Business-to-Business marketing has fascinated me ever since I began my career. Prior to my MBA, I worked for popular consumer brands, however, in a role that involved engaging with decision makers throughout the entire business-to-business partnership lifecycle. During the MBA, I had the opportunity to launch B2B marketing initiatives for a start-up in Singapore. Over the years I have learned that B2B marketing is complex, rapidly evolving and requires structured strategic planning. In business school classrooms, questions on how to market to a B2B audience often come up, while the traditional marketing courses continue to focus on B2C audiences. While brainstorming with my classmates who come from B2B backgrounds such as start-ups and family businesses, I realized that there is a need to demystify the B2B marketing strategy process. This article aims to equip the reader with a clear understanding of the fundamentals of B2B marketing strategy that can be applied to any B2B firm irrespective of its geographic location, industry and size.
In the world of business-to-consumer marketing, the most complex of decisions such as buying a new automobile or planning a family holiday, are usually confined to the small family unit, while items such as clothes, food and personal care products usually involve just one person. In contrast, the decision-making unit in business-to-business markets is highly complex with the target audience made up of groups of constantly changing individuals with different interests and motivations. Buyers seek a good financial deal, superior quality and often low risk. And those are just their simple, functional needs. Each person in the B2B decision-making unit will also bring their psychological and cultural baggage to the decision and this can create interesting variations to the selection of products and suppliers. Here are 5 fundamentals to create an effective B2B marketing strategy.
Define Your Target Audience
Many B2B executives and marketers often make the mistake of creating B2B marketing communication without defining their target. Websites are created, flyers are printed, email newsletters are sent out without understanding the needs of the reader. To begin with, B2B marketing strategy should define and refine their targets. It’s impossible to market to everyone at once, so B2B firms should focus on their core audience. Other targets should be secondary to that small core group of people. Additionally, I would encourage the firm to go to extra step to personify their target audience. This target could be a decision maker or an influencer in the decision making process. What motivates our target? What are his/her business goals? Where does he/she obtain information? What are some influence tactics that can be leveraged with our target? What questions does our target ask about our product? By having a concrete understanding of the ideal buyer, you can cater content to their needs and preferences and distribute it among the appropriate channels. This ensures that marketing messages are always relevant.
Craft Your Value Proposition
Your target audience is faced with information overload and endless options, so their time is both limited and valuable. Your value proposition needs to break through the clutter and hold the audience’s attention. The offer needs to be both compelling and persuasive with the focus should be on the buyers and their business needs, not on your brand or product. Once you arrive at a gripping value proposition, you can augment it with credibility. Proof points such as customer stories, client logos, ratings from business organizations and industry recognitions will go a long way towards establishing some credibility with your audience.
Engage Your Audience
As the emphasis on a more cohesive, personalized selling process is growing in the B2B world, marketers own more of the lead-to-revenue cycle than ever and are responsible for engaging with buyers throughout the entire customer lifecycle. In the B2B marketing process, effective marketing is all about relationships. Marketing should work closely with Sales to create meaningful communication that focuses on providing clients value and support. This relationship driven approach shall enable B2B marketing to generate leads that become opportunities in the future.
Engagement touch points have a wide range: website, email marketing, social media, content marketing, events and many more. However, the right B2B marketing mix can be determined keeping in mind your firm’s marketing goals and marketing budget. For example, if you are a start-up selling a digital solution to SMBs, the most effective way to reach your audience may be through your website, SEO and launching a webinar series. On the other hand, if you are an established family business trying to reach influencers on the factory shop, you may be able reach your audience effectively through personalized info-sessions and collaborating with industry events. Once relevant leads are generated through this B2B marketing, marketers should qualify and nurture these leads. Today, several marketing automation software enable lead qualification through custom parameters specific to your business and then they can be nurtured through a combined sales and marketing effort.
Set Conversion Goals
Often B2B firms make the mistake of not setting conversion goals to their marketing efforts. It is imperative that goals are set for every piece of content and every marketing initiative. All marketing initiatives aren’t designed to lead to purchase. However, some initiatives are designed for brand awareness, engagement or leading to the next marketing initiative. It’s all part of the purchasing path you’re taking your prospects through. When setting your conversion goals you need to make them appropriate to whatever stage of the buying process your target audience has reached. For example, at the very top of the business development funnel, your goal may be just to get them to visit your website. Setting measurable conversion goals will allow B2B businesses to channel their marketing efforts in the right direction and answer the age-old business question of the ROI on marketing.
Review and Refine
It’s unlikely that you’ll get everything right on the first attempt. Successful B2B marketing strategies are reviewed and refined over many months and years. B2B marketers should review the numbers for each of their marketing efforts and make regular changes to ensure that they stay on top of the latest trends. It is important to have a quality control process in place to make sure that each stage of the buying process is working effectively. This may include regular performance reviews or it could be an ongoing monitoring of the numbers for any adverse trends. Preparing your B2B marketing strategy is about optimizing time and time again. A best possible outcome today may not be the best strategy six months from now. Your audience is constantly evolving and you need to have the capacity to adapt to that.
Keeping all these fundamentals in mind, in conclusion, I would like to share some useful e-resources for B2B marketing enthusiasts:
- Google Think + CEB: Connecting B2B Customers to Brands
- Salesforce: The Complete Guide to B2B Marketing
- Digital Impact: 10 Essential Free B2B Digital Marketing Tools
- Marketing Sherpa: Top B2B Marketing case studies reveal how to use data to maximize marketing ROI
- NewsCred: 15 B2B Case Studies Show how Content Marketing Drives ROI