HOW TO GENERATE SUSTAINED GROWTH WITH B2B MARKETING
It stands to reason that sustained revenue and profit growth is the long-term goal of most B2B businesses and yet, for many businesses they experience the cycle of boom and bust when it comes to business growth.
Achieving sustained revenue and profit growth is therefore not so straightforward. Common barriers might be - attracting and retaining top marketing talent with the diverse set of skills required, while others may lack strong marketing leadership, effective marketing decision-making processes, or operational efficiencies.
So, the focus of this blog is on effective B2B marketing strategies that can be implemented to help achieve long term growth. You can expect to learn about the long- and short-term strategies required for sustained growth.
The difference between B2B and B2C marketing
For companies who sell business-to-business—more commonly known as B2B— there are unique challenges. Often there are multiple decision makers to persuade and the complex nature of the product or service are often, highly considered purchasing decisions. B2B purchasing decisions are often said to be driven by procurement logic rather than emotions. But are they? We’ll address this contention later in the article.
B2B markets often have a longer buying cycle, so you need to be in it for the long term by building trusted relationships with your B2B customers as the ultimate end goal. Who owns these relationships is a joint accountability between marketing and sales with your B2B marketing efforts and sales actions working as tightly interwoven functions, each playing a significant role in the buying journey.
These are just some of the ways B2B marketing differs from business-to-consumer marketing (B2C marketing). However, even though motives for purchasing and the relationship with the buyer may differ, B2B marketing is still very much human-to-human marketing, which must remain at the core of your B2B marketing strategy if your goal is to generate sustained growth.
While the end goal of B2C marketing is the same as B2B marketing—to sell products or services—the strategy and tactics used for each are usually vastly different. B2C marketing tactics applied to a B2B campaign are bound to fail.
4 key differences between the B2B and B2C marketing
1. Buying journeys are longer, procurement driven processes
B2B marketing historically has been focused on logical, process-driven buying journeys through a multitude of sales channels covering re sellers, distributors and direct. Whereas B2C marketing focuses on emotion-driven impulse purchasing decisions often via sales channels like retail or direct to consumer online.
Because of the procurement factors and as mentioned earlier, the multiple decision-making nature of B2B purchases, the cost of a B2B sale is usually much higher than the cost of a B2C sale. However, the customer lifetime value is also much higher for B2B with less brand switching or repertoire buying instances.
So, what does this mean for a B2B marketing strategy? It typically means marketing’s role is to be present during the entire sales journey – from attracting prospects to engaging leads and converting into customers when they finally purchase.
2. B2B marketing focuses on building personal relationships
Because of the highly considered nature of B2B products and buying journeys, it is essential to build personal relationships with customers that will see your business be perceived as a trusted and knowledgeable advisor.
Relationship building in B2B marketing is therefore crucial during the buying journey. B2B marketing and the sales process should operate seamlessly in successful B2B marketing campaigns.
However, the emotional factor is still at play. Business customers still want to feel connected to your brand. A recent study by B2B International indicated that 95% of decision-makers said feeling connected to a brand is as important as feeling confident about what they do.
3. You’re marketing to a group of stakeholders
Gartner Research suggests you’re likely to come across 6 to 10 decision makers for a complex B2B solution. You’re likely to be marketing to a group of stakeholders, including executives, managers, product or service end users and technical staff.
Each stakeholder has their own needs that your product or service needs to meet if you’re to secure the sale, so you will want to build out a buyer persona for each important customer type. These buyers also gather their own independent research so it’s important to be part of the solution from the very early stages of the buying journey.
4. Your customers seek more information
B2B customers often need more detailed information about your products or services to inform their decision-making process. Technical specifications, certifications, quality control, warranties and after-service care all play a large role in B2B purchasing decisions.
Respondents to Demand Gen’s Content Preferences Survey said they usually read 3 to 7 pieces of content before speaking with a salesperson. As such, you should expect this level of detail to shape marketing collateral and integrate with the sales process.
Understanding your B2B customers
Successful B2B marketing strategies are customer centric and customer centricity begins with taking the time to research and develop customer personas and mapping out the customer journey. This foundational understanding grounds and enriches your marketing strategy and informs the tactics that you’ll adopt to work towards a successful campaign.
By understanding your customers (and even their customers), you can create optimised campaigns that target, engage and convert your prospects and leads.
We suggest starting by getting a clear picture of your most important customer persona, or personas are. These are the personas that you want to deal with, the customers that create the most revenue and/or you are best positioned to add value with. The critical component of this analysis is really understanding their pain and gain experiences – those areas in their life that are causing them real grief and/or offers them substantive reward and achievement. Getting clarity around these areas will help focus your content and communications initiatives.
Finally, you will want to map the customer journey. What are the critical steps your most important customer will experience - from finding your business, right through to purchasing from you and becoming an advocate for your business.
How research data inspires B2B marketing
Gathering feedback and data from your business customers is critical for long-term success. And how you leverage this customer data as creative insight can be the competitive differentiator your B2B marketing campaigns need.
Used well, research data can help you:
- Understand what’s important in your customer’s world
- Discover new market opportunities
- Guide the development of targeted content marketing initiatives
- Enhance your customer experience.
Customer feedback can help fill the gaps in your existing B2B marketing campaigns, creating messaging and collateral that strongly resonates with your target market. This data can also help you refine your customer personas and journeys.
Using research data is a key component in the journey to sustainable growth. For example, SaaS company, Apptio found that after collecting customer feedback, they could use their customers’ own words in their messaging. Ultimately, this boosted the sales pipeline and their revenue, and shortened their sales cycle by 25%.
Feedback is more important than ever. A 2020 Survey Monkey study found that 92% of customer experience (CX) professionals working for companies experiencing growth since COVID-19 agree. The same survey found that 60% of organisations added new touch points based on customer feedback.
Sources of research and feedback B2B businesses that can leverage:
- Online behavioural SEO data like Google Analytics, SEM Rush and AREFS
- Google trends
- Customer in depth interviews*
- Customer focus groups*
- Customer surveys* measuring everything from usage behaviours to NPS and brand equity measures
- Competitor audits
- Supplier forums
- Events and trade shows
* Best done with an independent researcher
Developing your B2B brand value proposition
Now that you understand your customer, it’s time to ensure your brand value proposition and brand story addresses their needs. So how do you go about doing this?
The first step is to go back to your research and mine it for all the relevant observations that align customer needs with solutions your business or brand can provide. Then ask the question… So What?
This is the art of turning an observation into an insight. What does the observation mean for the customer and your business and does this shed new light and a new way to view the customer problem? A powerful insight is not easy to find. It can be the differentiator for your business in a competitive marketplace that is increasingly quite homogenous.
The next step is to sort through all of the benefits and attributes your brand or business provides.
Benefits are the rational and emotional outcomes your customers can experience when engaging or using your brand. You should explore both the rational and emotional benefits and rate them according to how important they are to your business and how differentiated they are versus the competition.
Then conduct the same exercise for your attributes which are usually the features of your service or product. These could range from certifications through to the quality of the ingredients or process used. It’s important to rank these in order of priority – aligned with your most important customers priority.
The below brand equity map can be used to map your benefits and attributes in an interactive session with your key stakeholders and decision makers.
Then it’s time to pull it all together in a positioning statement.
The ideal components of a positioning statement:
Your target audience
Single minded benefit the customer is seeking
Name your competition
Complete proposition with benefit and support
For B2B success, ‘smarketing’ is the secret ingredient
Have you heard about ‘Smarketing’? Smarketing is the term to describe the benefits of alignment and integration of B2B marketing and sales as a collaborative function. By aligning sales and marketing, it brings together the lead and revenue generation functions of a business.
The nature of B2B sales has changed rapidly since the internet became a common research tool. In the past, salespeople were the conduit of information to potential customers. But now, customers can do their own research. And there is a wealth of information available at their fingertips which enables marketing to play a vital role in all stages of the sales journey.
Through marketing strategies like inbound, content marketing and social media marketing, businesses are reaching potential customers right across the sales journey in many ways across a variety of platforms helping to provide sales with qualified leads and content to speed up conversion. Businesses are seeing the benefits of aligning marketing and sales campaign activities with shared revenue goals to generate growth.
Tactical components of a successful B2B marketing strategy
Marketing science studies from LinkedIn in collaboration with Byron Sharpe and other leading Marketing academics show that an ideal 50/50 mix exists between long term brand building activities such as advertising and performance-based marketing such as pay per click (PPC) advertising.
Your B2B marketing campaign should be underpinned by a solid marketing strategy that outlines your specific goals and how you plan to achieve them.
Long term brand building marketing strategies could include a mix of:
- Inbound marketing—attract and engage your potential B2B customers, so when they come to you via content they are seeking, they are excited because the content supports their information-seeking behaviours.
- Content marketing — create and share content online that is aligned to the various stages of the sale journey and ultimately stimulates interest in your brand’s products or services.
- Brand advertising — the use of mass media vehicles and targeted media for the sole purpose of communicating the brand. Typically, more emotively driven brand ads aim to drive awareness and preference.
- Website and SEO — use SEO to drive organic traffic to your website and connect potential customers to the information, products or services they seek.
- Blogging and video marketing — write blog posts and create video content to attract and engage prospects and nurture them through the sales journey.
- B2B Influencer marketing - engage with an influencer in your industry. Often known as micro influencers they can provide an authenticity to your brand message that comes from a 3rd party / expert review.
Marketing strategies that drive revenue performance could include a mix of:
- Account-based marketing (ABM) — treat a customer account as a market in its own right by coordinating personalised sales and marketing efforts with an aim to foster deeper engagement with a particular customer account.
- Marketing automation and platforms — use software to personalise and automate marketing activities such as blogging, landing pages, email marketing, workflow triggers and social media posting.
- Social media marketing — create targeted content to encourage organic and paid engagement and leverage B2B-friendly social media platforms like LinkedIn to engage with your target audience.
- Email marketing—product targeted emails to subscribers to amplify your content and nurture your relationship with them.
- PPC advertising—create paid advertisements on search engines or social media platforms to reach your target audience.
The fundamentals for sustained growth B2B
Ultimately, B2B marketing success comes from remembering that behind every B2B sale, there’s a real person making that purchasing decision. By getting the fundamentals of your B2B marketing strategy right, you’ll be well on your way to executing and driving sustainable growth.
To get the fundamentals right, you need to:
- Identify customer personas and map the stages of their consumer journey, and use customer feedback to refine them
- Build trust with potential customers on the journey to making the sale, and continue building trust once they become customers that sustains the relationship
- Show how your product or service solves your customer’s needs, keeping in mind that you’re marketing to a group of stakeholders who are still individuals with their own unique needs
- Interweave marketing and sales as part of your overall process
- Balance your campaigns on both long-term brand building and revenue performance
Finally, here at Collab Agency, we can help you develop the strategic foundations for a plan that’s targeted to your potential customers and will drive sustained business growth.