The B2B Marketing Strategy Guide for 2020
B2B marketing is not what it used to be. The world went digital and that’s spurned big changes in the format and delivery of B2B marketing programs.
In 2020, it is all about winning hearts and minds in tomorrow's markets.
69 percent of buyers say that the quickest way to their hearts is to listen to their individual needs.
And here is why:
The amount of face-to-face B2B selling is in decline.
Gartner research finds that B2B buyers considering a purchase spend only 17% of that time meeting potential suppliers.
When comparing multiple suppliers‚ time spent with any one sales consultant can be as low as 5% or 6%.
One way you need to communicate is via social media. 84% of CEOs and VPs use social media to make purchasing decisions (Source IDC).
That means the tone, content and format of messages must suit those channels.
Punchy and attention-grabbing has definitely replaced staid and overly-professional.
Staples has been known to post funny, office life-related tweets. That’s the kind of youthful, human approach that connects with today’s buyers.
The target audience has significantly changed.
The usual suspects, like CEO’s, CIO’s, or Product Managers are no longer guaranteed to be mid-lifers with years of experience under their belt.
Young, tech-savvy millennials are now in charge, people who grew up surrounded by everything the online world has to offer.
This is an audience that’s used to getting things done digitally. For them, there’s simply no reason for work-related tasks to move offline.
In a hurry? Here’s what you’ll learn in this article:
Blurred Lines Between B2B and B2C
Over the past decade, there’s been a lot of focus on the digital B2C customer experience. That trend has made its way into B2B, and with good reason.
Improving that experience from average to exceptional can create a 30% to 50% increase in KPIs such as tendency to renew or purchase another product.
There’s a great likelihood that the first connection with a B2B buyer happens online, via an enquiry form, email, or even a social media platform.
Buyers will browse products or services using their own natural language, in their own time and on any device. In essence, they will behave just as they do when buying B2C products.
They will also see what others have to say. If you thought influencer marketing was just B2C, think again. B2B buyers actually consider third party reviews to be more authentic.
People will opt for different channels, with digital playing a leading role. B2B marketers ignore mobile at their peril, buyers won’t necessarily shop from behind a desk in the office.
📌Read this next: How Cedar Fair Scaled an Immersive Mobile Experience [Customer Success Story]
Whatever channel they jump to, they want to fast information, and personalized content that measures up to expectations.
Today’s B2B Buyer Journey
If the buyer has changed, it makes sense that their customer journey must change too. B2C marketing has been a huge inspiration here, especially when it comes to search.
The basic components of a B2B journey are the same. Buyers still need to become aware of a need, evaluate their options, and come to a final decision. But how that all happens is different.
At every point of this new buyer journey, users expect relevant information and logical, smooth experiences.
Search results, content and messaging must hit the right mark every time, on every channel.
That means connecting multiple systems and combining data to add value every step of the way.
1. Awareness phase
Solutions are researched predominantly online, with Google being the starting point over 70% of the time. In-site search is another crucial touchpoint. At a minimum, users expect the right information. After that, they expect content that’s useful, relevant, timely - even entertaining.
Search has to deliver an experience, where everything is tailored to the user’s needs at a particular time.
Only by standing out and resonating with people is it possible to hold their interest in a fast-moving online world.
📌Read this next: Connected Consumer Experience Begins with Search [blog]
2. Consideration phase
The consideration stage is where Sales Consultants should get a chance to influence things. Today however, they face stiff competition from online forums and B2B comparison websites like Clutch.
There’s a very real danger of prospects slipping through the net here, but Big Data has the answer.
By using technology to connect up their systems, businesses can tap into valuable information like search behaviour. That empowers them to figure out where the purchase decision is heading.
3. Decision phase
Decision-time is not the end of the line either. A B2B buyer will tell lots of people how their final selection worked out - digitally and very quickly.
After-sales and loyalty-building programs are crucial to get those good reviews out there - you can be sure the next B2B buyer is reading them.
This where AI-based technologies can save the day.
They provide a valuable base of insights marketers can use to stay on the pulse.
Data like that builds a picture, which B2B marketers can use to offer individual attention, at scale.
📌Read this next: How to Improve Customer Experience With Data [blog]
The Evolution of B2B Marketing Strategies
Marketers are strategizing differently. The focus is on facilitating each buyer’s specific needs.
If there ever was a paradigm shift to pull B2B marketing out of its silo - this is it.
If It’s Not Personal, It’s Not Relevant
B2B buyers have a lot of online information at their disposal. Despite that, the job of buying didn’t get much nicer.
Documenting needs, building requirements, exploring solutions and picking suppliers is still a big ask. If that’s all on top of the regular day job, it becomes a real hassle.
This does however create an opportunity to win favor by making it all easier. B2B sellers can figure out what it takes to communicate in a personal, relevant way.
To do that they need information. And it’s all there in sources like the CRM, social media, or the website. This Big Data can be gathered, sliced and diced to build a clear picture of buyer needs.
Then it becomes easier to see what actions will work. Maybe it makes sense to adjust the timing of product promotions, highlight certain products, or hide others? B2B marketers can tweak the variables to deliver personalized experiences and recommendations.
The user wins too. When a seller provides an optimized version of the information they need, it reduces the burden. That’s a logical first step towards winning their business.
📌Read this next: How Global Manufacturer HellermannTyton Leverages Data and Personalization to Drive Its Digital Strategy [Customer Success Story]
Automation is The Only Way
The starting point for strategy building has also changed. Rather than awaiting stats and feedback from previous marketing activities, B2B marketers can use Big Data insights to stay one step ahead.
For your average employee trying to pull all that information together, it’s an unwieldy data overload. But where we might see a mound of data pulled from CRM or ORM platforms, AI and machine learning see important patterns.
These technologies can process data in record time, noting trends and deviations. They do it so well that it’s possible to track, even predict customer needs.
Execution of marketing campaigns also gets easier as mobile, website, social media or other campaigns can be pushed out from one central place, and in the right format for that channel.
After the campaign is done next-level market analysis is possible. All of this, with only a fraction of the man hours that were needed before.
These capabilities need the foundation of an open, headless architecture, something most ecommerce platforms were not built on. But it’s possible to add this via a modular solution that sits as a layer on top of existing systems.
Starbucks is on the cutting edge of using big data, AI and machine learning to direct marketing decisions. There’s no reason why any other B2B brand can’t learn from their success.
📌Read this next: How Steinhoff Uses Headless Architecture to Drive Omnichannel Strategy [Customer Success Story]
Key Components of a B2B Marketing Strategy in 2020
1. B2B Content Marketing
Content is king. That might be an overused mantra, but it still rings true. Content marketing is the fuel that feeds all of our marketing programs, be they online or offline.
A B2B content strategy is an essential component of any marketing plan. It’s not simply a matter of churning out great articles or blog posts either. Each piece created must be a targeted, purpose-driven nugget of wisdom, to be shared with suspects, prospects and leads - at the perfect moment.
In spite of the strong connection between documenting a strategy and tasting success, merely 37% of B2B brands and 38% of B2C brands have a documented strategy.
Content tips for your B2B marketing strategy:
At a very minimum the user should be easily able to consume content on the company and its offerings. Product pages, service descriptions and other information must be clear and quickly found. Adobe does a great job of this, with a landing page that lays out the product options at first glance and backs that up with video content.
Better still, any content presented should be personalized. Netflix is a classic example, recommending content to users based on what they previously watched.
Content today must also be fresh, updated and highly relevant.
Part of being relevant is seeing what people are reading about. An examination of the content currently being consumed gives an idea of purchase intent. Is a user simply browsing the product category? Are they checking out specific products, or comparing prices?
That’s all valuable information. It directs sellers to the topics and content formats that will engage people at that point in time. Content can even be connected to each stage of the buyer journey.
Prospects should be able to see why other companies have chosen to work with you. Reports, blogs and testimonials provide proof of that.
An impressive 48% of decision-makers say thought-leadership led them directly to award business to a supplier, so being seen as knowledgeable makes sense.
Be tech savvy
Again, the support of an open flexible, architecture comes into play. If a piece of content can be published to different devices via open APIs (using microservices) it need only be created once, then simultaneously rolled out out over a variety of channels.
That gives organisations the ability to send the same message, in an array of native formats. Marketers can have a surround-effect in the market, without having to re-create the same content over and over again.
Today, content must cut through all of the competitive noise out there, make a company’s voice heard, and grab a customer’s attention long enough to have an impact. With the backing of smart tech and a strong strategy, it can prevail.
2. B2B Email Marketing
The most striking feature of email marketing is its cost effectiveness. Compared to other B2B advertising channels, it’s relatively cheap.
At the same time, when email is done properly it really can deliver. Over two in three (68%) of millennials have noted that promotional emails impacted their purchase decisions at least on a few occasions.
Email tips for your B2B marketing strategy:
Get to know people
Email is highly personal and super-focussed. It involves sending a message to somebody, so it helps to get to know them beforehand. Over a large contact list, that’s a lot of work but it’s essential to really connect, especially with today’s younger audience. Marketing Insider Group notes the importance of getting people to tune in at an emotional level.
“.. timeliness and accuracy increases the chance of striking an emotional chord with the audience and encouraging positive engagement.”
This is the space where data-driven decision making rules. Decisions on who to target, and when, are enhanced with automation. User data can be gathered from across a company’s various systems. That data can be used to create a range of personas, or descriptions of each target. Those personas will drive the format and content of each email sent out.
Let the machines execute
Technology also does a pretty good job of executing on email campaigns. A great example is the automated nurture campaign. Data can be gathered on contacts who have somehow interacted with the company. Based on that, a selection of emails are automatically sent.
If someone has downloaded a white paper, they may want more information on a particular topic. That could trigger an email invite to a webinar, with a ‘sign up for a demo’ call to action.
This progresses B2B buyers along the funnel, while catching leads at the right time. There’s definitely a positive impact on revenues, companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads, and at 33% lower costs than the norm.
Look good on email
A B2B marketer can also use email to look good. If new clients get an instant welcome message, perhaps with an upsell, it shows they are dealing with a company that works fast and efficiently. Existing customers can be asked for feedback, then emailed proof of how it was acted upon. Actions like that build trust and loyalty.
There is even some virality in this tried and tested channel. According to Earnest Agency, 72% of B2B buyers are most likely to share useful content via email. If you email something of interest, a user can go to the trouble of passing it along to a peer. If that information came from you, it’s a good testimonial.
The results of email marketing efforts are also quite easy to see. Because this is a very measurable channel, information is readily available to show how it’s all working. B2B marketers can look at stats like number of emails received, open rates, bounce rates and more for objective feedback on their efforts.
The immediacy of this information supports A/B testing on smaller samples too. Different email subject lines can be tried out to see which one generates the most opens. It becomes possible to see what has an effect in the market, before emailing entire contact lists. Forbes recommends A/B testing for any company emailing 5,000 contacts or more.
With almost 130 business emails being sent and received worldwide per user, per day, the potential is there. The flip side is that content marketers have to make those emails stand out. When they do, it can prove to be very lucrative.
3. B2B Search Marketing
If so many buyers start their buyer journey in places like Google, it makes sense to be one of the first companies to show up when they do a search.
Today’s B2B marketer must be absolutely sure their business is found online. That’s a non-negotiable prerequisite to connecting with buyers. That new reality has driven B2B marketers towards search engine marketing (SEM) activities.
Search tips for your B2B marketing strategy:
Finding the Right Words
B2B buyers generally have a more specific idea of what they want. Their search terms will therefore be more specific, and they expect search results to be too. So marketers must think of all the ways a user might search for a company’s offerings. They may even be surprised by the words they end up bidding on.
As with all the other channels, the keyword decision is increasingly data-driven. Combined company-wide data from connected platforms and systems will show what words are worth paying for.
This is also a high maintenance channel. Having put all those words in place, they need to monitor, tweak and revise constantly to stay on trend.
A company’s website must be easy to find online, so should thought leadership pieces like published articles or blog posts. It’s important then to influence search engine algorithms by having the right keywords everywhere.
Companies need to pepper the appropriate keywords throughout their website, blog posts, and any other content they produce. But there’s more to that than meets the eye. Keywords must be weaved into text while preserving it’s informational, creative qualities. HSBC does a good job of creating interesting content, with keywords all nicely put in place.
For average SEO aficionado, that kind of writing may not be their thing. SEO writing is a specialism in itself, so much so that brand journalists are being hired to do the job.
Backlinks are another mainstay of SEO strategy, and connecting to other organizations still works. This can now be extended to connecting with the customer, even getting them to contribute to keyword density.
Customer reviews are a great example. Users will type in keywords to comment on various topics. By doing so they increase keyword density, while benefiting from a helpful, unbiased resource.
This is where Adwords, PPC (pay-per-click) and the like are used to drive people to the website. Paid search advertising might not seem to fit B2B, but it’s actually a great way to generate leads.
Yes, longer sales cycles reduce the chances of a user converting on your landing page, but they can end up exploring your website. They may ask for information, which puts them firmly in your sales database. From there, it’s possible to build a relationship with them.
So while directly attributable sales volumes might be low, many B2B products have high sales value. That boosts the ROI on clicks that do deliver. Despite a relatively high cost per click (CPC), that ROI makes the investment worthwhile.
Most of us are familiar with retargeting, having browsed a company’s website, we see ads for that company pop up later on other sites or social media platforms.
Behind the scenes the retargeting cookie we dropped on the first website has kicked into action. It reminds us of a product we previously looked at, or introduces us to similar products. If we haven’t purchased yet, this is a nudge to do so. Retargeting does deliver, website visitors retargeted with ads are 70% more likely to convert.
Businesses also use retargeting to determine what stage of the funnel a website visitor is in. Visitors seeking content are most likely at the top of the funnel, so it makes sense to offer product or company information.
Product page visitors are somewhere in the middle, so why not promote thought leadership pieces, like white papers? Users clicking on brochures or price lists are most likely at the bottom of the funnel. It’s probably time to drive them to case studies and/or the demo sign-up form.
Insights like that allow marketers to provide content that really engages.
It’s all very B2C, but with B2B buyers spending so much time online, the model fits.
4. B2B Social Media Marketing
There are many voices out there talking about your product. Imagine being able to unite all those threads into a base of data that supports decision making? Imagine being able to consistently share information that’s interesting and relevant enough to drive people to your website?
Social media tips for your B2B marketing strategy:
Social Media is where a lot of this is happening. It’s a great forum to share and gather soundbytes. It’s where products can be showcased using video, audio and interactive content. Platforms like Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter can be used to highlight blog posts, or show off the latest infographic.
Sounds like a channel designed for millennials? It is. Any company wishing to connect with today’s B2B buyer has to be able to work it.
Find Out What to Say
Getting social media right means getting users to tune in. That opens the door to a longer conversation. This is a channel that starts out sharing information, and ends up helping to build a brand.
To make sure they talk about the right things, B2B sellers can do a little research. Something as simple as setting up Google Alerts for important prospects will connect to their latest updates. This tool can even indicate when might be a good time to contact them.
Social media can be a secret weapon for B2B marketers as they work to surprise and delight their target audience. It provides valuable intel. For example, if someone has already tweeted something negative about the company, it helps to know about it. Social media is a great place to connect with leads and enhance the sales process.
Summary: Bringing It All Together With Effective B2B Web Marketing
The core purpose of any B2B marketing effort is to align messaging with buyer interests and needs. When than buyer drastically changes by becoming super digital, sellers need next-level web marketing.
Smart digital experiences are how we bring customers in and grow post-acquisition loyalty. That’s made search, social media, PPC and other such channels a de-facto part of the B2B marketing toolkit.
To support customers’ digital journeys multiple back end applications have to get involved. That means more company departments than ever must handle their piece of the customer journey.
The world has changed, yet most ecommerce platforms are still not designed to handle it. They need help to connect up systems, gather and use data from across the board, and deliver coherent messages across all channels.
That help is available in the form of Digital Experience Platforms (DXP). Gartner defines the DXP as an integrated software framework that engages a broad array of audiences across many digital touchpoints.
They help to build, deploy and continually improve websites, portals, mobile apps and other digital experiences, especially where the original platform does not have the right capabilities.
Digital has created a lot of potential. It could even be argued that there’s just too much of it. But there’s no denying the rewards that come from connected systems, smart search functionality and a keen focus on customer data.
Today’s B2B customer is firmly entrenched in the digital world. The B2B marketers that win won’t just follow, they will take up the mantle and start leading the way
The Rise of the B2B Customer Experience Imperative