Marketing is a critical aspect for any business for achieving growth, including for B2B (Business-to-business) companies.
In B2B marketing, proper marketing practices would help the organization reach and engage other businesses that can be converted into actual customers.
However, B2B marketing can be challenging in practice, especially due to the fact that it is vastly different from the more familiar B2C (Business-to-consumers.) B2B marketing must cater to the typically more complex B2B purchasing processes, that may involve a different set of decision-makers with different roles.
This is where this guide comes in.
In this guide, we will explore various B2B marketing strategies that you can use to effectively reach out and engage other businesses, establish credibility, and convince them to purchase your goods or services.
By the end of this guide, you’d have learned about:
- Set B2B marketing goals and identify your target audience
- Creating a strong B2B brand identity
- Developing compelling content to attract and engage your target customers
- Leveraging different marketing channels to promote your goods and services
- Examples of successful B2B marketing campaigns
Without further ado, let us begin this guide to B2B marketing strategies by discussing the basic concept of B2B marketing.
B2B marketing: how it works
B2B marketing, simply put, refers to any effort of promoting and selling products or services from one business to another. This is as opposed to B2C marketing which attempts to promote goods/services directly to consumers.
B2B marketing is unique, and in most cases, more challenging than B2C marketing due to the nature of how B2B purchases work:
- A B2B purchase often involves multiple decision-makers with different roles, preferences, priorities, and interests. This can make the purchase decision much longer and more complicated.
- Businesses typically purchase goods and services when they are sure that these solutions will bring value to the business. The purchase decision is more likely to be driven by data and quantifiable proofs rather than emotions (which is more common in B2B purchases).
- Although reputation and credibility are important for all businesses, they are even more critical for B2B businesses. This is also due to the fact that B2B products and services tend to be more expensive and/or require a long-term commitment. It’s natural for B2B buyers to only want to buy from highly reputable and credible vendors.
The anatomy of a B2B purchase decision
Although each business is unique with its own goals and priorities, a typical B2B sales cycle is as follows:
1. The identification of a need
Also called the awareness stage. Here, the business started becoming aware of a need. This need can be driven by various factors: increased consumer demands, identified problems, the need to improve efficiency/productivity, changes in regulations, obsolete equipment or software, and so on.
Typically, the identification of this need starts with one person in the company. For example, an accountant may feel that the accounting software the company is using is no longer sufficient to perform their task, and informs their supervisor or accounting manager.
2. Research phase
During this phase, decision-makers will consider a number of potential solutions and may evaluate several factors, including but not limited to:
- Features and benefits offered by the solution
- The reputation of the vendor
- Terms of payment and partnership (if any)
- Level of support offered by the vendor
This phase may involve discussions between multiple decision-makers with different priorities, and the company may also seek input from external parties, colleagues, and other stakeholders to help them make an informed decision.
3. Negotiation phase
Here, the decision-makers have narrowed down their option, probably into a top two or three solutions, and they will typically engage in negotiations with these vendors.
They will discuss terms, final pricing, and other factors that may influence their final decision.
4. Purchase phase
A vendor finally has been selected, and here the company will finalize a purchase by reviewing and signing the contract (if any.)
Different decision-makers in a B2B purchase
We have mentioned how in B2B transactions, there are typically multiple decision-makers that may influence the purchasing decision. Catering to these decision-makers can play a significant impact on the success of a B2B marketing strategy.
Although different companies may have different roles as decision-makers, we can categorize the main decision-makers in a B2B transaction as follows:
- Technical decision-makers: they are responsible for evaluating the technical specifications of the product/service to be purchased. They must possess deep knowledge and/or long enough experience related to the technical requirements of the business. For example, if a restaurant is looking for a new meat supplier, then the head chef or a meat specialist in the kitchen can act as a technical decision-maker.
- Financial decision-makers: pretty self-explanatory, these individuals are responsible for evaluating the financial factors and impact of the purchase. They’ll assess whether the product/service has reasonable cost, the ROI, and the overall financial impact of the purchase. A finance manager or CFO is typically the top financial decision-maker in a company.
- Procurement specialists: they are responsible for managing the purchasing processes while also attempting to negotiate the best possible terms for each transaction. Their main concern is with getting the best deal for the business, focusing on cost savings.
- Management: they are responsible for the overall direction of the business, and are concerned with the strategic impact of the purchase. They will thoroughly evaluate how a purchase will impact the long-term success of the business.
- End-users: The individuals who will be using the solution on a daily basis. They are typically the ones initiating the purchasing process (i.e., a chef requesting to change a meat supplier due to repeated order issues from the previous supplier.) Because they have deep knowledge and experience of their own requirements, they typically play a critical role in the purchasing process to ensure the purchased product/service meet their day-to-day needs in order to fulfill their work in the company.
A successful B2B marketing strategy must start with a thorough understanding of the role of each decision-maker, how they can impact the purchasing decision, and what types of marketing tactics are effective for each role.
By targeting each marketing effort to the needs of each decision-maker, the potential success of the B2B marketing campaign would increase exponentially.
Key factors to successful B2B marketing strategy
Now that we’ve understood how B2B marketing works in relation to the B2B buying process, here we will discuss the key factors that will determine B2B marketing’s success.
Each of these factors plays a critical role in the overall success of the B2B marketing effort. Thus, by focusing on these factors, B2B businesses can increase their chances of success and drive sustainable growth.
- Thorough understanding of your target audience
An effective B2B marketing strategy is one that effectively caters to the target audience’s needs, preferences, and pain points.
However, as discussed, in B2B marketing, we are targeting companies, in which there can be multiple decision-makers and influencers that may affect the purchase decision with different roles, goals, and priorities.
Meaning, B2B marketing may need to target multiple target audiences with vastly different tactics.
Thorough market research and development of (multiple) buyer personas are critical to ensure a B2B marketing campaign’s success.
2. Establishing credibility
Establishing trust and credibility is critical for B2B marketing.
Not only B2B purchase decisions are often made by multiple individuals with different roles, but many of whom are experts and highly knowledgeable people in their respective fields. They simply won’t do business with companies that aren’t credible or trustworthy, and can’t provide data-driven proof for their claims.
Demonstrating your business’s expertise and thought leadership is critical in B2B marketing, and the business must utilize various channels to earn the trust of their target audience.
3. Content marketing
Saying that content is king in B2B marketing—or any marketing strategy at all—isn’t an understatement.
However, content marketing offers two-fold importance in establishing credibility and trust (and we have discussed its importance above,) and educating your target audience about the benefits of your solution.
The idea of content marketing is that by consistently publishing relevant and valuable content, you can establish your B2B business as a thought leader in your industry, generating leads, and ultimately generating revenue.
4. Data and analytics
It’s crucial for B2B businesses to be able to provide tangible, data-driven proof of their expertise and credibility, so data collection is simply critical.
Also, data and analytics are very important not only to keep track of your B2B marketing campaign’s performance but also to help you make informed decisions on future strategies. You can gain valuable insights into which of your tactics is working, which needs to be improved, and which you don’t really need.
5. Collaboration and integration
Effective collaboration is essential in ensuring the successful execution of your B2B marketing strategy. The better your marketing team members collaborate for the execution of the marketing campaigns, the higher the chance for success.
However, we should also consider collaboration between your marketing team and other departments in your company (i.e. sales, and customer service.) This is to ensure your marketing efforts should be properly aligned with your business’s short-term and long-term goals.
It’s also critical to ensure integration between different marketing efforts and channels to maximize your B2B marketing strategy’s reach and impact.
Developing effective B2B marketing strategy: step-by-step guide
In this section, we’ll cover a step-by-step guide to building a B2B marketing strategy while considering the five factors discussed above.
Step 1: Define your B2B marketing goals
The first, and arguably the most important step in developing a B2B marketing strategy is to define clear and achievable marketing goals.
Without having well-defined goals, you won’t be able to measure the success of your marketing efforts and make better judgments and decisions on future strategies.
We can further divide this step into several steps, as follows
- Align your business goals. Start by assessing the overall objectives of your business. If you haven’t defined them, then it’s time to do so. Your marketing goals should align with these overall business goals. For example, if your business’s overall goal is to increase revenue, then your marketing goals can be about increasing lead generation or customer acquisition.
- Set realistic targets. It’s very important to set realistic and achievable targets for your defined B2B marketing goals. Setting goals that are too big or ambitious can be counterproductive and may hurt your team’s morale. Consider factors like your budget, available resources, and the competitive landscape when setting your targets, and divide bigger targets into smaller—more achievable—mentions when necessary.
- Identify key metrics. Identifying KPIs and key metrics to measure is critical for objectively monitoring your marketing efforts’ performances. These defined KPIs should follow the SMART framework (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.) Some examples of B2B marketing KPIs include the number of generated leads, website traffic, and customer acquisition cost (CAC).
- Prioritize goals. It’s crucial to prioritize your B2B marketing goals to ensure that you are focusing on the most important tactics and channels that will benefit you the most. Prioritize the goals you’ve defined based on the resources required and time needed to achieve them and the potential impact they will have on your business.
- Monitor and adjust. It’s critical to continuously monitor your efforts’ performances, and regularly review, and adjust your B2B marketing goals when necessary to make sure they remain relevant and realistic (achievable.) Set up a system so you can keep track of your campaign’s performances and overall progress.
Below are some examples of common B2B marketing goals:
- Lead generation: generate 1,000 leads within 6 months
- Brand awareness: generate 1,000 more in website traffic per month, get 100 more social media mentions per day, and so on.
- Customer retention: improve customer retention by 20% in a year
- Product development: improve customer satisfaction by 30% in 6 months time
- Market penetration: increase market penetration within the existing market by 20% in a year
- Sales growth: increase revenue from existing customers by 25% in a year
Step 2: Define, segment, and understand your target audience
Above, we have discussed the importance of knowing and understanding your target audience while considering the complexity of the B2B purchasing process that involves multiple decision-makers in different roles.
Thus, this step requires a combination of research, analysis, and strategy development as follows:
Identify and segment your target audience
The first step in understanding the target market of your B2B business is to identify and segment them.
Start by creating a broad definition of the specific businesses you want to target, and categorizing these businesses based on common traits such as industry/niche, size, location, and other demographic data.
If you already have existing customers, you can start by analyzing their demographic data. However, if you are a brand-new business without any customer base, then a potential approach is to perform a competitive analysis to identify your competitors’ target markets.
By segmenting your target audience, you can tailor your marketing tactics and efforts to the specific pain points, concerns, and needs of each segment; increasing the chance of success.
Analyzing your audience’s needs and pain points
Once you’ve properly defined and segmented the businesses you’d like to target—your target market—, the next step is to research and analyze their pain points and needs.
The actual process for this step may vary, but should mainly involve collecting information about the concerns and challenges your target companies are facing. The idea is to use this information to develop a marketing strategy that caters to these needs.
You can use various means to collect data, but the most common ones are to conduct market research, surveys or interviews (online or offline), and focus groups, as we will discuss below,
Market research and competitive analysis
While the actual details may vary depending on the industry you’re in, and other factors, here are the basic steps to conducting B2B market research and competitive analysis:
- Define your research objectives: clearly define what objective(s) you’d like to achieve through the market research and competitive analysis efforts
- Gather primary data: surveys, focus groups, and interviews are the main primary research methods to collect data directly from your target audience
- Gather secondary data: use secondary sources of information to collect more data about your customers and target market, such as news articles, industry reports, research results, and government data.
- Competitive analysis: analyze your primary competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and strategic approaches; then move on to secondary competitors.
- Evaluate market trends: collect information regarding the moving market trends, including changes in consumer behavior, adoption of technological advancements, entry of new competitors, and so on. Study the potential impacts on your business.
- Identify opportunities and threats: analyze all the information gathered to identify potential threats to your business—and develop means to tackle them—and opportunities for improvements and growth.
Developing buyer personas
Once you’ve gathered enough information about your target companies’ needs and pain points, the next step is to develop buyer personas.
A “buyer persona” is a fictional model—a representation—of your perfect customer.
Despite being a fictional model, a buyer persona should be based on research and real data about your target customers.
B2B marketing should develop two types of buyer personas: for the target companies and for the decision-makers within the companies.
As discussed, multiple decision-makers with different roles may be involved in the B2B purchase decision. Each role may have different goals and priorities, and each company may involve different roles.
This means that you may need to develop a substantial number of different buyer personas for both the companies and individuals, which obviously can be challenging.
Here is an example of a target company buyer persona:
- Overview: A mid-sized manufacturing company with 200-500 employees, operating in the automotive industry.
- Demographics: a diverse workforce. Annual revenue is $30 million to $100 million.
- Requirements: looking for a cost-effective production line optimization software to increase productivity and efficiency.
- Goals: improve competitiveness in the market, reduce costs, improve efficiency and productivity
- Decision-making criteria: cost, ease of use, reliability, scalability
On the other hand, when developing buyer personas for individuals in the company, it’s important to be as specific as possible. Detail the job title/role, demographics data, responsibilities, and so on. Here is an example:
- Overview: An IT manager is a technical decision-maker in the target company, responsible for assessing the technical aspect of a software product, and making recommendations to the procurement manager.
- Demographics: Male or female, aged 30-45, with an undergraduate degree or above in the technical field.
- Role/job title: IT manager or technical director
- Responsibilities: Managing technology projects, evaluating and recommending IT assets and software solutions, and ensuring the company’s technology infrastructure is adequate and competitive.
- Goals: improve the company’s technology infrastructure, increase technological efficiency and ensure the company’s competitiveness
- Decision-making criteria: technological fit, integration with existing solutions, scalability
Try to gather data from as many sources as possible: surveys, sales data, and market research, so you can create a comprehensive picture for each buyer persona. Also, remember that buyer personas should be reviewed and updated regularly as your target market evolves over time.
Step 4: Develop Unique Value Proposition (UVP)
A Unique Value Proposition, or UVP, is a statement that communicates what sets your company apart from your competitors: what unique benefits do your product or service offered to your customers?
Developing UVPs is a critical step in creating a successful B2B Marketing strategy, and it should be based on the results of your market research and competitive analysis. Here is a step-by-step guide to developing a UVP:
- Identify: determine what makes your brand unique, whether it’s specific features from your products/services, unique and/or state-of-the-art technology, expertise, unique approach, etc.
- Articulate: clearly state the unique and specific benefits you have discovered, and why these benefits set you apart from your competitors
- Test: test your UVP with your target audience. For example, you can conduct surveys or focus group discussions for this purpose.
- Adjust: based on the results of your test, refine your UVP(s) to ensure it’s as clear and compelling as possible
- Integrate: design ways to incorporate your UVP(s) into your marketing materials and content. Focus on maintaining consistent branding and messaging.
Step 5: Create an inbound marketing strategy
Inbound marketing refers to the tactics and initiatives to attract your target audience inwards, rather than relying on traditional (outbound) marketing tactics such as advertising.
At the core of an effective inbound marketing strategy is content marketing supported by mainly SEO and other channels. Here’s how to expand the results of your market research and UVP development into an inbound marketing strategy:
- Keyword research:
- Identify keywords and phrases that your target audience is searching for online, mainly by finding keywords with high search volume
- Keywords must be relevant to your business and marketing objectives.
- Depending on the available resources (time, budget, etc.,) assess whether the competition for the keyword is manageable. If the competition for a keyword is too tight, it might not be worth pursuing.
- Develop content marketing strategy: develop a comprehensive content marketing strategy by focusing on delivering value to your target audience and establishing thought leadership in your niche/industry. While you should mainly focus on blog posts, remember that there are other forms and mediums you can experiment with, such as eBooks, infographics, webinars, podcasts, and videos, among others.
- Implement on-site SEO: Optimize your content by including the target keywords naturally and optimize the technical factors of your website (mobile responsiveness, page speed, metadata, etc.) Make sure Google’s crawler bots can crawl and index the page.
- Link building (off-site SEO): use various link-building tactics to generate high-quality backlinks to your pages.
- Measure and adjust: monitor the performance of your content—both In terms of organic traffic generated and search ranking performance—and adjust your strategy as needed.
Step 6: Utilize other marketing channels
Leverage social media
Use social media platforms to support your content marketing by driving traffic to your website, generating leads, and nurturing leads.
When it comes to social media marketing strategy, we have to consider three different aspects:
- Organic: building your own followers, publishing your content, and engaging your followers. The most cost-effective option, but building followers and an organic social media presence can be challenging. It may take a long time before you can generate substantial results from your organic efforts.
- Paid: using various paid options offered by various social media platforms (i.e. LinkedIn Ads, Facebook ads, Instagram ads, etc.) to promote your content, product/service, and brand on social media. Can quickly generate results, but is also the most expensive option.
- Influencer marketing: another option in social media marketing that is often overlooked is to partner with relevant influencers so they can help promote your brand, content, and product/service to their followers. Essentially you can bypass the lengthy process of building your own followers and gain instant access to the influencers’ audience instead. Can be more cost-effective than paid social media promotion provided you can get the right influencers
The key to successful social media marketing is about finding the sweet spot between the three “channels” so you can find the right balance between speed and cost.
Here are a few tips on how to use social media in B2B marketing:
- Choose the right platform. It’s crucial to choose the right social media platforms that fit your target audience and your business objectives. LinkedIn is arguably the most important platform for most B2B businesses, but you can also consider Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even YouTube.
- Have a content strategy. It’s no secret that social media is getting more saturated by the day, so getting your voice heard amidst all the noises is obviously challenging. It’s critical to develop a comprehensive content strategy that is focused on providing value to your target audience while also establishing thought leadership in your business’s niche. Ask yourself: what types of content are both valuable to your target market and relevant to your business?
- Engage regularly. Social media is meant to be a two-way communication channel, so treat the social media platforms as such. Answer your followers’ questions, respond to comments, and regularly engage with your followers to build valuable and lasting relationships.
- Don’t be afraid to invest in paid channels. Leverage paid channels to generate faster results while amplifying your reach to a wider audience. To maximize cost efficiency, strive to fine-tune your targeting so you can target the most qualified demographics.
- Monitor, analyze, and adjust. Regularly monitor and analyze the results of your social media marketing campaigns, and make adjustments when required.
Lead generation tactics
Now that you’ve successfully generated enough traffic to your website and platform via content marketing, advertising, social media marketing, and other means; what can you do with this traffic?
The answer is to capture their contact information so we can effectively convert this traffic into leads. To do so, we can focus on two things: lead magnets and landing pages.
- Lead magnet: essentially offering something valuable for free, in exchange for their contact information. The lead magnet can come in various forms, such as gated content (eBook, research report, white paper, etc.,) tools, software, videos, tickets to webinars, etc.
- Landing page: a web page specially designed and optimized to capture leads. Should be optimized so that it clearly conveys the lead magnet it is offering, and it’s as easy as possible to convert.
Lead nurturing strategy
Most leads won’t be ready to make their purchase right away, and this is where the importance of lead nurturing comes in.
Lead nurturing is—simply put—the process of building relationships with leads over time to nurture (and convince) them into paying customers.
Some examples of B2B lead nurturing tactics you can leverage:
- Email marketing. Send a curated series of targeted and educational emails to lads in order to keep them engaged while elaborating on your product/service’s benefits and establishing credibility.
- Personalized demos. Can be effective for certain B2B products, here you provide personalized demonstrations of your products to specific leads you are targeting. This way, you can demonstrate how your product can solve the prospect’s specific problem or pain points.
- Events. Hosting offline and online events, as well as attending established events can provide your business with a valuable opportunity to build relationships with prospects and educate them about your product/service’s benefits.
- Content marketing. As discussed, content marketing is effective in virtually all stages of the purchase decision, making it an ideal lead-nurturing tactic. Offer valuable and educational content such as eBooks, white papers, etc. to establish our position as a thought leader in your industry.
When implementing these lead nurturing tactics, you may also want to leverage lead nurturing software to manage, monitor your progress, and automate the lead nurturing efforts
Step 7: Monitor and adjust
Measuring your B2B marketing campaigns’ performances is crucial so you can quickly identify inefficiencies you can fix, opportunities for improvement, and things that have worked well (so you can do the same in another channel).)
Here are some key metrics to monitor:
- Organic and referral traffic. Monitor the number of visitors to your website and their sources. This alone can help you clearly understand which of your marketing campaigns are effective in driving traffic and leads.
- Lead generation. The number of prospects who submitted their contact information, and the conversion rate of these leads into paying customers.
- Return on Investment (ROI). Measure the ROI of your marketing efforts; the cost of each marketing campaign and the revenue generated from these campaigns.
- Engagement. The engagement rate of your target audience with your content (i.e., number of views, shares, downloads) This is important to measure the effectiveness of your content.
- Social metrics. Engagement rate on social media (likes, comments, shares) so you can measure your social media marketing efforts.
Keeping track of these metrics can help you gain valuable insights into your marketing performance, and make data-driven decisions in the future.
Having a clear and well-executed B2B marketing plan is critical for driving sustainable business growth while ensuring success in the competitive B2B market.
A comprehensive B2B marketing strategy should start with a proper understanding of your target audience via market research, buyer persona development, and competitive analysis, so you can leverage various marketing channels based on the discovered insights.
By following the key steps outlined in this guide, you are ready to achieve success in B2B marketing.