The Brave New World of B2B Marketing - Are You Ready?

Your B2B markets are changing rapidly. It is now harder than ever for B2B vendors to get the attention of our audiences. The effectiveness of traditional push marketing is rapidly declining, marketing budgets and headcounts have been slashed over the last few years (while output expectations have increased), and the availability of new technologies for marketing automation is leaving many B2B marketing professionals scratching their heads.

Power Shift
Knowledge is power, and the balance of power is clearly shifting from vendors to the customer. B2B buyers are more sophisticated than ever. They educate themselves on the nature of their business problem, possible solution options, available vendors and products. Today's prospects filter out most attempts by companies to interrupt them with vendor and product focused marketing messages and sales pitches. As a result, many vendors don't show up on prospects' radars anymore - unless they are actively sought out, they are often simply not invited to the party anymore.

Adapt to Stay Relevant
Our entire approach to marketing has to change if we want to stay relevant and add value to the business in this new environment. While this situation can create a crisis in many marketing and sales organizations, it also offers a great opportunity. Remember that today's prospects are actively searching for high-value information to help them better understand problems and solutions, make sense of available solutions, select the best fit for their requirements, and ultimately make an informed purchase decision? Now imagine the information customers are finding is yours. Clearly presented, educating the reader along every step of their decision making process. With compelling content that is relevant, valuable, and of high quality. Remarkable content that leaves a lasting impression and engages the reader to take action such as requesting access to your Webcast or asking to get in touch with you to learn more about your solution.

Brave New B2B Marketing World
Welcome to the brave new world of marketing. This new world is at the intersection of (1) valuable content that carries your message to the prospect, (2) the social and online media that prospects are increasingly using to find information and ask peers for their opinion, and (3) the marketing automation platforms to manage all of this complexity (campaigns, content, leads, etc) without losing your mind.

This intersection of content marketing, social media, and automation is where innovative marketing teams can help their companies gain traction and develop ongoing relationships and customer engagements. I mention "ongoing" because I believe the days of linear, one-dimensional, time-limited "campaigns" on the marketing side and transactional selling on the sales side are for the most part over. The effectiveness of these traditional tactics is declining steadily, and if you are in the marketing profession you'd better pay attention because we are looking at nothing less than a fundamental shift in the way companies engage with prospects.

What we need in this new environment are ongoing, parallel conversations with target audiences that lead to engagements with qualified prospects which in turn lead to value exchanges between both parties. Content marketing is rapidly gaining traction as a truly customer centric marketing tactic that aims at educating prospects and guiding them along their journey towards an educated decision in your favor - exchanging their money for your solution.

Steps to Surviving the Transition - And Thriving in the New Marketing World
So while the idea is pretty simple, execution is not all that trivial in complex B2B environments. After my article on the 5 Steps to B2B Marketing Success, I was asked to provide more guidance on how to actually implement this new approach to marketing. So I have spent some time thinking about how to approach this new world of marketing and developed a simple 7-step framework.

Here are the key components of the framework that I see, and I will spend the next few weeks covering each in greater detail. Interestingly enough, the "new marketing world" will put more emphasis on traditional marketing concepts as they are now truly the foundation for the success of your business - so many of the concepts below will not be new to you. The focus of this article is on content marketing as I believe it to be one of the most effective approaches available to marketers today. Other tactics are still relevant and effective.

Here are the seven steps to B2B marketing success in this new era:

1 - Segmentation & Profiling
Sound familiar? While the concept is not new, the majority of B2B vendors do a poor job at properly segmenting their markets and identifying the most profitable ones they want to compete in. In my opinion, this step determines success or failure on a strategic level, as simple as that. Segmentation as a way to identify target markets that are an ideal fit and allow you to compete successfully while focusing your resources is the first step to understanding your strengths and weaknesses relative to the opportunities and threats in a market. Only with this knowledge will an intelligent marketing approach become possible. Profiling of ideal companies and everything else follows from here.

2 - Buyer Persona
After establishing your target segments at the macro level, and defining your ideal customer profile, let's look at the people within those target organizations that influence and make buying decisions for the type of products or services you offer. What are their roles, goals, motivations, frustrations? How do they impact the buying process? Have you mapped out buyer personas and built profiles in order to align your messages and content with their needs? Where are these buyers looking for information to guide their decisions?

3 - Buyer's Journey
Once we understand who we are trying to influence, let's take a look at their buyer’s journey, from status quo to ultimate purchase of a product or service. What stages do your buyers go through? What are the decisions or outcomes you want to influence at each step of the way? What messages and information do you want to convey? By the way, mapping your entire marketing approach to the customer lifecycle is one way to become a truly customer-centric organization and impact prospects behavior and decisions. More on this later.

4 - Mapping Content to Buyer's Journey
After understanding the world from our prospects' perspectives, let's look at how we adapt to it to better engage and provide value. In this section I will talk about classes of content that map to the various stages of the buying cycle. It is much less complicated than it sounds :)

5 - Content Planning & Creation
At this point, it is time to clearly plan what pieces of content you want to offer specific to your segments, audiences, personas, and buying cycle stages. If not earlier, by now you will likely have a panic moment, realizing that you would need to employ dozens of domain experts and writers to create all the content assets you have identified. Time to take a step back and think about smart strategies to re-purpose and leverage existing content. Perform a content audit to identify gaps and overlap with existing assets. Also, consider how you will make sure that your content is on message and consistent (this is not trivial when you have multiple writers) - for example, do you have message maps that capture your key messages, differentiators, value proposition and positioning - by audience and segment?

Now is also a good time to think about focus as lack of focus has consequences. The further you stretch your resources and attention span (and your understanding of your markets), the less impact you will have on any of your target segments and people, reducing your demand generation and conversion rates significantly. So prioritize and rank your markets, audiences and content assets, and cut back everything that doesn't move the needle, starting from the bottom of your list. Pareto would probably suggest that only 20 percent of your market segments, decision maker personas, content assets, and programs contribute 80 percent of your impact on revenue. Identify those 20 percent - remember the goal is to work smarter, not harder :)

6 - Content Delivery to Engage Audiences
Now that you have planned and created compelling content, how are you going to get it in front of your target audience? Are your buyers frequenting certain online communities, are they searching Google with specific keyword and phrases, do they subscribe to your newsletters? Here you have an opportunity to map out how prospects will receive your information and how you increase your odds of it actually happening. Do you hide all of your content behind registration forms? Do you set it free and make it easily shareable via Email, Twitter, Facebook? Are you building specific calls to action into your content to drive prospects to your next piece of content or interaction with you?

7 - Performance Measurement
With regular reviews of actual performance against goals, you can quickly identify areas for improvement, opportunities for resource re-allocation, process changes, and further education. Dashboards, as the "glue" between strategy and execution, can provide leading and lagging indicators and metrics to correct issues and take action before they grow into bigger problems downstream.

While this approach looks like a neat sequence of steps that can be planned and executed in a waterfall type of fashion, in reality things are often much less clear cut. In analogy to agile programming, we are looking at a highly iterative process that at each step needs to be tested, validated, and tweaked before moving on to the next step. Yes, this is messy, it requires a lot of "hypothesis testing". Don't listen to anybody who tells you they have all the answers already, they don’t. And worse, be prepared to repeat this exercise frequently as your external and internal environment is in constant flux and you will need to adapt. Start with baby steps, learn and improve. This will become easier as you develop frameworks on how to do this so you can build best practices and don’t have to reinvent the wheel with every iteration. Again, welcome to the brave new world of marketing.

Let me know what your experience in this brave new world has been so far. I will spend the next weeks to dive deeper into each of the 7 steps outlined here, and I would like to incorporate your ideas and best practices. So send me your feedback using the comment feature below or send an email to hhschulze@gmail.com.

9 comments:

  1. Holger,

    These are an excellent review of key steps. Our firm Goal Centric (www.goalcentric.com) has done most of these steps consistently for clients. And it is a messy process indeed and iterative. It takes this holistic understanding to truly become a customer-centric organizations. Buyer persona development is also an iterative process that needs to be ongoing. Nice post.

    Tony Zambito

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  2. You're spot on, Holger! We get questions daily on how to show up on the radar of target prospects, and agree that it's all about understanding the buyer's journey and being present where buying conversations/searches are taking place. It also helps to have something relevant or meaningful to add, which distinguishes you from the masses.

    A great examples is your Information Security Community Online: www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=38412. (If your ears weren't buzzing Friday, you should know that members of the Tech Breakfast Club were raving about your accomplishments with that group.) It's great to see you're now over 60K, and the discussions are are touching on really relevant topics. Thanks again for creating and managing this useful infosec community!

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  3. Thanks Mary. The LinkedIn community is a great example for how powerful content marketing targeting the right audience can be. Can't wait for your next Tech Breakfast Club event!

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  4. Hi Holger,
    Great post. I am seeing all the same trends from a B2B sales perspective--in fact I just wrote a post on it.

    Often times when the prospect contacts sales, they are already down to their "short list" and they are very well informed. If sales people can't add value (with the support of great marketing collateral and industry/technology/product knowledge), they are sunk!

    Thanks
    pat

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  5. Hi Pat - Thanks for your post. In addition to sales having to be better equipped, it is imperative that the vendors are easy to find by prospects and add value early in the buying cycle long before sales are involved. If the vendor continues to follow up with valuable content tailored to each stage of the buying process, the chances of being added to the short list and actively reaching out to sales improve significantly.

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  6. Hi Holger,

    I whole heartedly agree with you analysis. I think a big challenge here in the UK is 'executing' on the plans b2b marketers. The skills required to set strategy, plan campaigns and utilize technology to execute and measure results is a huge task for B2B Marketers often working with limited headcount. My own interest is in discovering if/how marketing automation tools can help small businesses and what results they bring. The chief problems
    1) How will marketers 'learn' these skills when often they are the only resource within their companies?
    2) Will sales and the board give them enough time to get aligned?

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  7. Hello Holger,
    I have always found "buyer personas" to be too superficial and not connected tightly with the core needs of the buyer's company. Instead, I spend more time mapping out needs. After that, I apply the lens of the specific role I am talking too. In that what you can be very consistent across all the roles to whom you are messaging.

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  8. Nice opportunity to have this post...The risk taking mind will be survived in this new b2b session of the innovative era...I like to know more to be followed in this condition.keep sharing.

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  9. Hi Holger,

    I love that you focused 3 of your 6 steps on the buyer and 3 on their content needs. I could not agree more. Please keep sharing your thoughts!

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