 2012 will hold. External factors, such as the economy and global politics, can conspire to knock things off course, and human nature is as unpredictable as, well, the weather.

Smart B2B marketers, however, recognize that taking full advantage of these trends will give them the greatest chance for success—even in the face of such uncertainties.

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Five Trends B2B Marketers Need to Understand to Succeed in 2012

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Chris Chariton is senior vice-president of product management and supplier marketing for GlobalSpec, a leading provider of digital media solutions that connect industrial marketers with their target audience of engineering, technical, industrial, scientific, and manufacturing sector professionals. Chris can be reached via