May 23, 2024

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How to Set Up a Successful B2B Marketing Strategy

How to Set Up a Successful B2B Marketing Strategy

When you’re designing or re-evaluating your business’s long-term game plan, it’s important to ensure you’re making all the right decisions. You need to think deeply about your marketing strategy – including your company’s value proposition, your plan to reach your target audience, how you will present your brand, and how you’ll take advantage of big bets for the year ahead. In a nutshell, you need to break down exactly how your business is better than your competitor’s.

If you’re a B2B company, however, there are unique factors of your marketing strategy to consider. For example, you likely have a longer than usual sales cycle – how will you nurture leads? How will you juggle multiple stakeholders per account (or business)? Further, how can your strategy enable sales to close big-ticket opportunities?

In this post, we’ll give you the information you need to answer all those questions and more. But before we discuss all the different frameworks available for your B2B strategy, we need to get into the right mindset by analyzing the current B2B marketing landscape.

 

Today’s B2B Marketing Landscape

 

There are five key trends that will impact B2B marketers in the years to come – an abundance of marketing technology, changing demographics, the growth of mobile marketing, the emergence of AI, and tightening data privacy restrictions. Let’s dive in.

 

MarTech Overload

 

If you are in B2B, chances are one or more of the following situations has most likely happened to your business or are currently taking place:

  • During the rapid shift to digital that happen as a result of the COVID pandemic, your B2B company bought more marketing technology than what was truly needed
  • Your business has overlapping platforms. For example: 3 platforms that do ABM in some capacity or 4 platforms that help with digital marketing management
  • Your company has MarTech that solves for a unique problem 
  • Your data is not standardized or not connected throughout your MarTech stack, leaving information siloed
  • No one “owns” certain MarTech and few know how to use the platform in full

With budgets constrained and CMOs asking their teams to do more with less, B2B organizations will need to reevaluate their marketing technology stack in 2023 and beyond. The number of platforms and solutions available to teams seems to increase every day – it’s simply not sustainable for B2B marketers to maintain and appropriately use these tools.

Performance measurement is a problem in the B2B space, but it won’t be directly addressed by obtaining more and more MarTech. It comes from your B2B strategic framework which we will be discussing later on this post.

 

Audience: Who is the B2B buyer today?

 

2023 is officially the year where Millennials and Gen Z have become dominant in B2B buying committees according to eMarketer. The American Marketing Association also states that 65% of buyers are between the ages of 18 and 40. 

This is an important shift given the older generations (Gen Xers or Boomers) will likely want to engage with a sales representative in some capacity. However, these younger generations are more inclined to do their own research. Instead of trying to get them on the phone as quickly as possible, these buyers will want to explore different types of resources to determine if your business is the right fit for them.

The MX Group surveyed B2B Millennials to understand the challenges they faced when getting purchase recommendations considered or implemented, the answers were:

  • 52% responded that too many people are part of the decision-making process. This number is expected to increase now give the diversity of buying committees
  • 49% said their buying group is indecisive/misaligned. This makes sense as different generations trust different sources and perform research differently (online vs peer reviews vs network)
  • 39% mentioned difficulty getting their budget allocated. This isn’t surprising given the economic hardships in the world economy

While it’s unlikely that your final decision maker will be a Millennial or member of Gen Z, especially when buying large ticket items, they are certainly influencing these decisions behind the scenes and providing alternatives to the buying committee.

 

Mobile is Growing for B2B

 

If you’ve been in the B2B space for a while you know that we always hear about the growth happening in mobile – but until recently, it was a small share of traffic. That’s changed as the pandemic and diverse B2B buying committees are impacting the growth of mobile traffic and actions very quickly.

2023 is the year where more than half of B2B digital ad spending will go to mobile, and while non-mobile traffic is expected to continue growing, it won’t be at the expense of mobile traffic.

 

chart depicting growth in b2b mobile ad spending 2020-2024

Source: eMarketer

 

Mobile traffic will bring a new element of complexity to B2B marketers. For example, most large purchases/contracts won’t happen on a mobile device, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to engage with them through actions made for mobile devices, such as, “read later” or “send to email” promotions. The connection between marketing and sales will be imperative to guarantee we are passing prospects down the funnel.

Additionally, make sure you have CRM data that allows you to really look at lead quality and engagement over CPL. This will be a helpful directional metric, particularly when large purchases are involved.

 

How is AI Used in B2B Marketing?

 

All the data showcases that AI won’t replace the human element in advertising or SEO, and the same applies to the sales team. However, AI is going to change common marketing processes and the level of effort on redundant tasks.

B2B companies were already interested in adding AI to their processes and with ChatGPT, the interest expanded and accelerated. The real question is, when and how will B2Bs be able to leverage AI? Here are some great places to get started:

  • Content generation: Bloomreach is adding content generation capabilities across email, SMS, in-app and push notifications – all extremely manual tasks today
  • Automating email for sales representatives: Microsoft’s AI tool called “Viva Sales” will generate email content for a variety of scenarios, automatically create executive summaries and call transcripts, and even generate AI-driven recommendations to create better seller experiences
  • Customer segmentation: AI-based tools like Baremetrics and Optimove have built-in dashboards to subdivide your customers into specific groups based on their needs and characteristics

 

Data Privacy in B2B Marketing

 

Data is without a doubt critical for B2B success. Organizations hang onto data for long sales cycles and share that data with multiple stakeholders per account, so they need to work with data privacy and compliance experts and invest in strategies that guarantee data is managed and normalized across multiple internal systems. And while B2B companies are balancing those complex processes, they need to ensure they follow the latest privacy regulations.

Moreover, B2B buyers are looking to get experiences that are more closely related to what they experience in their day-to-day from B2C organizations. This means B2B marketers need to provide personalized experiences while respecting privacy at all costs and all times. That’s why we recommend following these best practices when working with B2B accounts: 

  • Use multiple sources of information: B2B prospects are complex. They can be located in multiple office locations across the world or work from home. They could be Gen Z or Gen X. They could work in marketing, finance, or any other department. To deliver the right messaging, you’ll need the right data
  • Define a goal for the data: If you ask for any personal data it must serve a purpose in your marketing and sales strategy. Otherwise, the data won’t just be pointless – it’ll be more difficult to manage
  • Establish security protocols: Make sure you are setting up your team for success by getting the appropriate certifications, risk assessments and penetration tests. And since data protection strategies are only as strong as their weakest link, you should also ask this from the companies you work with

 

Types of B2B Buyers

 

The semantics of the term “B2B marketing” has always bothered me. It almost insinuates there are no important sub-verticals in the business-to-business space. So before we keep going, let’s evaluate the key players in B2B using the model outlined by the Toronto Metropolitan University:

 

Producers

 

These types of companies take goods and services and turn them into other products and/or services. For example, a business that manufactures products from raw materials or a business that makes enhancements and modifications to existing goods. 

 

Resellers

 

Resellers sell goods or services to another business without materially changing them. This includes wholesalers, brokers, and retailers. 

 

Government

 

The government is a large B2B buyer (not to say the largest) and they require a lot of goods and services to function properly. In order to sell to the government, very specific processes must be followed. If you are in the U.S., the General Services Administration’s website is a good place to start.

 

Non-profit Institutions

 

The last segment is formed by non-profit organizations. In many cases they could technically be grouped into the “producers” group – at the end of the day, they take goods and services and turn them into other products and/or services. However, non-profit organizations are usually segmented into their own bucket because they tend to be more incentivized to buy products they need to fulfill their mission at a lower cost.

Understanding the type of B2B buyer you’re trying to reach will allow you to create a better strategic framework that speaks directly to their needs and how they operate.

 

Strategic B2B Framework

 

There’s no single framework that works for everyone. Yet, building one and understanding that it might change with time is a good place to start setting up your team up for success.

Here are the elements you need to gather to be able to have a strategic B2B framework:

 

  • Understand your market: Such as their size, needs, growth, competition
  • Have clear target personas: For B2B, this you need to understand the type of business (or account) you want to engage with while also understanding the different points of contact that will be involved in the decision making process
  • Have clear goals: Make sure to set both short and long term goals
  • Set your marketing mix: If you studied marketing or business in school, this might sound familiar. Yes, we are taking about the 4 Ps: Price, product, promotion, and place
  • Build your media mix: Think about how you are planning to reach out to your target audience
  • Synchronize and align your marketing and sales team: The hard truth is that many B2B marketers fail because of a lack of alignment with their sales team. One cannot be successful without the other
  • Forge a strong lead nurture program: You need to do more than send a few random emails to your prospects. It should be a dance that you are leading so prospects can better understand what’s next and why your business is the right fit
    • Use this to also determine which prospects are not a fit. Don’t waste their time or yours if it’s not a mutually beneficial relationship
    • This process will also ease up-sells and cross-sells later on
  • Help retain current customers: If the economy experiences a slight recession or a full on financial crisis, a good retention strategy can make all the difference
  • Measure everything: Specifically, a unified measurement plan will be pivotal with the cookie deprecation and privacy changes we are experiencing in the marketing industry

 

Once the foundation for your framework is established, the next stage is all about how we are going to communicate our value proposition to the prospects and current customers.

 

Mapping Your Content and Messaging to the B2B Buyer Journey

 

In order to deliver your message to your target audience, it is important to divide the information into different styles of content; video, FAQs, blog posts and so on. Now, we cannot expect the B2B buyer to just digest all of your content at once. B2B has a long sales cycle and individuals within a business will have content preferences depending on their role and seniority.

That’s why we need to align our content strategy to the B2B buyer’s journey:

 

Depiction of three stages of B2B buyer journey: Awareness, consideration, and decision

Source: Search Engine Land

 

But again, we cannot expect all this content to be consumed exclusively over email or through display banners. This is why we need to take it one step further and start layering media mix components.

Using traditional advertising platforms will look like this:

 

Examples of ad types to use for Awareness, Consideration, and Decision phase of B2B buyer’s journey

 

Remember, this strategy needs to evolve over time. As new platforms, ad types, and channels appear you will have to go through the process of updating and refining your map of the buyer’s journey.

 

Fitting Account Based Marketing into Your B2B Strategy

 

We cannot talk about B2B strategy and not talk about Account Based Marketing (ABM). Most people today believe that a platform or solution is the key to effective account based marketing. This can’t be further from the truth.

We’ve heard it a thousand times: The foundation for any successful ABM program is alignment between marketing and sales. However, B2B organizations are still failing big time when it comes to this.

So, when you’re setting up or evaluating an ABM strategy, we must first flip the funnel. This way, you won’t invest money into programmatic advertising or mid-funnel ABM and not be able to prove if your efforts worked or not. By flipping the funnel, you’ll ensure sales is able to pass feedback to the marketing team, such as:

  • Leads that have become customers
  • Leads that are too cold and need more information
  • Valuable business, but the POC that filled the form is not the correct one
  • Leads that can be upsold or cross-sold
  • Topics that the prospects are always interested in

Once there’s a stress tested process to move data between marketing and sales, we will be able to understand what triggers the audience to finally decide they are ready to convert. This fuels additional bottom of the funnel conversions and helps you create content specific to this stage of the buyer’s journey.

When that process is complete, you will realize that some of the key personas you outlined in your framework are not filling forms or reaching out to sales. When that happens, move up in the funnel and focus on the middle – the consideration and persuasion stage. What are the common questions that we can address before they engage later on with our sales team? Which other team members should start to hear from your business? Answering these questions will help set the account up for success and better inform the buying committee about your B2B product or service.

Lastly, once we address the middle of the funnel, we are finally able to go to the top of the funnel to determine where the most qualified traffic is coming from based on implicit and explicit lead scoring signals.

 

Conclusion

 

B2B is a game of patience and strategy. You’ll need to set a strategic framework from day one to keep your whole organization focused on the same goal. On top of that, you’ll need to continue to workshop your framework on an ongoing basis since B2B buying cycles move much slower than their B2C counterparts. But setting (and refining) that framework will help you get ahead of the competition and spot key trends impacting your target companies.