5 Steps to B2B Marketing Success

By Holger Schulze

Major shifts are taking place in B2B marketing that started a few years ago but have accelerated in recent months – in the marketplace as well as inside vendor organizations.

Prospects and customers are becoming more sophisticated and better informed than ever before. They are tuning out a lot of the marketing noise they receive which makes it harder for marketers to reach audiences the old fashioned way. Customers are are in the driver’s seat today. This has profound implications on marketing and the way companies engage with prospects.

In the “old days”, the mainstream marketing approach was to interrupt and engage prospects, educate them on the vendors offering and move them through the sale cycle towards a transaction – a very vendor and product centric approach. Contrast this with the sophisticated and networked and community-embedded buyer today, who conducts research and talks with their peers in online communities long before identifying and narrowing down the list of potential vendors that can solve the problem.

These buyers and decision makers don’t want to get interrupted by a product promo email or a cold call that likely doesn’t come at the exact time they have a specific problem the caller can help with. And today’s customers are busier than ever. They want to be able to engage with a vendor when they are ready and actively seek out advice, often very late in the buying cycle, and have the vendor guide them through a complex buying and problem solving process - outsourcing part of the buying process to the vendor community if you will.

A simple 5 step program can help you refocus your marketing efforts and adjust to the new requirements for B2B marketing success:

Step 1 – Understand Your Audience
Customer focus begins with understanding your customer and their market environment. What business problems do they face? What are the drivers in their industry that impact profitability? Also make sure you segment your target markets according to demographics, psychographics, and business environment to identify the segments that are the best fit for your company's offering; segments that have the most to gain by becoming your customers.

Step 2 – Build a Strong Value Proposition
Build a strong customer-centric value proposition that puts your product and services in the context of the customer's problem, communicates the value you provide and your differentiators vis-a-vis competing alternatives.

Step 3 – Map Out Buyer’s Journey
Map the customer's buying cycle from problem awareness, identifying generic solutions, identifying potential vendors, selecting vendors that make the short list, evaluating solutions in detail and ultimately selecting a solution. Build a simplified model of your customers’ world, the journey they take from problem to solution. This exercise will help you understand how your customers are progressing through the steps of the buying cycle. What are their goals, concerns, what data do they need to move to the next step, where do they look for information?

Step 4 – Build Compelling Messages and Content
With this information you get a pretty good idea for how to influence the prospect along every step, how to educate them, how to guide them to purchase. Build a simple matrix of messages, marketing collateral and sales tools mapped against each phase of the buying cycle. Also add how you want to get your information to your audience - how will they find you. Focus on social networks and Google and special interest sites for the early phases; that's where buyers will often look first and find your content to make sense of their problem and the solution space and identify potential vendors. Make sure your content is problem and solution focused and doesn’t only talk about your product.

Build call to actions into each content piece to encourage your prospect to keep engaging with you as they move through the buying cycle. Also, make content easily accessible, especially in the early phase of the buying cycle where prospects don't care about specific vendors but want to understand their options and the implications of available choices to solve a problem. So let your educational content (white papers, Webinars) go free so it gets consumed and shared by prospects across social networks, don't hide it behind registration forms, but add a strong call to action into the content asset to move your prospects to the next interaction with you.

Step 5 - Invest in Marketing Automation
One size fits all mass email blasts, for example, don’t provide the level of return you are looking for. Marketing automation will allow you to have very targeted digital conversations with your audience triggered by prospect profile and behavior, driven by their buying cycle. Help prospects follow paths that you have defined to guide them, offering content that matches every step of their buying process from white papers and webinars in the early discovery stages to case studies, ROI studies and competitive comparisons during vendor selection at which point your sales will be heavily engaged in the relationship. With each interaction, you collect more data about the prospect which allows you to build a score to identify the hottest leads that you want to engage with directly and focus your time and sales resources on. With sophisticated analytics and reporting, MA tools will also give you insight into what is working and what not so you can adjust and improve your campaigns.

Buyers expect vendors to help them make sense of the options they have available to solve a particular problem, their pros and cons – a very consultative, solution, and customer centric approach to marketing and sales that is very different from yesterday’s paradigms. For marketing teams, this means engaging with prospects much earlier in the buying cycle, educating them long before prospects consider specific vendors, and matching each phase of the customer buying cycle with appropriate message, content and marketing tools designed to ease the buyers journey - from problem to solution and carefully steer them to the favorable outcome - to be selected by the buyer.

It also means using new ways to reach the buyer, including social networks. This approach requires much greater domain, industry and business expertise on the vendor side, to really understand the customer, which in turn requires more targeted segmentation, more intelligent messaging, better sales tools, etc. Time to get ready.

7 comments:

marketing said...

Holger, I enjoyed your article, particularly when you discuss the difference between the old "interrupt" marketing model and today's Web presence, self-research and community engagement model. The steps you identify are clear and right on target.

Christopher Ryan
www.fusionmarketingpartners.com

Holger Schulze said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your feedback! What changes do you see in today's B2B marketing environment and how are you responding?

Holger Schulze
hhschulze@gmail.com

spunkygeek said...

Holger,

Thank you for this very short, sweet and informative article on B2B marketing.

I'm responding to these changes by becoming involved with a B2B network group focused on B2B only connections and relationships. I am part of a group called BtoB Connect (www.btobconnect.com). It's a franchised group like BNI. BtoB Connect was created out of frustration with other networking groups. We were tired of wasting time attending meetings with residential real estate agents, vitamin sales people or job seekers. Our system is a confidential way to build trustworthy relationships among other B2B-type business owners and high-level sales professionals whose Roladexes are complementary to yours.

Jacci Adams
www.3x4consulting.com

Holger Schulze said...

Jacci - BtoB Connect sounds interesting, I will check it out.

Thanks,
Holger

Barb said...

Build compelling messages and content. Unfortunately, it seems like this step is often over looked by many companies. Or if attempted, done so poorly. The last sentence of this paragraph saying you need to include a strong call to action in your content is absolutely essential.
Great post.

About Holger said...

Barb - Agree 100%. Too many companies are still stuck in the mindset that every piece of valuable content needs to be hidden behind forms.

The process of online registration is a value exchange where the prospect spends time and contact information (and the perceived risk of getting spammed or inundated with sales calls) in return for something of greater value to them, for example an educational white paper that helps in the decision making process. Especially early in the buying process, the perceived (!) value of the content asset may not be big enough to warrant this investment by the prospect. Here the vendor has an opportunity to impress prospects with valuable and memorable content, made freely available with no strings attached. The content asset itself should include further calls to action, e.g. re-tweet button, link to a registration form to access the next piece of content (by now the vendor had an opportunity to convince the prospect of the value of this "premium" content and is more likely to get registrations).

So map your messages and content assets to the buying process, and decide which assets should be open and which should require registration so the direct engagement process (permission based email marketing, telemarketing, etc) can start.

My 2 cents.

Holger

Paul Carter said...

Thanks Chris for a great article.

In Step 1 – Understand Your Audience, I'd like to emphasize the importance of understanding the specific keywords and key phrases prospects are likely to search in the area of the value proposition. IMH keywords make the internet go 'round.

Best,

Paul C.

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