Business-To-Business marketing is still a somewhat new term. In fact, the term is young enough that it’s been known by an acronym–‘B2B’–since its inception, which says a lot about its origin story. Granted, businesses have always been selling to each other, but the idea of active, strategic B2B marketing is still the young kid on the marketing block.
Many small businesses have heard the term and are vaguely aware that it matters to them, but few have acted on it in any meaningful way or treated it any differently from their traditional marketing (which, in this schema, is known as ‘B2C’ marketing).
In the digital age, marketing best practices are evolving as quickly as laptops and smartphones, which means even the most tech-savvy small business can constantly learn something new about its customers and the marketing tactics that reach them.
In this article, we’re going to give you the how, what, and why of B2B marketing, including both strategies and tools you should be using.
What’s the Difference?
First things first, what’s the difference between B2B and B2C marketing?
To state the obvious, the big difference is the customer. Traditional B2C marketing relies on the same marketing strategies that have existed since the dawn of consumerism–making emotional appeals, bold, easy-to-understand claims, and selling a lifestyle and a product indistinguishably.
Their primary customer is not other businesses, but people who want to use purchase their products.
Mad Men famously memorialized the marketing boardroom as a place where clever conversations led to iconic ad campaigns, which paid off big time even if their contracts were high-dollar.
Because B2B marketing targets businesses, it typically doesn’t involve using sexy models or crazy ad campaign. The goal is not to usually to get the customer to make an impulse purchase based on the cleverness of an ad campaign.
Instead of selling individual people on emotional decisions, marketing to a business often involves convincing an entire team of decision-makers who are making well-researched, fact and cost-based choices. So the ‘sales pitch’ does not involve feel-good storylines, great soundtracks, or a memorable commercial with a celebrity endorsement.
It’s more about showing the business how you can help them increase their profits and solve their pain points. B2B marketing is all about effectively demonstrating how you’re the solution to their biggest issues.
Strategy #1: Think Like Yourself
With B2B marketing, you’re not trying to think like a consumer. As a business marketing to another business, the most important strategy is to think like yourself. How do you make purchasing decisions for your business?
Does your office need a new water cooler? Are you thinking about buying new computer monitors? You will inevitably do research, rather than running to the store and grabbing whichever one you saw in a commercial.
Businesses have to make more complex calculations and buy in different quantities than individual consumers. From operating cost to ROI to use-case, business applications involve more cold hard facts and fewer emotional or ‘taste’-based decisions.
This means that your B2B marketing strategy is probably going to involve providing more in-depth information than traditional B2B marketing tactics.
Strategy #2: Meet Businesses Where they Are
While someone watching a football game on Sunday may be a likely future buyer of a pickup truck or candy bar, there isn’t a close analog for this type of leisurely consumer behavior in the business world. In other words, it can be more difficult to make a connection between a certain type of behavior (watching a football game) and a purchasing pattern.
Aside from businesses conducting their own research, the only way a business can reach another business is through some form of inbound or outbound marketing.
Whether you hand-deliver product samples to your target businesses or use a sophisticated marketing automation tool to find the appropriate email inboxes, one of the most effective ways to develop a relationship with a business customer is through direct contact that provides helpful, clear information without making a traditional highly emotional sales appeal.
And if you don’t have the resources or the business model for an outbound sales strategy, it’s important to be well-equipped to generate and funnel inbound inquiries to convert them honestly and effectively into sales.
Strategy #3: Use SaaS Tools to Start Your Service Long Before You Make a Deal
Because B2B marketing is relational and largely information driven, the most effective small businesses rely on smart funnel techniques and helpful tools to make sure their expertise and unique selling proposition is conveyed long before a deal is made.
Here are a few helpful tools for starting the conversation right:
SalesForce is one of the go-to SaaS tools for sales and marketing, and with good reason. It enables everyone within the company to view every interaction between your business and potential customers, which is critical when it comes to nurturing leads through your sales funnel. It allows you identify where leads are within the decision making process, and then to provide those leads with information that can help move them closer to a sale.
Mass emails can seem like an outdated strategy for the business looking to grow its B2B presence, but with tools like ToutApp, effective, personalized email campaigns can be created. These campaigns allow you to deliver specific information to leads depending on where they are within your funnel, to create sales templates for the sake of consistency, and analyze the overall effectiveness of your marketing strategies.
HootSuite brings seriously powerful backend business tools to a much less ‘serious’ place–social media. It allows everything from a small independent retailer to major corporations to effectively manage their online presence across social media platforms. When it comes to reach and (semi) organic customer acquisition, there is no better way to spread the word than through social media. If your business customers use these platforms, HootSuite is a vital tool.
Does your team ever have a few good ideas but struggle to decide which one would resonate best with customers? Optimizely offers an A/B testing tool that allows you to more effectively experiment with web content and formatting to increase inbound conversions and targeted outbound content success rates.
Understanding the big picture about your competition is more complex than ever before. Social media shares, trending topics, and influencers all exist outside of traditional SEO metrics, but can drive traffic just as much or more than organic search traffic. BuzzSumo provides insight into the myriad ways web traffic is directed towards your site and competitors, which can highlight unexpected ways to reach potential customers beyond just what they type into Google.
Strategy #4: Use Marketing Automation When Possible
Most B2B SaaS tools allow you to automate certain elements of your marketing. For example, once you get an inbound lead, you can automatically send that lead through a sophisticated funnel that systematically leads them toward a purchase. Social media SaaS tools can suggest the best types of content to share and then allow you to schedule that content out in advance.
If you’re not taking advantage of these types of automations, you’re wasting time that could be spent on finalizing deals with leads who are ready to purchase.
Strategy #5: Understand the B2B Marketplace (and How Your Company Fits)
Businesses typically shop based on a few key considerations. It’s likely that your business already knows which one(s) it addresses, but you may not have considered how to clearly communicate this to an enterprise customer.
Businesses most often shop vendors based on these considerations:
Do you understand where your business fits and what considerations your customer makes within those segments? Do your marketing materials or gated assets like white papers and stats sheets demonstrate your verified, metric superiority in one or more of these categories?
Perhaps most importantly, can you easily summarize your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? In other words, can you articulate what separates you from the competition?
Remember, business customers are often repeat customers, so converting a potential sale often entails a long-term ROI (and a previous vendor who wasn’t meeting one or more of their needs!).
The B2B Marketing Department
Whether your business has dedicated sales reps or one person who wears multiple hats, including ‘marketing,’ understanding how you acquire customers and how to successfully convert more potential customers is key to growing your business.
As we have moved into an era where an entire marketing category is named by an acronym, the traditional ‘word-of-mouth’ and ‘handshake deals’ of previous eras are being replaced by custom emails, gated assets, and Google Analytics.
Understanding what strategies and tools you should be using is critical to your success. You can be sure your competition is doing these things. Are you?