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Geologists organize earth's history into four eras, starting with the Pre-Cambrian, then going through the Paleozoic, Mesozoic (that's the one with the dinosaurs), and on to the present, the Cenezoic. The first two eras cover 97% of the history of planet earth, leaving only about 3% of earth's history—the entire lifespan of all dinosaurs and, of course, us—in the most recent two eras. From our perspective, the pace of change has accelerated dramatically over the last 65 million years.

Likewise, I propose that there have been four eras in B2B marketing history. And, like the eras of our planet, they've been getting shorter and changing faster as time goes on.

But rather than basing these divisions on the type of creatures present in each (like many of you, I've personally spanned them all), I've categorized them according to how marketers help identify and engage buyers.

The Draperzoic (AKA Pre-Digital) Era

It is unclear when this era started, but from the time of the first printing press until the mid-1990s, the primary responsibilities for marketing were to create fliers, brochures, trade publication advertising, and airport billboards, and to design and organize the tradeshow booths. There was no "demand generation."

In some cases, trade publications would provide leads in the form of "bingo card" responses and postcard inserts, but that was not a reliable source of prospects for anyone.

The MAPozoic (AKA Lookie-Loo) Era

Toward the middle of the 1990s, things finally started picking up. The first banner ad appeared in late 1994. And if you were anything like me in 1994, you clicked everything just to see what would happen. By then, early adopters were creating websites. But for a few more years, nothing significant happened.

Then, in 1998, Google came online ("That's it? That text box?"), and it changed everything. Infantile efforts at SEO soon followed, along with efforts to put our companies' capabilities into coherent webpages. Almost no people visited those pages, but if they did, it was money in the bank. If buyers found you, they meant business!

Exhibiting the same wonder with which we viewed anything we could click on, we experienced inbound leads and thought, Wow! This is awesome! Those early leads were enough to fuel the expectation that "inbound" would provide lots of sales opportunities. Naturally, we got to work figuring out how to get more leads.

We made our sites more findable and more useful. Demand generation became a thing. Content marketing became a thing. And ,together, they met part of the expectation: They got more people to our websites.

Sadly, those new visitors weren't like the intrepid explorers who had become our first inbound leads. The new visitors had lost their desperation—and their budgeted projects. B2B lookie-loos filled out forms by the thousands to get at all the juicy whitepapers we were producing, but they didn't become buyers.

This era could easily be called the "Leadozoic" because it was characterized by an obsession with leads and lead conversion. However, I'm going with MAPozoic because marketing automation was clearly at the root of that obsession. If it had been designed for B2B from the start—to account for the situation in which multiple members of a buying group show up together—we would all have been better off. Instead, marketers became experts at the B2B version of astrology: lead scoring.

At SiriusDecisions, we had workshops, did inquiries, wrote research briefs, and built models—all talking about best-practices for lead management. We could get clients who were terrible at lead management to be good at it. We could spot and eliminate really bad practices and replace them with good practices. But the result was disappointing: It was moving from a 1% conversion rate to a 2% conversion rate.

Nothing we did in lead management could change that most of the traffic generated on B2B websites remained anonymous, and the leads our clients got were either not from the right accounts or not in market at the time they became a lead.

The Accountozoic (AKA Field of Dreams) Era

The tide gradually shifted toward a different approach: account-based marketing. The premise was, Let's finally align marketing and sales on the right accounts. Let's sing from the same page of the hymnal. Of course, there's more to it, particularly in the number of accounts to include, content customization, and ad retargeting most of all, but that was the idea.

The Accountozoic Era was marked by advances, then, in the ability to generate demand from desirable accounts. We built it, and they came.

Unfortunately, this era accounted for little advance in the ability to capitalize on—or even notice—what had come. Think about your systems and processes today: Do you know when a target account has sent more than one person at a time to your website? Do you notice when anonymous traffic on your digital properties from those companies spikes? Do you see all those things together—as one signal of buying intent?

I didn't think so.

The Revozoic (AKA Buying Groups) Era

We are now in the fourth and current era of B2B. The concept underwriting this modern era is that the B2B buyer is nearly always a group of people acting together, and that those groups leave massive volumes of signals, most of which are anonymous but trackable to their companies of origin.

The energizing premise of this era is that we finally replace lead-centric MAPozoic technologies and processes with those capable of capturing and operating on a wide variety of buyer signals: third-party intent signals, first-party anonymous traffic, social media interactions, multiple leads, and whatever other signals that reveal real buyer fit, interest, and intent.

Back at SiriusDecisions, my friends and I named it the Buying Groups era, centered on the recognition that in B2B, the buyer was a group of people. At 6sense, we think of it as the Revtech era, because it is focused on a new generation of revenue-capture technology that has evolved to address that new understanding of the B2B buyer.

Skipping the Line

I know that many readers of this article are still struggling to become highly effective MAPozoic beasts. Many others are in the midst of transforming to conquer the Accountozoic. But those eras have passed. There is no need—and no virtue—in evolving through eras that have already passed.

Some quick recommendations:

  • If your organization is still working at perfecting lead scoring, stop. You're slowly evolving a capability that is obsolete.
  • If you're dipping your toes into ABM but haven't yet figured out how you're going to know whether it's working, stop. You can make a lot better use of the leads and traffic you already have. Do that first!

A new era is here. Set aside the slow evolution through all the passé eras of B2B and leapfrog your way into the Revozoic.

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The Four Eras of B2B Marketing

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The 6sense Account Engagement Platform helps B2B organizations achieve predictable revenue growth by putting the power of AI, big data, and machine learning behind every member of the revenue team. 6sense uncovers anonymous buying behavior, prioritizes accounts for sales and marketing, and enables them to engage resistant buying teams with personalized, multi-channel, multi-touch campaigns. 6sense helps revenue teams know everything they need to know about their buyers so they can easily do anything needed to generate more opportunities, increase deal size, get into opportunities sooner, and compete and win more often. Visit 6sense.com for more information.