Marketing is never easy, but it’s safe to say B2B marketers are facing new and significant challenges this year.
Eager to find out more about the biggest pain points, priorities, and objectives for B2B marketers in 2023, we surveyed 144 B2B marketers across a variety of job functions, seniority levels, industries, and company sizes.
Given that buyers now complete 83% of the B2B buying process without engaging a vendor — thereby elevating the importance of content throughout the sales cycle — we dove deepest into how marketers feel about their content marketing efforts.
Our survey uncovered several findings, discussed below, about marketers’ perspectives and feelings towards various issues relating to their work.
However, a main pattern emerged: there is a significant disconnect between marketers’ diagnoses of issues and the reality of their situations.
Marketing Pain Points
Next, we asked respondents to identify the pain points they are currently struggling with from a list of common marketing challenges.
Below are the two most-reported pain points:
Low lead volume needed to hit targets is the most commonly reported challenge (48% of respondents). Notably, only half as many respondents identified poor quality leads not converting to revenue as an issue (24%). Despite pleas to move away from MQL volume as the key indicator of marketing’s effectiveness, it is still the most common KPI used by survey respondents (as revealed by another question in our survey).
45% of respondents said it’s challenging to differentiate from the competition in a saturated market. Meanwhile, only 26% of respondents identified a lack of insight into a prospect’s needs as a pain point. This highlights a disconnect: respondents believe they know what their prospects want, yet they still struggle to convince prospects to choose their product over a competitor or the prospect’s status quo solution.
Identifying differentiation as a major challenge has an interesting connection to the Importance vs. Effectiveness Gap below.
The inability of respondents to effectively position themselves against the competition suggests that their perceived issues with low brand awareness may actually be a brand relevance challenge.
The Importance vs. Effectiveness Gap
To identify the highest-priority initiatives for B2B marketers, we asked two separate questions regarding the same list of marketing strategies:
- How important is it for your company to achieve the following in marketing?
- How successfully does your company currently achieve the following in marketing?
Both questions have standalone value. But by asking these questions together, we reveal the gap between the importance of a specific initiative and how effectively the company currently achieves it.
Theoretically, a company should be as good at something as it is important. By measuring the difference between importance and effectiveness, we’re able to determine the level of priority of one initiative in relation to others.
The bigger the gap between importance and effectiveness (the Importance vs. Effectiveness Gap), the more work or focus a company needs to exert to achieve their objectives for each initiative.
If the initiative is important and the company is effective at it, there’s no gap to bridge. Similarly, if a company is not effective at an initiative, but it is of low importance, that’s a non-issue as well.
So which marketing initiatives are the highest priorities for B2B marketers in 2023? Based on our survey, here are the three highest priorities and their related Importance vs. Effectiveness Gaps:
Creating net new demand in the market is the top priority for B2B marketers (57% gap). When it comes to strategies for new customer acquisition, marketers are prioritizing creating net new demand above capturing the demand that already exists in the market and generating leads (45% gap).
Increasing brand awareness has the second-highest Importance vs. Effectiveness gap (54%). Interestingly, another question in the survey revealed that only 21% of respondents are doing brand awareness surveys. The lack of resources invested to measure brand awareness suggests that wanting to increase it may be a misguided initiative.
Creating and distributing content to drive demand is the third-highest priority (48% gap). Of the marketing initiatives asked about in the survey, creating content is the most highly-ranked strategy for driving net new demand. As buyers spend the majority of their time researching independently, respondents are leaning on content marketing to educate prospects.
- Creating net new demand in the market is the top priority for B2B marketers (57% gap). When it comes to strategies for new customer acquisition, marketers are prioritizing creating net new demand above capturing the demand that already exists in the market and generating leads (45% gap).
- Increasing brand awareness has the second-highest Importance vs. Effectiveness gap (54%). Interestingly, another question in the survey revealed that only 21% of respondents are doing brand awareness surveys. The lack of resources invested to measure brand awareness suggests that wanting to increase it may be a misguided initiative.
- Creating and distributing content to drive demand is the third-highest priority (48% gap). Of the marketing initiatives asked about in the survey, creating content is the most highly-ranked strategy for driving net new demand. As buyers spend the majority of their time researching independently, respondents are leaning on content marketing to educate prospects.
Content Marketing Challenges
With the growing emphasis of leveraging content to educate prospects throughout the buying journey, we dug further into the challenges of content marketing.
To do so, we asked respondents which activities they found challenging within the content lifecycle. Here’s what we found:
- Respondents do not see themselves as having challenges with ideation (25%), production (25%), or distribution (14%).
- Promoting content is the biggest challenge (46%).*
- Tailoring content to the buyer’s journey is the second-biggest pain point (43%).
Marketers don’t perceive any issues with their content engine or workflow. Respondents believe that their biggest challenge comes down to getting their content in front of more people.
However, marketers also struggle with tailoring content to the needs of their ideal buyers - whether it is for different personas or phases of the buyers’ journey. This suggests that the content they produce may not be relevant to their audience.
In that case, increasing promotion and getting more eyeballs on irrelevant content is not likely to create net new demand in the market.
*We purposely drew a distinction between the following two concepts to gauge if marketers were struggling with a content quality issue:
- Distribution: a system and strategy to post on various channels
- Promotion: getting people to engage with the content once it’s been posted on a channel(s)
If a company does not have an issue distributing content to the various channels where its audience is, but only claims to have an issue promoting (i.e., getting people to engage with it), that speaks to a content quality issue since once the content is on the platform, it is failing to capture the attention of their audience.
Similarly, if a company doesn’t know how to promote a piece of content effectively, that also speaks to a lack of knowing one’s target audience. Companies who know their audience do not struggle to promote their content in a way that resonates with them.
Content Marketing Statements
To identify how marketers feel about the state of their content marketing, we also asked respondents how strongly they agree with various statements:
- Most respondents are proud of the content they create (56%). They believe their content is high quality (56%) and say they would want to consume the content themselves (56%).
- The strongest agreement from respondents was that they believe their content resonates with their target audience (63%).
- Only 19% of respondents are happy with the engagement their content drives.
- 33% of respondents don’t know what type of content is most effective at driving results.
These responses highlight another disconnect: most B2B marketers believe they create high-quality, relevant content, yet very few marketers see the engagement they expect or desire.
How do marketers explain this gap?
Based on the previous answers to the Content Marketing Challenges question, marketers believe poor content performance comes from a lack of promotion and inability to tailor the content to the buyers' journey.
Content that’s not tailored to the audience is irrelevant. And heavily promoting irrelevant content won’t drive demand.
In addition, 52% of respondents state that their content drives leads, but only 33% believe their content drives revenue. Interestingly, in the Importance vs. Effectiveness section, only 24% of respondents cited an issue with their lead quality.
However, if there was truly no issue with lead quality, we would expect to see the same % of respondents saying that their content drives leads and revenue.
But if leads aren’t driving revenue, marketers do, in fact, have a lead quality issue. A lack of lead conversion and a struggle with differentiation highlights that many respondents don’t truly understand their ideal buyers.
Here are the biggest takeaways from our survey of B2B marketers:
1. Content Marketing to Create Demand
This aligns with buyers wanting to self-serve the majority of their journey and not engage with a vendor until later in the process.
2. Content Quality vs. Performance
These respondents also had significant struggles getting the engagement from their content that they desired. This means their audience is expressing a lower opinion on the quality of their content.
According to the data, the prevailing belief is that more promotion is what is most needed to drive better results (the biggest content marketing challenge).
However, marketers also reported a challenge in tailoring content to the buyer’s needs (the second highest content marketing challenge), suggesting there may be an issue with content relevance.
Creating a higher volume of content, expanding distribution across more channels, or increasing promotion of it will not increase engagement or conversions if the content is not first relevant to the audience.
3. Lead Quantity vs. Quality
From our data, marketers report that their content drives leads (52%), but not revenue (33%). Despite this, respondents don’t perceive lead quality as an issue - it registered as the lowest pain point.
4. Perceived Brand Awareness Issues
Yet only 21% of respondents said they were actively measuring brand awareness through surveys.
Meaning their struggles differentiating from the competition (the second highest pain point), suggests that the core issue may not be with brand awareness, but brand relevance instead.
5. Targeting vs. Effective Messaging
However, only 19% of respondents are happy with their content engagement and marketers struggle with differentiating themselves from the competition (the second highest pain point).
This disconnect suggests B2B marketers may have greater-than-realized issues with core positioning, targeted messaging, and content quality.
The answers from this survey prompted many new questions that we will be following up on in future surveys:
What does Sales think?
A narrative emerged from survey respondents that they believe they don’t have a lead quality issue—they just need more volume. They also stated that they don’t have a challenge related to marketing and sales alignment. Would their counterparts in sales agree, or would they tell a different story?
Marketing KPI Trends
Despite the push by thought leaders to move away from the MQL as the key metric to measure marketing effectiveness, it is still the most utilized KPI according to our survey. In the coming months and years, will we see a trend towards moving away from MQL and toward total revenue generation to measure marketing effectiveness?
Pricing on Website
73% of survey respondents said they do not disclose pricing on their company’s website. What impact does this have on lead volume and quality? As the power dynamics continue to shift in favor of the buyer, will prospects continue to acquiesce to engaging with a sales rep to find out the price of a product?
About Sirkin Research
Sirkin Research is a quantitative research firm for B2B companies. Specializing in product-specific surveys, our insight helps clients create content across the entire customer journey, develop positioning and targeted messaging, and learn what matters most to their ideal customers.