What Is B2B Marketing? How Is It Changing and How To Do It Right

Posted by Taru Bhargava 17 October, 2018 3 comments

B2B marketing isn’t new, but the challenges faced by marketers today make it extremely difficult for us to consistently source quality leads.

Sure, generating leads has always been a B2B marketing challenge.

So what’s changed? Why is B2B marketing even MORE difficult today?

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The answer: technology. The rise of technology has changed the way we discover and consume information. Think about the number of times you’ve stumbled upon information via a podcast, a sponsored ad on your Instagram feed or even a YouTube campaign. It happens a lot, right?

Clearly, we don’t do business like we used to. But are we prepared for this shift?

The truth is, we are NOT.

Data backs up this statement. A 2015 Bain & Company release stated that nearly 90 percent of B2B marketing and sales executives do not feel prepared to sell to the digital-savvy customer—the evolved buyer.

Nevertheless, here are two truths today’s executives have to face:

  1. A company’s digital footprint determines whether it makes it to the short list of vendors
  2. Such decisions are driven primarily by millennial customers

What does this mean for B2B marketers?

It means that B2B marketers need to build impactful B2B marketing strategies that cut through the noise, generate real leads, and effectively address real customers, instead of relying on stale strategies that produce leads that just sputter out.

If you are a B2B marketer, your marketing strategy must adapt in order for you to survive. The truth is, if your marketing strategy doesn’t evolve, you will be disrupted by a competitor sooner than you expect.

Before we analyze how B2B marketing must adapt to a changed landscape, let’s take a step back and understand what B2B marketing actually is.

What Is B2B Marketing?

B2B (business to business) involves products or services sold from one business to another—sales software, payroll services, cloud storage, copier paper … the list goes on. And B2B marketing is how the business doing the selling generates buzz and demand for their offering. Underneath the B2B marketing umbrella are tactics like email marketing, social media, PPC, SEO and TV ads, all part of an ever-evolving list of methods for getting the attention of decision makers.

What’s The Difference Between B2B & B2C?

For marketers, one of the most significant differences between B2B and B2C is the gross global merchandise volume. According to Shopify, B2B has a 257.4 percent larger ecommerce market than B2C. Combine that with an average order value more than double that of B2C, and the importance of generating B2B leads becomes clear:

In our increasingly online world, B2B marketing is more important than ever before.

Since B2B transactions are now more likely to take place online, the big question is: How can B2B marketers unlock growth for their companies—aka, do it right?

Now that you know what B2B marketing looks like in the age of technology, let’s talk about the most effective ways to develop and implement a B2B marketing effort in today’s marketplace.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

#1 Be Open To Experimentation

One of the most underrated yet important aspects of marketing is experimentation.

Unfortunately, many marketers have past failures that make them hesitant to experiment. They are afraid to take that leap of faith and try something new. Phrases like “This is not for us” and “Let’s stick with best practices” are not uncommon in marketing circles.

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While it’s always smart to question the feasibility of new approaches, too much hesitation in the initial stages can kill lucrative ideas before they take off.

So next time you’re feeling hesitant about trying something new, remember this:

  1. Experimentation helps you understand what works for your brand and what doesn’t. Whether you want to check the viability of a new social media platform, try out a new content format, or create dynamic content offers, you need to test and experiment!
  2. Experimentation can provide insights about your target audience that your competition may not know, giving you a strategic advantage when designing campaigns.
  3. Experimentation will help you design a better user experience and direct prospects toward the right conversion path.

MailChimp is at the forefront of B2B marketing experimentation, often running campaigns that speak to the brand’s target audience in innovative ways. For example, MailChimp recognized that potential customers sometimes mishear or misspell the company’s offbeat name, resulting in lost business. In order to recover this lost traffic, the email marketing platform ran paid search campaigns with slight alterations of their brand name.

We used mispronunciation as a creative device to inspire all kinds of different executions, knowing that people would be curious about what they were seeing and search for more information.

Take a look at this film that explains why the brand did what they did:

We have a history of not taking ourselves too seriously and having fun with our name, and this felt like a perfect way to introduce ourselves to potential new customers in a big and creative way.Mark DiCristina, senior director of brand marketing at MailChimp

But running a campaign as massive as the one above isn’t feasible or sensible for every B2B organization.

So what else can you do?

Here’s some inspiration from the team at HubSpot: They use Instagram stories as a sales channel to engage their audience, build brand awareness and attract new decision makers.

The lesson here is that your experimentation doesn’t have to be wild—even a simple campaign on a new platform can be effective.

Bonus: Here are some more ideas for gaining quality B2B leads without breaking the bank.

#2 Hang Out Where Your Customers Do

Sir Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco, has some straightforward advice for businesses: “Follow the customer.” In the B2B marketing world, that translates to spending time online wherever your customers do.

What does hanging out with the customer achieve for your business?

For starters, it helps you keep track of the conversations surrounding your product. You can gauge what users think about your product, identify measures that should be taken to improve your product’s value proposition and fill in gaps in lead generation.

There are two main ways to hang out with your B2B customers:

  • Join forums or communities that complement your business

For B2B marketers in the MarTech SaaS business, this could mean lurking in communities such as GrowthHackers or in niche subreddits. Marketers associated with agencies, on the other hand, can spend time in Slack or Facebook groups where their clients hang out.

Check out this comprehensive guide that will help you crack the Reddit marketing code

For example, Quora is fast becoming a favorite pit stop of B2B marketers. The platform is chock-full of questions from prospective buyers, offering ample opportunity for marketers to provide value while plugging their product and generating leads.

Below is an example of how the team at Ahrefs uses Quora effectively:

We reached out to Si Quan Ong, customer success manager at Ahrefs, to get his two cents on how Quora has helped Ahrefs generate leads. Here’s what he said:

In Tim’s Blogging for Business course, he mentions that one of the best ways to kickstart your link building efforts is by leaving comments. By leaving comments, he doesn’t mean spamming blogs with low-value comments that have nothing to do with the site. He is referring to leaving high-value comments that sometimes link back to your own content on places like blogs, niche forums, communities, YouTube videos, etc.

As we are in the SEO and digital marketing niche, Quora is a community where the majority of our customers hang out. Therefore, it makes sense for us to leave thoughtful answers that link back to our content. We understand that this will not help us “rank better” automatically. However, we are looking at the side benefits of answering on Quora. If we leave thoughtful, high-value answers regularly, potential customers will discover our content and our brand, and may become a regular reader of our blog. Once they are a regular reader of our blog, they will potentially link back to us in the future (if they own a site).

(We even have an example from one of our guest posters—Ryan Stewart—on how a simple blog comment kickstarted a chain of shares, links, and friendships for him.)

We’re also huge fans of repurposing our content, and Quora allows us to repurpose our existing blog posts and videos to answer relevant questions.

Using Quora to generate leads isn’t just a strategy for large organizations. The site can also be a lucrative playground for agencies that are focused on B2B clients.

A few years ago we heard a stat that changed the way we think about Quora. It was a stat that referenced Quora as being one of the most popular sites in which Google serves up in the SERP. This reality set off the light bulbs that if we were to answer relevant questions on Quora those answers would also appear in Google. Thus, we’ve included Quora as a part of our distribution efforts for clients across many industries and have consistently found success.

In this video, Ross gives a few quick tips for using Quora successfully:

   2) Launch a forum or community

Yes, you read that right.

Participating in online forums and communities is a great strategy, but launching one yourself can bring additional value to your business. The impressive growth of Branch.io, a B2B deep linking platform, can be attributed to the power of its communities.

Branch.io launched Mobile Growth, an exclusive online community, as well as an ambassador program to tap new clients across geographic boundaries.

#3 Run Unique Co-Marketing Initiatives

Co-marketing isn’t new in the tech world, but its many benefits have made it a popular B2B marketing tactic. Co-marketing initiatives attract new business to both brands by amplifying their reach.

Innovation does have a place in co-marketing initiatives: You still need to stand out in the crowded marketplace and grab your prospects’ attention.

Here are a few interesting and effective ways to get your product in front of a larger crowd, without exhausting your precious marketing dollars:

1) Contribute to an industry newsletter

Here’s an example: Kevin Rose (creator of Digg) participated in the Unsplash newsletter, where he was able to share a link to his newly launched app.

2) Exchange guest posts with another brand

Explore partnerships where you can cross-promote guest posts. This is particularly useful for brands that are content-driven.

  • Get featured or advertise in a curated email newsletter that targets a similar audience

This marketing tactic has a higher purchase rate than other marketing efforts.

A good example is The Hustle, which offers advertising options to B2B marketers in the SaaS space (see below). Other newsletters to check out are the Daily Pnut, Finimize, Morning Brew and Re:Growth from BuySellAds.

  • Link up with a popular Slack community

Slack communities are the favorite new haunt for marketers, making them an ideal place to showcase your product. Online Geniuses is one such community that encourages partnerships. Check out the example below to see how Freshchat hooked up with OG to promote its software.

  • Run a webinar with a strategic partner

Wistia, a video hosting platform for businesses, experimented with webinars to generate leads. The company collaborated with five different strategic partners over a three-month period. The results? Those collaborations yielded 8,000 leads. That’s a massive number for any B2B business.

#4 Play With New Content Formats

In a competitive landscape, it’s tough to get those precious eight seconds from your prospects. (Yep, that’s the attention span of most humans!)

That’s where new content formats, such as videos, webinars, and podcasts, come in handy for B2B marketers. A detailed blog or ebook will likely be bookmarked for later reading, whereas videos and podcasts are easy to consume right away, even on the go or during the drive to work.

Here are a few possible benefits of using these formats for lead generation:

  • This tactic nudges your prospects to sign up for your service because they see others using it. You can invite influencers in your space—maybe even your own clients—to participate. Does it work? Yes. Unbounce, a leading landing page solution, used webinars to increase free trial starts by 35 percent.
  • B2B sales cycles are long, but when infused with actionable and quality content formats such as the ones above, they are bound to get shortened thereby B2B brands such as Kissmetrics have consistently used this strategy to establish authority and nurture their audience.
  • Webinars, podcasts, and videos are great at attracting new leads to the top of your sales funnel.

Drift and Slack are two companies using who have been using these new formats to generate leads for a while now. David Cancel, CEO, and founder of Drift, says B2B companies can’t win on features alone—they need to build a brand that customers love. And to do so, marketers need to invest in channels where they can interact with their customers.

He offers this insight on the Codementor blog:

“If everything you do is based on consensus, then you will create junk because you naturally go towards the mean and you will create something that’s average.”

In other words, don’t listen to the industry—listen to the customer.

Slack found a way to let customers participate in their marketing efforts. The company launched a podcast to demonstrate how their platform has changed the way companies communicate, and they invite teams who use Slack to call in with their stories. By sharing these testimonials from real customers, Slack builds brand loyalty AND makes their product offering more appealing to potential leads.

B2B marketers shying away from videos and podcasts should rethink that move. Sure, these formats require some effort to put together, but in essence, they are low-hanging fruit. After all, how often do you get a negative response to “Hey, you are super smart—I’d like to feature you”?

#5 Invest In Thought Leadership Marketing

What do brands like Unbounce and Buffer have in common?

The answer is thought leadership–driven marketing.

Thought leadership–driven marketing has real benefits—96 percent of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders. Besides acting as a natural PR machine for your brand, content from trusted experts helps build your credibility and subtly increases the value of your product or service.

Here are a few ways you can leverage thought leadership as part of your B2B marketing efforts:

  • Launch a valuable course
  • Launch an actionable and insightful ebook

    • Run local meetups for your customers
    • Invest in a fun event

Wrapping Up

With so many channels to utilize, B2B marketing is only going to get more challenging. That’s why it is so important to experiment with strategies that engage your audience in innovative ways. Traditional campaigns are passé, and they are not going to convince the new age of decision makers—the 20- to 35-year-olds who are increasingly filling leadership roles.

To be successful as a B2B marketer today you need to bring fresh ideas to the table. There are tons of new opportunities out there, and we hope that a few of the strategies we’ve covered above will help you make an impact and get high-quality leads for your business.

We’d love to hear about the strategies you’ve tested. What worked for you? What crashed? Let us know here or on Twitter!

3 Comments

Sagar Shah

Great post. Great insights. Appreciate the point regarding knowing your customer. It all starts with the customer. I’d add also that to align all digital marketing activity with your company’s business goals. Focusing on the bottom line will help you choose the right platforms to engage your customers, and build the digital initiatives to help you achieve the right results.

Thanks for sharing post….

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