What is B2B Marketing?
“The world of B2B marketing.” It’s an interesting phrase. And I do get the English language, so I know it’s simply a way of referring to the whole combination of unique and specific ideas, tactics, approaches, and everything else that makes business-to-business marketing what it is.
But what I find interesting is that we sometimes talk about B2B marketing as though it were something so foreign, so different and self-contained from other kinds of marketing. It can sound like this impenetrable cloud of secrets, mysteries and insider knowledge.
And maybe some of it is. There are certainly things that are unique to B2B marketing and require a different kind of approach.
But there’s also a level on which thinking about B2B marketing as some kind of platypus of the marketing world can really do us harm.
Because that’s where a lot of organizations can end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They miss out on all the good things we can learn from business-to-consumer marketing because they don’t think those ideas apply to “the world of B2B marketing.”
In fact, that’s how a lot of manufacturers and other B2B companies have found themselves with frustratingly bad websites and outdated marketing practices. The world has changed around them, largely driven by the consumer experience, and they haven’t yet caught up.
That’s why we wanted to share these 15 B2B marketing strategies that should be on your radar. And maybe they are on your radar, but they’re still a bit of unknown territory. So we’ll also delve into why they’re necessary and how to make them work for you.
We’ve put this all (and a little more) into one handy infographic, too. Check it out, then scroll on to dig deep into these B2B marketing strategies.
The Best B2B Marketing Strategies Start With Understanding.
Before we do anything here, there’s something we need to agree on.
Nobody buys what they don’t understand.
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All the strategies in the world won’t help you succeed at B2B marketing if your customers don’t have the foggiest idea what value you’ll provide for them. Yes, sometimes it seems really straightforward—I need this component, you have this component, let’s make a deal. But there’s always more behind it than that.
Are your products better? What makes them better?
Is your service superior? How?
We’ve seen it far too often that the real value of working with a particular company—jumping into a relationship with that company—gets entirely lost in the specs and technical terms and industry jargon under which so much manufacturing marketing and communication buries itself.
There’s an art to simplifying your message. To making it matter.
And for manufacturers and other B2B services, simplifying your message into clear, compelling expressions of what you do and why you do it is the foundation of all of your B2B marketing strategies.
So here’s where you need to start …
Strategy #1: Develop Your B2B Branding
And speaking of understanding … let’s first make sure we’re all on the same page about what branding is and what branding isn’t.
Your brand is not your logo.
Or your name. Or your colors and fonts and signage and those moisture-wicking polos with your logo embroidered on the chest.
It’s the sum total of all of those things, plus every single experience a person has with your company, good or bad, planned or unplanned, inside your walls or out in the market. Your brand is everything a person knows about you and how it makes them feel. It’s the whole perception of you as a company that someone forms in their mind based on every time they’ve heard of you, seen you, or interacted with you.
So when we talk about developing your B2B branding, we’re talking about getting intentional about the experience you offer your customers. That means thinking long and hard about who you really are as a company and why you do what you do.
And it particularly means figuring out how to communicate that experience in a way your customers will understand. Not just intellectually, but emotionally. A strong brand is one that grabs people by the heart and doesn’t let go.
But I don’t mean emotional as in “we need a video about gearboxes that makes me cry like I’m watching a Pixar movie.” I mean emotional as in it gets me, knows what I care about, and shows me why life will be better if I choose you.
That’s what a brand (and its communication and marketing) should do. Connect. Especially in B2B marketing.
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3 Traditional B2B Marketing Strategies to Keep in Your Toolbox
Okay. Now you’ve got your brand in order and you’ve gotten your message to a place where it’s simple, clear and compelling. Which means you’re ready to start thinking about the specific strategies that will carry that message to the world.
And here’s one of those places where B2B companies often trip themselves up. This is where those “how it’s always been done” issues can crop up. Or it can be where “I’m told this new platform is what we need to do” can seep into your conversations.
The word “traditional” gets a bad rap. So let’s agree that “traditional” does not necessarily equal “bad” or “outdated.” But when things like new digital technologies become all the rage, people sometimes start seeing marketing as a zero-sum game, where the digital tactics that are shiny and new must replace the traditional tactics that now feel so old-fashioned.
The way B2B sales always happened was this: salesperson attends trade shows with a stack of printed brochures or sell sheets, makes cold calls, sets up in-person meetings, and seals deals with a handshake.
Digital technologies have widely disrupted this model. But that doesn’t mean those things are no longer relevant. Part of evolving your marketing strategy isn’t so much replacing those traditional means, but making them more effective by improving the story you’re telling.
Strategy #2: Dealer and Distributor Marketing
If you rely on dealer or distributor networks, you know they’re critical to your sales process. But those relationships can be tough to get a handle on. In some ways, they’re like customers. In others they’re like employees. In any case, they’re representing your brand.
And that’s not something you want to leave to chance, or even leave to those same old brochures and sell sheets. Here’s the approach you’ll want to take:
Just like you would with customers, start by understanding what’s important to them. What’s keeping them up at night?
Understand the kind of support they’re going to need to be successful in their own business.
Show them what’s in it for them, why you do what you do and how you’ll help them make customers’ lives better.
And help them understand you, the same way you’d want your employees to understand you. Make sure they know what you stand for, what you value and how you do business. Make sure they know what you expect of anyone representing your brand.
You need to build strong partnerships with your dealers and distributors, and the way to do that is through clear, consistent communication. Not just product information and spec sheets, but the kind of messaging that can get them on board with your brand and what it stands for.
Strategy #3: B2B Referral Marketing
Word-of-mouth is hands-down your most effective kind of marketing. According to Edelman Trust Barometer, 84% of B2B decision-makers begin the buying process based on a referral. Having happy customers (or even non-customers who hold you in high regard) who recommend you to their peers is clearly worth its weight in gold.
But if you really want to cash in on the power of referrals, you can’t just sit and wait for them to happen. The more intentional you can be about empowering customers to do your selling for you the better.
Building a referral strategy helps you make sure that your happiest customers have a clear and easy way to advocate for you. It’s really about three things:
Giving your customers the kind of experience they’ll want to talk about
Giving them the tools to easily refer others to you
Staying in communication every step of the way
Asking for referrals is one of the purest tests of alignment between what you think you are and what your customers are really experiencing. It’ll show you where there are gaps—which means you’ll not only get the benefit of referrals, you’ll also be able to continuously refine the experience you offer.
Strategy #4: Trade Show Marketing
Trade shows are to B2B sales and marketing what Samuel L. Jackson is to the Marvel Cinematic Universe—an absolute staple. But sometimes trade show participation becomes more about “we have to be seen there” than about “this is a great opportunity to connect with our customers.”
But connecting is what trade shows are all about. So make sure you’re not just showing up with some fun giveaways. Go with a strong story to tell.
That happens through every aspect of your trade show presence. It’s a well-designed booth that invites attendees into conversation. It’s support materials that clearly communicate your brand, not just your product specs. It’s staffing your booth with engaging people who are bought into your brand and mission and can embody the personality and experience you offer. Trade shows are an ideal place to show your personality and immerse customers in your brand. That kind of engagement alone will make you stand out on the expo floor.
6 B2B Digital Marketing Strategies You Don’t Want to Skip
But then again, absolutely do not ignore digital. Just don’t chase it only because you’ve heard it’s what you should do. Spend the time to learn about it. Understand why it matters. Learn what it’s good for and how it can best support your business. Then approach it with eyes wide open and create your strategy with intention.
There are a ton of digital tools out there waiting for you to put them in the game for your B2B marketing. For a deep dive, Larry Kim at MobileMonkey put together a great roundup of the 15 Best B2B Marketing Tools For Companies Ready to Grow in 2020. Check it out for some serious learning—and B2B digital marketing opportunities you may never have thought of.
To get you started, though, here are some digital marketing tactics every B2B company should pay serious attention to.
Strategy #5: An Awesome B2B Website
You need a great website. That’s nonnegotiable.
We’ve talked about this plenty of times before, but it always bears repeating. Around 94% of B2B customers turn to the internet when they’re considering a purchase. They’re 57% of the way through the buying process before they even contact you. By the time you hear from anyone, there’s a good chance they’ve already been researching you, reading reviews, and generally scouring the internet to learn everything they can about their options.
So, while your B2B customers are out on the internet doing everything they can to avoid actually talking to you, they’re going to find your website. You don’t want their experience with it to be a bad one. Or a disappointing one. Or even just okay.
You need the experience customers have with your website to be a great one.
That means clear messaging. Easy navigation. A great mobile experience. Your customers are consumers, too, and their expectations of a great website come from the best websites they’ve seen in the wild—not just other B2B websites. If you can offer an online experience that’s closer to a great consumer website, you’ll make a great impression and have a serious leg up on the majority of other B2B websites.
Strategy #6: A Solid B2B Content Marketing Strategy
Of course, you don’t only want to rely on customers blindly stumbling across that awesome B2B website of yours. You want to actively draw them to it. And one of the best ways to do that is to offer plenty of useful, authoritative information, for free, on your website. Which is otherwise known as content marketing.
Content marketing has become a buzzword, but it’s gotten so popular because it’s incredibly effective. At least, it is when it’s done right. As with anything, there’s a right way to do content marketing and plenty of ineffective ways.
The wrong way is to pump out content stuffed with keywords just to try to grab up Google search results. Not only is that not helpful (and helpful is rule number one for content), but Google’s smarter than that—they know the difference between good quality and bad content.
The right way to do content marketing is quality over quantity.
Yes, quantity is part of the equation. But you absolutely must create content that is valuable. The secret sauce of content marketing is not just that it can help people find you, but that once they do find you they begin to trust you as an authority on the subject. When you establish yourself as a reliable source of truly useful information, you can seriously strengthen relationships with customers.
Strategy #7: B2B Email Marketing
People may tell you email is too old school. They might say it’s dead. But the truth is that email is by far one of the most effective ways available to reach your customers. It’s direct, it’s personal, and when customers opt-in to hear from you, you know they’re more likely to engage with your communications and take action.
Email marketing is a must for your marketing tool belt. But you can’t do it without a plan. A few things to keep in mind:
- Make a plan to build your email list. That can mean giving customers the chance to opt in to your newsletter within a blog post (just don’t make it a generic “ask” … be sure to offer them an e-book or something of immediate and substantive value in exchange for their signup). Or asking for business cards at trade shows. Or even buying a list of prospective customer contacts.
- Create a calendar for email marketing and stick to it. Be consistent. If you say you’ll send a monthly newsletter, don’t miss a month. If you want to send out regular promotions, put them on the calendar and send them on time, every time. People notice if you are or aren’t consistent, and that plays into their perception of what it might be like to work with you.
- Plan your content. Don’t sit down to write content or choose an article to send the day you’ve got an email going out. Be intentional about what you’re saying, when. Make sure your emails offer real value. The people on your list have opted to receive messaging from you because they believe it will help them. They’re giving you their time. Don’t let them down.
- Use a good email marketing tool to automate your messaging. There are plenty of good ones out there, like Mailify, Mailchimp, or Constant Contact. The scheduling and marketing automation capabilities you get are well worth it.
Strategy #8: B2B Organic & Paid Search Marketing
92% of internet-searching customers start with Google. So it makes sense to be there, and not only through organic search results. Paid search advertising can be an effective and relatively low cost way to get yourself on a customer’s radar during the earliest phases of their research.
It starts with knowing what your customers care about, the problems they’re trying to solve, and the words and phrases they’re using to search for answers. Then you can place ads that respond to those keywords and pop up when your customers search for them on Google.
But focus first on content that solves people’s problems, not just trying to sell them on your products and services right out of the gate. Even for ads. They likely know little to nothing about your brand, so you need to earn their trust before asking for the sale.
Strategy #9: B2B Social Media Marketing
Social media is one of those things you’ll hear everyone and their mother say you need to be doing.
So, many manufacturers and other B2B companies set up social media profiles because, well, that’s what people say you should do. Then there you sit with a handful of social accounts, wondering what to do with them.
Social media can be an important tool for reaching B2B customers, but you absolutely need a plan out how to use it.
Posting cat memes is not a useful business strategy.
Sharing thought leadership on LinkedIn might be. Or you can use Facebook to highlight how involved your employees are in the community (something that can go a long way in gaining your customers’ trust and respect).
Of all the available social media platforms, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter account for 90% of social traffic to B2B blogs and websites. So it pays to be there. Get to know the different social platforms and what they’re good for, plan the content you want to put there, and stick to it.
LinkedIn B2B marketing. Ideal for sharing useful content with your network, helping to establish you as an authority.
Facebook B2B marketing. Great for giving customers a glimpse into the personality and values of your company. People want to know if they’ll get along with you and align with what you believe.
Twitter B2B marketing. Useful for sharing content, giving news and updates, and having direct, one-to-one conversations with customers.
Strategy #10: Display/Banner Advertising and Retargeting
You’ve probably had this experience: you’re shopping online, let’s say you’re looking at lawn mowers, then you come back later to check Facebook or read the news and everywhere you go you keep seeing ads for those same lawn mowers. Those banners or ads in the sidebars, that’s display advertising. And how they keep following you around the internet, that’s retargeting.
And yes, there are times that it can be annoying or feel invasive. But it can also be done well, and it’s an effective way to stay on the mind of a customer who’s shown a lot of interest in you already but has forgotten to take the next step (email subscribe, membership, purchase, etc.).
4 B2B Experiential Marketing Strategies to Consider
We could have put trade shows into this category, but even though they’re a kind of experience, trade shows are such standbys in B2B marketing that they don’t necessarily fit what we’re going for here. The experiential marketing we want to focus on is all about non-traditional ways of creating something unique and memorable for your B2B customers. It’s a highly effective strategy. And this is where we get to really take a cue from some of the best of consumer marketing.
What could a B2B experiential marketing event look like?
Well, that’s going to depend largely on the specifics of your business and what works best for your customers. But here are a few thoughts to get the ideas flowing.
Strategy #11: Pop-Up Product Demo Event
A live, engaging, one-time or traveling experience can make a big impression. You’ve probably seen things like this from consumer brands. They can be fun, thought-provoking, challenging, educational, you name it.
A pop-up event is a great way to bring potential customers into conversation with you. You give them a chance to learn about or demo products, interact with experts, or even just experience your brand in a totally new or unexpected way.
A great example of this kind of experiential marketing comes from SAP and their Fan Energy Zone installation for Super Bowl 50. This was a B2B software company doing experiential marketing in a decidedly consumer-focused setting. But it made sense because SAP recognized that this kind of partnership is not only a great way to tell their brand story, but many of the consumers they were reaching were also potential B2B customers when they got back to the office.
Events like this are effective because they’re unexpected, memorable, create all sorts of positive brand associations, and generate a lot of word-of-mouth and social sharing.
Strategy #12: Create an After Party
We’ve established that industry events and trade shows should be part of your strategy. Now consider taking it a step further.
Create an additional venue to connect with customers by throwing an after party, pre-party or some other kind of experience surrounding the show. It’s a chance to show your customers some VIP treatment and have deeper one-on-one conversation outside of the hectic trade show environment.
Strategy #13: Build a Conference or Symposium
In some ways, this is the live and in-person version of content marketing. Gather a bunch of industry experts, thought leaders and presenters, create learning opportunities or workshops, bring in a great keynote speaker, and make it available as a high-value event for your customers and others in your industry.
You’ll build great contacts and gain a huge boost in credibility as the experts who made it all happen. And it creates all sorts of other opportunities for messaging before, during and after the event—video, supporting ads in trade publications, sponsored content, PR, you name it.
Strategy #14: Design an Engaging Company Tour
A client of ours once told us, “When we can get a prospect to visit us in person, nine times out of ten they become a customer.” There’s great power in putting faces and personalities to the work you do.
Now, consider taking it a step further. Go beyond just putting faces to names. Make your company tour a truly engaging experience for your customer. That means planning it out the way you might plan an exhibit at a museum or a park tour at Disney.
Plan a route.
Write a script.
Create tour stops where you can speak to specific aspects of your work and how it helps your customers.
Let them interact with employees, products or messaging.
Use your interior space as a canvas to communicate your brand through environmental graphics and design.
Make your company tour less about show-and-tell and more about connecting with customers through riveting storytelling.
A fantastic company tour is one place where everything you’ve worked to create—a great brand experience inside and out—comes together. Where you can show your customers in no uncertain terms that what you’ve been telling them about yourselves and who you really are, are in full alignment.
And that kind of alignment depends on one very critical thing …
Power It All with Internal Alignment and Engagement
The majority of the B2B marketing strategies we’ve been talking about have to do with external communication. But we started out talking about the importance of setting the foundation by building your brand. And your brand can’t come alive for your customers without people who put it into action inside your organization.
So our final B2B marketing strategy is something you probably wouldn’t even think of as a B2B marketing strategy. But it’s an essential piece of the puzzle.
Strategy #15: Internal Communication and Brand Alignment
You can’t offer a great experience without people who believe in what you do and all want to head in the same direction. So make sure part of your strategy includes a plan for communicating your mission and vision and brand to your own people.
Be in constant communication.
Point your people to the values you hold dear and the behaviors that make them real for customers.
Nothing else you do will matter for long if your internal team isn’t on board and engaged with the promise you’re making to customers. So be as intentional in communicating your brand internally as you would be externally, because they’re the true keepers of your experience.
One B2B Marketing Strategy to Rule Them All
If there’s a One Ring in this whole B2B marketing strategy situation, it’s this … just make sure you have a strategy at all.
The problems we’ve seen companies deal with stemming from a lack of marketing planning are too many to count. Success at B2B marketing doesn’t happen by chance.
Random, reactive marketing can maybe give you a shot in the arm at the time (sometimes), but in the long run it’s more likely to have the opposite effect—it will absolutely end up damaging the experience you’re trying to create.
Intention, consistency and alignment are the name of the game. Don’t let these various strategies exist in isolation. Everything needs to serve a larger plan. Everything should be focused on a clear set of goals.
And no matter what, make sure every strategy connects your brand and its purpose to your customers.
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