As a B2B marketer, you’re no stranger to the often overwhelming count of tasks on your plate. You’ve got blog posts to write, SEM campaigns to launch — Facebook ads, demand generation tasks, A/B tests, and so much more. How do you choose what’s worth your time and what to ignore as simple noise?
The most effective B2B marketers know better than most how to prioritize their workflow, automate tasks, organize their calendars, and invest in marketing channels that pay dividends. Plus, and probably most importantly, they are always learning and iterating on their efforts. They want to fully understand their customers, they keep tabs on the newest strategies and tactics for growing a business, and they understand how to retain customers for the long-haul.
It’s a tough task, but for those of us that have dedicated our careers to the B2B space, it’s nothing short of addicting, intellectually-challenging, and ever-changing. So how do you keep up with a constantly changing field?
As marketing great Seth Godin says, “the only way to consistently grow in B2B is to be better than good.” In this article, we’ll give you the B2B marketing strategies and marketing tactics to do that.
What is B2B marketing?
If you’re not in the world of B2B marketing, the term B2B might sound dull or corporate-y. You might be itching to work on a consumer problem. But don’t forget — B2B customers are consumers as well. And in 2020, B2B practitioners are building some of the most well-run, incredibly branded, and highly funded marketing programs in the world.
B2B marketing (or business-to-business marketing) is the promotion and selling of products and services by one business to other businesses and organizations. Basically, it’s a business marketing to another business — which might sound boring at first-glance. But when you get into the nitty-gritty, it provides an analytical and creative challenge that attracts the most savvy of marketing brains.
The world of B2B marketing shares a fair amount in common the B2C (business-to-consumer marketing) space, but the execution is far different.
Effective B2B marketing allows marketing teams to effectively educate, acquire, and retain customers.
6 steps of the modern B2B buyer's journey
To better understand the role of a B2B marketer, it’s first imperative to understand the market you’re serving and the unique challenges that your buyers are facing when making a purchase. By taking a walk in the B2B buyer’s shoes, you’ll better understand the consumer’s mindset, and if you’re perceptive (if you’re reading this you already are), you’ll start identifying the pain points you can help alleviate.
After all, that’s a big part of your job as a marketer.
1. Become aware of a problem
While a problem might exist inside a company for years, it won’t be considered a problem until a decision maker at the company knows about it and formerly calls it a problem. Here are a few common instances in which problems are identified:
- An employee diagnoses an error, issue, or process that needs attention
- A consultant, collaborator, salesperson, or another external party identifies a problem and brings it up
- Upon entering a new market, launching a product, or facing changing market forces
- When integrating a new solution or updating a process
Once a problem has been called out by an identifying party, a stakeholder will be charged with researching potential solutions and bringing his or her findings to a wider group of decision makers.
2. Search for services or products to solve the problem
Once it’s internally clear that 1) there is a problem and 2) that it can be reasonably solved with a service or product, the B2B buyer’s search truly begins.
This often begins on search (both organic and paid), through direct visits to relevant websites, through conversations with colleagues at other B2B companies, in online forums or social media (FB groups, LinkedIn, Reddit, etc), or through a variety of other discovery methods.
At this point in the buyer’s journey, research is all around what companies are offering solutions, what features each solution provides, the pricing page, and other basic information that will be presented to a wider group before a purchase decision.
3. Collaborate with team members on research and discovery
In the B2C space, one buyer is usually responsible for a decision (unless, of course, you share your credit card with a spouse or partner).
But in the B2B space, there are multiple stakeholders making a purchase decision. In fact, the average number of people in a B2B purchase decision has climbed to 6.8 in the past few years, according to the Harvard Business Review.
At this step in the buyer’s process, the person tasked with initial research brings their findings to other members on the team for feedback and consultation. Certain products and services will be eliminated from the search, additional suggestions will be added for consideration by other stakeholders, questions will be raised, and the stakeholder responsible for the final decision will be armed with additional information that needs to be collected.
4. Consider purchasing product/service
In consideration, the traditional second step of the marketing funnel, a buyer is weighing their potential purchase options. They are still looking for information, but at this point, they are considering fewer products and services than in their initial search.
At this point in the buyer’s journey, a buying party is hungry for case studies, e-books, white papers, webinars, blog posts, and other educational content that can help differentiate vendors. They’re also likely interacting with the sales team more heavily — watching demos and acquiring any information that isn’t directly available on a website’s external facing pages. Discounts and special attention from Sales can make quite an impact at this key decision point in the funnel.
5. Make the purchase
Finally, it’s time for a buyer to pull a trigger. After having a final conversation with the other involved stakeholders and agreeing on a vendor, the B2B customer will make a purchase. If you’ve won business, congrats! You’ve outcompeted quite the field of competitors and made it through several rounds of judgement.
6. Share post purchase experience
Often times, a buyer will want to leave feedback about their purchase with your brand. This can come in the form of a public review (on Google, G2 Crowd, or Capterra), as a completed NPS survey, or through an interaction with your sales team.
It’s an important, albeit often forgotten step, because it provides feedback upon which to improve your future efforts and build long-term rapport with customers.
The top 9 B2B marketing strategies
Now that we have a clear understanding of the B2B buyer’s journey from awareness to consideration to purchase, it’s time to think through the strategies that can practically help you acquire the highest-value customers for your business.
Here are the top 9 strategies you need to be using in 2020:
Before the Internet, something cool used to happen: humans talked to each other frequently. When I needed a wrench, rather than opening Prime Now on my phone and getting one shipped to my house in 2 hours, I would drive over to the hardware store. At the store, I would be able to chat with a real-life human as I made my purchase. I could quickly ask an expert, “is this the right wrench?”
For most of the Internet’s existence, this same level of human contact didn’t exist online. Then came live chat — and everything suddenly changed. Today, live chat can be used as a way to engage on-site visitors, answer any looming questions, and add a customer face to previously dry conversations. Plus, your sales team can utilize live chat to identify qualified leads that are on-site.
And from a metrics perspective, live chat is incredibly powerful. Implementing live chat can lead to an 82% on-site conversion rate increase, 13% more revenue from your customers, and 51% faster response times.
SEO & content marketing
What’s better than “free” traffic? While SEO isn’t technically free — there’s no such thing as a free lunch after all — it does cost a whole lot less than paying for a comparable level of traffic on PPC ads.
And when you realize that 63,000 Google searches are being performed initiated every second and 71% of B2B researchers being their research with generic Google searches — it’s hard to ignore the channel.
If you can continuously pump out high quality content, promote your content, build links, and get your content shared, you’ll be able to create a stream of traffic that’s quite defensible from a cost perspective. And if you can protect your rankings in the search engine rankings, you’ll reap benefits for years. It’s how companies like NerdWallet, Hubspot, and Zapier have build high-quality organic growth flywheels.
B2B buyers are already searching organically as they seek out a product or service for their problem. In fact, 89% of B2B researchers use the internet during the B2B buying process. For instance, let’s say you make Cap Table Management software. If you’re able to rank 1st on Google for that “cap table software” and “equity management software” — as well as for a bunch of other middle and top of funnel keywords, you can acquire customers that are warmed up for your product and eager to chat.
Important thing to keep in mind here: SEO is very much a long-game. Don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results — the impact of your efforts build over time.
Social media isn’t just for the B2C world anymore.
B2B CEOs live and breath Twitter, over 30% of the world’s population log into Facebook every month, and LinkedIn is effectively the 2020 version of a business card. By sharing blog content, case studies, and industry research on social media channels, you can create a presence for your brand and make your name known in a community.
Plus, social media provides a great medium to interact directly with prospects and customers. Get their feedback on your latest products, understand their frustrations, and surprise & delight them in every encounter.
In 2020, influencers provide a great opportunity to tap into a highly-curated and active community to market your product or service towards. In the B2B space, many of these influencers have built up communities and followings online that might align with your target audience.
On Facebook, you have communities such as SaaS Growth Hacks or Product & Growth. And on Linkedin, there’s Sales/Marketing Executives and Digital Marketing. There are tons of voices in each niche. Talk to your current customers to see who they are following, and use those influencers as stepping stones into developing your influencer marketing strategy.
By partnering with the influencers that run and frequent these groups, you’re able to tap into their communities and immediately receive goodwill from their highly active follower base. Instead of having to come in cold and pitch your product, you already have an endorsement or testimonial from the influencer to help validate your offering.
Affiliate marketing is an interesting beast — it’s essentially the practice where a website joins an affiliate program and makes money by promoting another brand’s products. Think software review sites and any content sites that always seems to mention the same brands.
Does it work? Over 81% of brands and 84% of publishers leverage affiliate marketing as a part of their marketing channel mix. And according to Bryn Jones at PartnerStack, an affiliate management software, roughly 30% of software sold every year is done through channel partners. Hubspot’s earnings reflect the same trend with nearly 40% of their revenue comes through channel sales.
Pay per click ads (or PPC for short) are a form of online ads where you pay for each instance that someone clicks on your ad.
PPC can refer to ads served across channels — from Google to Linkedin and beyond — but most times, B2B marketers are referring to ads served on Google Adwords.
You’ll see these ads in SERP listings right above organic content. To fully dominate organic listings, most B2B marketers employ a strategy that healthily balances both PPC and SEO. It makes sense — 66% of buyer-intent keywords are paid ads and 64% of people click on paid ads when buying a product online.
If nothing else, make sure you’re bidding on branded keywords. You don’t want your competitors stealing traffic that’s trying to get to your website to convert. That’d be like a McDonald’s forgetting to put a sign outside and losing business from McDonald’s loyalists to the Burger King next door. Careless move.
Account based marketing (ABM) takes traditional marketing and absolutely turns it on its head. With this method, you take a single account and treat it like it is a market of one. When a high-value account visits your site, you greet them with a personalized experience and connect them with sales in real-time. It truly can wow a potential customer as the experience feels hyper-personalized and very unique for their needs.
A better way to think about it is by thinking of traditional marketing as fishing with a net. You cast wide and hope to find the ideal big fish from a wide school of options. Account based marketing is akin to spear fishing. You go deep and focus efforts towards your highest value prospects.
ABM doesn’t work for all businesses — but B2B companies targeting high-value customers can see quite the ROI from the extra effort. Intercom’s account based marketing software has helped customers book more demos, generate new opportunities, and speed up the sales cycle.
Email marketing isn’t dead.
In fact, it’s still quite relevant in the B2B world. 93% of B2B marketers use email to distribute content — and employees spend 13 of their working hours each week in their email inbox (on average). With so much time spent in the inbox, it’s certainly worth a bit of your attention.
Why is email so great? It’s incredibly versatile and can be used throughout the buying cycle. You can use it to create hyper-relevant email drips, product emails, purchase reminders, recommendations, winback campaigns, newsletters, and much more. Plus, with email automation, crm software, and personalization tools at your fingertips — email marketing has never felt more personal.
That’s probably why even with GDPR and high competition, email still yields one of the highest returns for any channel. For every $1 spent, email generates $38 in ROI.
4 factors to consider when deciding which strategy to use
Choosing a strategy can be an overwhelming task, but it really shouldn’t be. Keeping the following things in mind while selecting a B2B marketing strategy can help point you in the right direction and get the most out of your efforts.
Don’t use just one strategy
Each of the strategies on this list has its pros and cons. You’re appealing to customers with different personalities, various preferences, and unique buying behaviors. Buyers in Indiana act differently than buyers in Texas. E-commerce customers buy differently than SaaS.
Utilizing a multi-channel approach maintains that you’ll reach a buyer on their preferred playing ground.
Test what works for you
As a marketer tasked with growth, you likely know the impact testing can have on your overall performance. While a multichannel approach is our suggested playbook — that doesn’t mean you have to be on every channel. Your business is going to have more success on some channels and with certain digital marketing tools. For instance, we’ve found a lot of success with SEO and PPC — but affiliate hasn’t been as strong for our brand. Learn your strengths and weaknesses quickly, and use that data to your advantage.
Your testing mentality should also apply to your behavior on each individual channel. Don’t go into with a set and forget it mindset. Constantly be thinking about iterations you can make, and use that to make your campaigns even more swell.
Look at your target customer
If you don’t know your customers, you’ll never have success with any of these strategies. Talk to your customers, listen to their feedback, and use it to shape your product and marketing efforts.
For instance, scheduling a weekly customer call might seem time-intensive, but you’ll see a huge benefit in your marketing by putting 30 minutes on your calendar a week to converse with your customers. Learn how they shop, what sites they read, and get into their head.
Make metric-based decisions
Numbers don’t usually lie. It’s important to trust your gut on many things when it comes to marketing — but when it comes to analyzing performance, trust your data. See which channels are generating the best click through rates, lower customer acquisition costs, and the highest-value customers for your brand.
Best practices for creating your B2B marketing strategy
If you’re like me, when looking at your conversion rate or the user churn for your product, you’ll instantly be thinking, “how does my performance stack up against my competitors?” or “Is this actually a good number?”
As a data-driven marketer, my mind is super analytical. I love benchmarking myself against what others are hitting as well as my past performance. And utilizing best practices is one of the best methods I can actively take to do this. By introducing a few tactics to my B2B marketing efforts, I can hold myself responsible for reaching goals. Over, and over again. Every sprint. Every quarter. Rinse. Repeat.
Creating standards and best practices not only provides the framework to measure and improve upon past performance — it more importantly maintains that I won’t lose anything in the noise. During a quarter, unexpected delays come up, that drop-everything-right-now partnership pops up, and priorities shift.
But following these best practices can make sure you hold you and your team accountable — regardless of what happens out of your control.
If you say you’re quantitative, and then you spend money without a plan, you’re lying to yourself. It’d be like remodeling your kitchen without a budget. You’re likely to overspend, run out of money, and be dissatisfied with your final product.
Setting a budget beforehand solves so many potential headaches.
We recommend first setting a budget for your whole marketing team. Work with your CEO, CFO, or executive team to get a departmental budget for the quarter based upon your team’s goals. PPC ad costs, salaries, and software spend are likely to be three of your highest line items — but other than that, your budget can vary widely depending on what you prioritize.
After finalizing how much you can realistically spend on marketing for the quarter, look at your goals for each channel (Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, ABM, Live chat, etc). Based on that, allocate your budget while thinking through the realistic costs of each channel. For instance, if you plan to produce a lot of blog content by utilizing freelance writers, you’ll need to account for that cost (a few hundred dollars per article).
We could talk all day about budgeting, but there are many ways you can plan out your team’s expenses. Here’s the strategy Intercom uses to spend money to make money with paid ads.
Set reachable/timely goals
It’s great to dream big and take some risks — in fact, some of the biggest marketing success stories have been accomplished by doing things that don’t scale or seem downright crazy. Remember how AirBNB went door to door in New York to visit their initial hosts and take high quality photos of their spaces? If they hadn’t done that, they wouldn’t have gotten close enough to their customers to succeed.
It was an unscalable practice, but it was reachable and timely for their brand.
At Proof, we use OKRs to set our goals during each blitz (a 6-week cycle that everyone from the product to marketing team follows). By doing so, we all align on reaching attainable goals. With OKRs, you’re supposed to aim for a hit rate of 60% to 70%. This provides reasonable numbers to reach, but at the same time, it makes your team strive towards ambition and think outside of the box to do things that can seriously move the needle for your business.
We’re all busy, and we all overcommit. If there’s one way to hold yourself accountable, it’s to set hard deadlines.
You might have heard of the concept of Parkinson’s law. In short, it’s the concept that as humans, when we’re given a set time to complete a task, we take the whole allotted time to complete the task at hand. It can be especially troubling in tech where rapid company growth is dictated by the amount of code shipped, tasks completed, and overall momentum produced by your team.
So, how do you mitigate the desire to knock items off your Trello board and not spending weeks spinning on the same task?
Set reasonable deadlines. Mapping out your sprint, month, and quarter can help you prioritize your workload and allow you to hit goals week after week. Setting deadlines is even more important when working on any partnership project (off-site guest posting, joint webinars, event co-hosting) because it makes sure that both parties actually commit to providing deliverables. I generally set a deadline earlier than I need to — in order to maintain that I get everything I promise to others on time.
Segment your focus
I’ve mentioned a lot of different things you can focus your time and energy on during this article. And you might be thinking, “that’s great and all, but this seems like too many things to reasonable accomplish.”
I hear you loud and clear. You don’t need to do all of the things on this list. It’s more important to focus on absolutely crushing it on a few channels than haphazardly committing to the 9 strategies aforementioned.
Anytime you approach marketing with a testing mentality, it’s key to think through potential outcomes before you get started on your work. It’s like driving your car to the airport during rush hour. There might be multiple routes to get you from point A to point B, but based on your past experiences (your past trips to the airport) and data at your disposal (Waze), you can weigh which route will likely get you to your destination the fastest.
You’re not going to be perfect at everything
Even if you manage to implement every channel on this list with ease, you’re going to have to make a decision at some point of where to focus your efforts. There are only so many hours in a day — and to keep executing across touchpoints, you need to focus your efforts. After experimenting with the strategies in this list, see where you get the most traction and push the throttle forward on that channel. Trust me, it can seriously help your business scale in the long-haul.
Ben Johnson is the Head of Content at Proof, a Y Combinator-backed startup that provides real-time social proof and personalization software. Over 18,000 sites trust Proof to help increase their conversion rates.