Our contributors in Romania, Croatia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia and Czech Republic interviewed over 30 B2B decision makers to identify the top challenges for B2B marketers in Central-Eastern Europe.
1. The need to improve marketing efficiency in the time of crisis
“The biggest threat for 2023 is the economic crisis. We will have to see to what extent it will affect our marketing budget and in turn, how to adapt our campaigns to that budget,” shares Alina Stanescu, chief marketing officer at GSMfit.ro (Romania).
The spokesperson for Kaufland România SCS adds that the current economic context imposed a more efficient use of the resources, therefore marketing budgets in the private sector were reduced during this period. For 2023, their goal is to activate new communication channels that increase the effectiveness of their advertising.
Magda Oravcová leads the communications department for JTRE, Slovakia’s real estate giant. “The biggest challenge will be predicting the development of several crises that are currently affecting the construction and real estate sector. From the war in Ukraine, through the energy crisis to rising mortgage interest rates. We need to monitor how our current and potential clients deal with this turbulence, so that we can continue to offer suitable products, give them space for business and daily life, and continue to grow and live together,” adds Magda.
I also learned to follow the events outside of our segment with much more respect
“Last three years taught me to be very careful in predictions. I also learned to follow the events outside of our segment with much more respect,” confesses Roland Kyška from Slovakia’s second biggest telecommunications operator Swan.
Mr. Kyška looks at the bigger picture: “The entire economy is heading into recession. Companies are, understandably, trying to save money wherever possible. Perhaps, the biggest challenge will be convincing them that cutting back in ICT or security is not reasonable.”
In addition to common challenges, Aleš Udir, head of marketing at fibre-based broadband solutions company S&T Iskratel (Slovakia), predicts even greater pressure on the effectiveness of marketing activities and the positive impact on business: “Not solely due to the challenges of managing the supply chain, but also in correlation with the predicted energy crisis. At the same time, the latter also brings opportunities for a creative marketing approach when either designing new or positioning existing products in new markets. If, in addition to the realistic needs and expectations of customers, we bear in mind the principles of sustainable development in our marketing strategy, we will definitely increase our chances for success and further growth.”
For ultra-low power digital display solutions company Visionect, marketing team lead Ana Križmančič (Slovenia) notes that the upcoming year will be marked by economic instability. B2B customers will therefore primarily optimise the use of existing infrastructure and products, and will be as careful as possible when making new purchases, she predicts.
Ágnes Vándor, regional director at Südwestdeutsche Medienholding GmbH (Hungary) explains that their main challenge as a publishing house will be the paper prices and the budget cut of brands, but all obstacles could be overcome with two “vations”: motivation and innovation to remain the main B2B information source for companies.
Vilma Launikonienė from Voltas IT (Lithuania) says the biggest B2B marketing challenge in 2023 will be the fast scaling and adaptation to extraordinary economic environment: “Deep focus on sales, marketing help for up-selling and cross-selling, experiments with different digital and traditional B2B marketing tools - these are the most attractive and yet challenging aspects of the year 2023. The line between B2B and B2C marketing is getting very thin, so be prepared to use your digital marketing tricks for brand awareness and, if possible, building API to support your B2B partners.”
Mirasovici Marius, CMO of LasVegas.ro & BetOne Retail (Romania) has a rather pessimistic view: “The year 2023 is also likely to be a very difficult year due to global inflation and I think that most companies will outsource as many tasks as possible.”
Jasna Suhadolc is CEO of digital marketing agency Actuado in Slovenia that works with B2B companies both in Slovenia and on the European market. She says there's a sense of the economy cooling down: "Which does not mean that companies are going out of business, it's only that they are more careful with investments and even more focused on results.”
“When discussing 2023, we're preparing for everything and expecting nothing, as the COVID and post-COVID eras have taught us. The biggest challenge is shortening sales cycles when communicating with non tech-savvy stakeholders, but as we're investing more and more into market education, the future looks bright,” adds Nikola Stolnik from GoodGame esports agency (Croatia).
Martin Brath, the founder of B2B agency Kraftvertising (Slovakia) reveals that marketing budgets in the tech/startup sector have been slashed. “The mindset of these companies has shifted from growth to survival,” tells Brath.
A great year to change the perception that marketing makes money for the company rather than spending it
We Are Marketing from Lithuania is more evangelistic in their view: "This will be a great year to change the perception that marketing makes money for the company rather than spending it.”
2. Despite the crisis, marketing remains active
Luboš Lukasík, director of business customers and public administration at T-Mobile Czech Republic plans to put more effort in marketing. “I would daresay that in 2023, we will hear a lot about our T-Business brand. We will focus our marketing and communications on specific solutions and case studies from our core areas of 5G campus networks, SD-WAN, cybersecurity and data storage. The main role will be played by the positive impact of technology and innovation on the efficiency and competitiveness of Czech companies, even in the context of international competition,” tells Lukasík.
Real estate segment in Bratislava is still on the rise, despite times, that are not easy. Tomáš Holetz, marketing manager for Immocap (Slovakia), confirms: “Immocap brand identity will go through visual and value refresh based on three pillars: open partnership, healthy lifestyle, and art. The biggest challenge will certainly be not only building these values into the marketing strategy, but also physically integrating them into every new project, new market segment and the life of the company as such."
Liudas Rimkus, head of baltic marketing and communications at SEB bank (Lithuania) lists three main challenges: customer acquisition cost, orchestration of direct marketing channels and generation change - targeting younger CEO’s and owners.
3. The changing role of marketing
Ivan Ostojić, chief business officer at global communications platform Infobip (Croatia) explains how marketing has changed in recent years: “The main challenge is that marketing no longer has an exclusive promotional purpose. Today, it also has a strategic role in bringing insights from the customers and launching new business models in cooperation with other departments in the company. At Infobip, we will focus on solving this challenge of shifting our marketing in the driver seat to identify potential, test & learn, roll out and scale new business models in collaboration with other functions.”
Gražvydas Kaminskas, CMO at NFQ Technologies (Lithuania) thinks that in 2023 marketers will need to find even more effective ways in using budgets, and become even more creative with new client acquisition channels, while focusing on building efficient ties with sales teams.
Companies are more likely to slash budgets when it comes to services they don’t understand the value of
“Without a proper cooperation with the sales team, it is nearly impossible to communicate your value proposition to customers. Having the challenges ahead in mind, staying in sync and working effectively will be of paramount importance in the new year. We will also have to find ways of showing value to those customers, who have already started cutting their costs. And remember, companies are more likely to slash budgets when it comes to services they don’t understand the value of,” adds Kaminskas.
4. The need to understand your client's business
Szabolcs Besztró, chief operating and strategy officer at Billingo (Hungary) expects growth, but will remain cautious of shifting needs: “As online invoicing is a mass market product, at Billingo we expect a continued, stable and even growing demand for our services, hence a further increase in our customer base. The main challenge perhaps will be to react in time and accurately to the changing customer needs and expectations in a turbulent economy and environment ahead of us in 2023.”
Agency We Are Marketing is focused solely on the B2B sector. They predict a good year to review marketing roles in companies: “Over the last year, we have seen B2B companies react flexibly and quickly to the external challenges. In order to maintain business volumes, they are looking for new markets, expanding their product or service portfolios, and using marketing more actively to reach potential customers. Such expansion requires a good understanding of customers' decision-making processes and needs, which should remain the main challenge for B2B marketing in 2023."
Tarmo Pärjala from G4S Estonia agrees: “The main B2B marketing challenge for us is to understand our clients' business problems and in cooperation find solutions that make their life better, easier, safer.”
Marko Baric, head of marketing for Croatia and Serbia at Croatian web shop marketplace bazzar.hr calls for more inclusive marketing: “B2B marketers must tailor their messages and campaigns to meet the needs of the entire company, rather than just one individual buyer. Secondly, businesses are far less likely to respond positively to overt sales calls. They're far more likely to respond positively to marketing messages that show understanding of their business goals. In short, you need to be creative and innovative when developing your strategies for B2B marketing.”
5. Content marketing and PR remain important
Jana Pokorná, CMO at Grinity (Czechia), underlines the importance of content: "During this year's big rebranding project, which our company has gone through, we often raised the issue of ranking and SEO. Our goal will be to create compelling and valuable content for readers and thus set the right balance between ranking and healthy CTR, which has become essential lately."
But how to deal with financial pressures from the client side? Public relations need to lend a helping hand, according to Mr. Kyška from Swan (Slovakia): “Yes, digitalisation brings significant savings in human labor and processes, but this is also why we feel the need to strengthen PR in the coming year, especially in education of the professional public.”
Educational content is also highlighted by Igor Fürst, marketing manager at software company Špica International (Slovenia): “There will be more video content, we will continue with interactive and educational webinars, and we will also attend more physical events than in the past."
Matej Grgačević, sales manager at MARSA Agency (Croatia) thinks that the trends are constantly changing, but free content is still highly relevant. “From the customer's reports and our general experience, marketing content that companies produce has to have more value, has to be easier to consume, and has to get attention quickly (due to our collective shorter attention span). We can see that shorter, and straight-to-the-point video content has more reach, is easier to consume, and gets more attention. We see many trends connected with video content - BeReal, YouTube shorts, Instagram reels, and TikTok. B2B companies must adjust to this trend and start to communicate with their audience in "modern" ways to achieve the desired effect with their content, which will now require more resources than before,” tells Grgačević.
Ioana Bulat, Marketing Manager at software development company Pitech Plus (Romania) thinks that the challenge is to create content that drives pipeline. “B2B companies expect content marketing to generate more leads for a lower cost than direct marketing and paid advertisements. But to achieve this they must determine why they aren’t making leads through their current content marketing efforts and devise solutions,” tells Bulat.
6. LinkedIn as the main B2B social media channel
Andreea Cristea, the founder of MPR Agency (Romania) says that in 2023, companies should be ready to migrate to the digital world. Digital technologies will play a significant role in the B2B marketing strategies. She adds: “LinkedIn should be the main B2B social platform to interact with decision makers.”
LinkedIn should be the main B2B social platform to interact with decision makers
Since HR consulting company Competo’s marketing is focused on both employees and employers, the central communication takes place mainly via social media, Competo CEO Laura Smrekar (Slovenia) argues. “We recently started a LinkedIn campaign for employers, which will continue next year. With it, we challenge the leading decision-makers in companies with the real picture of the job market and the opinions of employees and present our tools as the key to solving the employers' challenges.”
7. Digitalisation and e-commerce
Jasna Suhadolc is the CEO of digital marketing agency Actuado in Slovenia and has seen a significant increase in demand for digital transformation services for small companies, and they expect no decrease in 2023: “As partners of HubSpot, we provide optimisation of marketing, sales, and support, which companies increasingly need, appreciate, and are ready to invest in. The pandemic has definitely changed priorities and we are happy that we can help companies on the path of digital transformation and business optimisation.”
Ioana Bulat, marketing manager at software development company Pitech Plus (Romania) thinks that the speed and convenience of online interactions is very important. “Buyers are used to the standards of B2C e-commerce websites and expect the same convenience from B2B websites,” assures Bulat.
Jan Hollmann, chief of B2B officer at Mall Group (Czechia) says that at Mall, one of the main challenges lies in B2B marketing being able to show companies that e-commerce brings at least the same benefits and the same superior customer experience as when shopping privately at home.
8. Lead generation
Rauno Mäger from DHL Estonia claims that the biggest challenge is to generate new leads on the Estonian market. “We need to find companies who could use our services to ship their goods globally,” adds Mäger.
Tamás Barathi, co-founder, CEO & head of business development at Blue Colibri (Hungary) says that tailoring their strategy to specific target countries and meeting the various marketing needs of these regions is definitely the biggest challenge in 2023. “As a means of generating leads, we are interested in creating professional materials that are truly useful and hosting online events on an international level, all of which require a lot of research and preparation,” ponders Barathi.
Igor Fürst, marketing manager at software company Špica International in Slovenia says that their key goal remains the improvement of conversions on their website, where they will be primarily interested in how to reduce the cost of lead generation and optimise generation channels. Fürst expects new challenges in the field of web analytics, as the company prepares for the transition to Google Analytics 4.
“We will put more emphasis on the process of automating lead generation. Marketing leads from social networks and websites will be automatically recorded in our CRM, where the sales department takes over. “Unheated” leads will be placed back into nurturing campaigns via two-way synchronisation between the marketing platform and CRM. We will study in more detail the context or purchase triggers, such as legislative changes, tenders or government actions that increase customers' interest and ability to purchase our services. As a result, we will adapt the digital campaigns in terms of time and content to the triggers I mentioned,” adds Fürst.
The quality of leads is paramount for the Estonian IT company Helmes. “Our challenge is to improve the quality of leads from export markets, like Germany,“ explains Urmet Seepter, the head of digital marketing at Helmes.
9. Personalisation and hypertargeting
Andreea Cristea, founder of MPR Agency (Romania) explains that personalised content should be a priority because digital technologies offer the chance for marketers to deliver personalised content at all the stages of the buyer’s journey (customised website experience, email marketing campaigns, chatbots).
Szabina Tomán, managing director at Toman Lifestyle (Hungary), also argues for hypertargeting: "In 2023, the operation of Toman Lifestyle will take a big turn from the original sales strategy. The big challenge will be to find partners for this new sales format who will offer the products through additional channels besides their online shop. This will require laser-sharp targeting. In fact, we know exactly who the right business partners are for us. Reaching them will depend on the right marketing communication."
Liene Dobele, Ernst & Young Baltic marketing coordinator says that for professional services marketing and communications, there is a 3P trend mantra dominating the agenda currently: “First, the Purpose at the core, where the long-term value creation and seeing the impacts for stakeholders is becoming the centre of attention. Second, people are becoming critical elements in communication and marketing. We see that B2B is transforming to H2H. Third, personalisation - storytelling, individual experiences, and diversity are the key focus points in telling the story of professional services and employee experiences."
10. Employer branding
Last but not least, a topic that has yet to cool down after the COVID pandemic, and will most likely acquire additional depth with the upcoming recession and possible layoffs. Despite great fears of the latter, two of our sources highlighted employer branding as an important component in future marcoms.
Eliška Dobiášová Turková, CEO of Breberky (Czechia) thinks that finding new quality employees is as important as ever during the year ahead.
Rauno Teder from DHL Estonia also lists employer branding as one of the priorities for his company in 2023.
A big thank you to Denis Scwharz, Gasper Medem, Jurate Zuolyte, Bojan Stojkovski, Alecsandru Ion, Ezster Imre-Kando, Vera Tumova for contributing to this article.