Business to business (B2B) marketing is the art of getting the attention of other businesses, who may potentially be interested in using your services.
Generally speaking, when it comes to consumer marketing (B2C) the higher the number of people you can reach, the better your results will be. In contrast, with B2B marketing, the most successful strategy will in many cases be to aim at a smaller, more targeted audience.
Apart from companies who may sell a commodity, such as office supplies, another major difference is that there is far less direct selling in B2B compared to B2C. Usually, a business will have a more traditional sales cycle. This process may be quite long and take a while to come to fruition, depending on the complexity of the product or service being offered.
So, the marketing approach needed is going to be very different to one followed in the fast-moving consumer goods industry for example.
What marketing strategy should you follow?
When considering which B2B marketing strategy to go for, the key to your future success will be to focus on your intended target market. The type of companies you have or, want to have as customers, should be the key component.
Often a B2B product will only make sense for companies who’ve reached a certain size. HR software, for example, may only be needed by a larger company with a lot of employees to manage.
Revenue is likely to be an important issue in many cases, with the geographical location also a factor.
All of these company attributes will play an important role in helping you to figure out which business to business marketing strategy to apply. And let’s not forget – the budget a company has available could also make or break any deal.
When asked what a project will cost, marketing agencies often find it very difficult to give an answer. That is because you can run small, cheap campaigns, which will generate good results, just as you can run high exposure campaigns, which will come at an equally high cost.
It’s therefore always advisable to spend some time defining the parameters of your main B2B marketing strategy. To get started:
- produce a definition of the target companies who will be best suited to become clients
- define the potential size of the target group in each location
- have an outline budget drawn up (go for 3 numbers here: your minimum budget, comfortable level and maximum stretch)
Defining your business to business marketing strategy
Once you have this basic information together, the next step is to dive into developing your strategy more clearly.
Who do you want to reach?
Apart from thinking about the kind of company you want to reach, you also need to define who it is within these companies that you should be targeting.
Who do you need to talk to, if you’re to make the sale? Do you need to get in contact with any technical personnel, as well as key decision-makers and/or the purchasing manager?
If you’re selling stationary, then the office manager of a smaller company and the purchasing manager of a bigger one will probably be your main target.
On the other hand, if you’re offering specialist software development that’s going to take a significant amount of time and money to complete, then you’ll need to have a lot more meetings with a lot more people.
Thinking about your ‘buyer personas’ will really help here. By defining the core types of people you will be targeting, you’ll be better able to pinpoint the most effective strategy to use.
It will put you in a far better position to be able to understand the kind of people you need to be addressing, as well as where you can find them and how best to speak to them. For example, a tech-savvy dotcom CEO in his mid-twenties is going to need very different handling to a tech-shy CEO in his sixties who’s heard it all before.
Which channels are you going to use?
A basic question you need to consider in today’s digital world is what ratio you’re going to go for between your offline and online activities. Both have their merits and both can work extremely well when aligned to work together.
When it comes to offline activity, B2B event marketing is notably the top lead generation method used by successful marketing departments across the world. It works so well because people thrive off interaction with other people – that’s just the way it is – and teams are taking advantage of this.
There are many routes you can take with it. Trade shows could be something to consider if you feel the results will warrant the substantial effort they can take. Alternatively, you may focus on smaller, self-hosted, in-person events. The power of this type of event is that it gives you an opportunity to bring existing clients together with new prospects, which can help move them along the sales pipeline.
Then of course, there is always good old cold calling. One of the core offline activities traditionally undertaken by teams – although it is becoming increasingly less popular now. There is one very good reason why its use is in decline. If you compare it to online lead generation, the results are nowhere near as good as even a simple content marketing and lead generation strategy can achieve.
Depending on the nature of your business, direct mail could also work well. You’ll achieve good results if you can reach the right audience with the right message. Again, when faced with all things digital, it can actually be something quite special and unique to receive a handwritten invitation or beautifully printed and personalized mailer. Bear this in mind with any tactical marketing materials you look to produce.
In the online business-to-business marketing world, content remains king. In fact, without content, there is no online marketing at all as it lies at the heart of everything.
From email marketing to social media marketing, SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing), PPC (pay-per-click) and all the other subgroups, they all need some form of content to bring them to life. Whether that’s a simple picture, a professionally cut video, or a well designed white paper.
There is, however, an important distinction to be made between campaigns that are focused around advertising (such as PPC, banner ads and native advertising) and inbound marketing that is aimed at lead generation through a company website.
Having a strong and well thought through website is essential for online B2B marketing. Get it right and it will become your number one asset, working hard for you night and day. To be successful, your website needs to be easy to navigate and entirely focused on the user, not the company. Having a website that’s just a glorified brochure is not going to cut it anymore.
In B2B marketing, the number one strategy you can follow is to have a comprehensive content marketing campaign.
It all starts by pulling together your core content and some ‘evergreen’ campaigns – content that will remain more or less the same, with just a little updating now and then.
When you have your core content, you can start to spread your net wider. This may include running some temporary campaigns, or more intensive permanent ones. Whichever route you take, be assured that content marketing is here to stay.
Influencers, affiliates, partners
There are also different ways you can leverage other people and their online networks. From just having a loose connection with someone to share content or forming a far deeper partnership.
Marketing and sales alignment
One of the key questions to address when you’re developing any business-to-business marketing plan is what skills you have and need, in order to successfully execute your plans.
On our blog, we have already spoken a lot about the importance of having all teams within your organization aligned. The best B2B marketing plans will always be created using insights gained from different teams and with everyone understanding what’s going to happen, why, when and where they fit in. For more on this issue, check out:
- An unstoppable force: Getting sales and marketing teams working as one
- Next level ‘smarketing’: why sales, marketing AND customer services need to talk
It doesn’t stop with driving traffic
For any B2B organization, it’s not going to be enough to simply drive traffic to your website. You need to proactively catch that traffic and work on converting it into leads, before passing the best and most highly targeted leads over to sales.
Therefore, lead generation is a key ingredient in the potential success of your marketing plans. Check out these blogs for more great advice:
- The ultimate quick start guide for online lead generation
- Best Practices For Great B2B Website Lead Generation
- The 5 biggest lead generation mistakes consultancies make (and how to avoid them)
It’s important to map everything out. Set up your marketing goals and work your way back to the beginning, add milestones along the way that give you an opportunity to adjust and refine as you go along.
Align your marketing goals with your business goals and make sure everyone is aware of them. Aiming for a common goal can be a huge motivator. Try to break it down into actionable KPIs you can monitor. This can be a little overwhelming at first when faced with so much to choose from. For more ideas, take a look at What sales and marketing KPIs should you measure and why?
To process the incoming leads and nurture them along, according to who they are and what their needs may be, you need to have a strong lead qualification process in place.
What will a good lead look like? How will you recognize one?
You may find that a certain platform or activity generates the best leads for you. But to be able to spot this, you will need to be able to score them in some way and to use a system that will filter them out. Read more about effective qualification here:
- How to tell where a lead is in the buyer journey (and successfully move them towards a sale)
- Who is visiting my website?
Ideas for specialized B2B marketing campaigns
There are also some specialized marketing campaigns you should consider, as part of your planning.
Using a survey as the base of a marketing campaign can work quite well and they are easy to set up. However, your success here will come down to the quality of what you are asking. Spend time making sure you are asking really good questions. Otherwise, you may struggle to get people to fill it out and then no one may have any interest in the results you generate!
Don’t forget, surveys can also be a useful way to gather in feedback. If this happens, make sure you act on what you find out.
Cross-selling and upselling
An important, but sometimes overlooked part of the sales process, is the opportunity for cross-selling and upselling. It is always going to be far easier to increase the business generated from your existing customers than it is to secure new ones. You already have a relationship and have a proven track record.
So, how do you do it?
You just need to get proactive! Hit your customers with the right kind of offer, delivered in the right way. Use what you’ve learned about them to make your proposition the strongest and most appealing it can be, to them individually.
Never underestimate the power of video, especially when it comes to explaining something, or sharing information. It can be equally as effective in the B2B world, as for B2Cs. People buy from people and video can be a powerful medium for forming connections.
Think how else you may be able to use video – what about any events you’re holding? Or running a tutorial or workshop? You could even create of a short series of videos on a specific topic that are delivered daily via email.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and it doesn’t always have to be professional quality – there is something to be said about the authenticity of a handheld camera phone and ‘raw’ style of filming.
This will be a bigger issue for some organization than it is for others, but as the world becomes more and more consumer-centric, it’s important to have a 360-degree view. That means any person, in any department, who is dealing with a customer or prospect, will have access to all the information held about them. The idea is that everyone speaks with one voice and it doesn’t matter who you speak to, the experience will be just as strong. There’s no passing people back and forth between departments, making them feel frustrated and like they’re getting the run-around.
Customers don’t understand why employee A doesn’t know the same as employee B about their needs and wants. It’s all just one entity to them.
Having a solid CRM in place that can connect all the peripheral software you use when serving your clients (from marketing software, to pipeline management, ordering systems, invoicing, service records, etc.) is of the utmost importance here. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but it is an important one that will be worth it in the end.
Case studies and testimonials
Before deciding on a vendor, buyers will want to have a feel for what it may be like to work with you and how your solution may work in practice. That’s where case studies and customer reviews come in and why they remain key pieces of content for any business-to-business marketing campaign. When buyers research potential vendors they will look for these. Make sure you have them.
Social media outreach
The most important piece of advice when it comes to using social media for lead generation and nurturing is to never try and sell directly. It’s not the place. You also need to be careful not to just use these types of platforms as a company noticeboard.
Instead, create a company persona – if it was a person within your company speaking, what kind of traits would he/she have? What language and tone?
Work it out and use this within your communication strategy for social channels. B2B companies usually suffer from being way too corporate and so less likeable. Search for some examples you particularly like and see what it is they do that you like so much.
Finally, we cannot stress enough that to find success with any business to business marketing strategy, it needs to be worked on as a living, breathing thing. Not just be something that’s written up and then never looked at again, until it’s time to review at the end of the year.
You need to incorporate a process of assessment, analysis and adjustment, to make sure you are constantly learning from and improving on what you are doing.
Make thorough use of analytics here and ensure you have all the tools you may need and that will support you. Look at the data you are gathering and check the results to see what’s working and what isn’t. This will also help you spot other opportunities, so your activity is the strongest it can be, and you achieve that healthy customer base you’ve been striving for.
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