B2B marketers often sing the same ol’ refrain:

My industry is boring.
Software isn’t sexy.
I can’t build an online audience.

We hear you, and we understand. But only to a degree.

You know what’s boring? Industrial tape.

That doesn’t stop 3M from having a pioneering social media presence.

Email automation software? Yeah, MailChimp does that. Yet they still kill it on Instagram.

✨🌭✨ #NationalHotdogDay

A post shared by MailChimp (@mailchimp) on


A marketing strategy in the B2B space doesn’t have to be a yawn-fest. Because B2B brands are inherently a step or two removed from the average consumer, they often compete against companies with stale, jargony messaging and uninspired online presences – there doesn’t always seem to be a direct benefit to a more earthy and human image that ordinary people would be drawn toward.

That leaves you with a wide-open playing field to reimagine and re-establish your brand against the backdrop of slow-moving and worn-out competitors.

Get digital, and have fun with it.

What is a B2B strategy?

A B2B strategy is how you go to market. It’s how you explain your products and services to the world, how you stand out from competitors when differentiation is minimal and how you structure your marketing to bring in leads.

Shockingly, just 45 percent of B2B companies have a marketing strategy they formally follow.

For most businesses, there’s plenty to improve upon.

B2B vs B2C strategy: What’s unique?

Several items make B2B more difficult than, say, a B2C e-commerce brand, including:

Sales cycles

B2B sales cycles can run upward of a year, whereas B2C companies tend to close deals in a shorter time span, sometimes within seconds. That’s the nature of selling to buyers who must first gain approval from dozens of stakeholders and vet each and every aspect of your product – there’s really no environment of “buying on a whim” or making a “gut instinct purchase.”

Purchasing authority

While 64 percent of the B2B C-suite has final say on purchases, 81 percent of “non-senior staff” have input as well. In fact, it’s most common that middle managers or regular staff are performing vendor research and bringing RFPs to their bosses in the C-suite. All of this is to say that decisions are not made lightly. B2B strategies must cater to all of the above stakeholders and be cognizant of who is actually capable of signing on the dotted line.

Web searches

B2B buyers conduct, on average, 12 web searches before they even engage with your site. For a company like Amazon, on the other hand, buyers go directly to the Amazon website and use its native search engine to find what they’re looking for. These two polar dynamics emphasize just how torturous it can be for a B2B brand just go get a single click on its site relative to B2C.

Cost per sale

If you sell an expensive product and have a longer sales cycle, a lot of the money you’ve projected to come through (at some point) can be tied up in indefinite timelines. And if finding qualified leads is already difficult, closing those deals may be even more so, which drives up your cost per sale. For B2B brands, an inordinate amount of time and money is spent upfront to justify even just one business deal.

Prescriptive content needs

To find those prospects at the right time and at the right stage of the buyer’s journey, your marketing collateral can help. Content marketing through blogs, white papers, web demos, etc., qualifies the sales convos you’re having and provides value to prospects before they physically pick up the phone. Because the lead-up to a purchase can take more than a dozen interactions and over a year to finalize, the buyers you’re marketing toward require content that’s painstakingly curated to their needs.

Buying motives

No one buys ERP software because they love data-crunching, back-office dashboards on a lazy Sunday afternoon. You buy it because your boss told you to and because it makes your work life easier. These motives differ greatly from a B2C brand which may woo buyers based on ego, cultural trends or social media influence.

Each of the above contrasts helps explain why strategizing B2B campaigns can be arduous work. But they also spotlight where marketing managers and ad execs can get bogged down, focusing too much on the hurdles to overcome and not the potential opportunities that arise from thinking outside the limitations of their brand or industry.

When building a B2B strategy out of thin air, you must do exactly that – ponder every possibility for enabling your brand to stand out.

Establish your brand

Let me guess. You’re an omnichannel hybrid-cloud service provider in the human resources space.

Ugh, word soup. None of those words do anything to establish your brand.

Sure, you may be able to target of few key phrases in search, like “hybrid cloud service provider” or “cloud for HR,” but it’s doubtful you’re going to generate a loyal following on social media or get listeners to tune into a weekly podcast you’re piloting.

Consider how Oracle, which provides cloud software for HR, markets itself through word choice:

“Create tomorrow, today with the simply powerful HCM cloud”

It essentially says the same thing as the previous boilerplate example, but it introduces action, hope for the future and a concept of “power” and “simplicity.” These phrases add new elements to your branding that help differentiate yourself from others.

Your brand is more than the buzzwords that help label your organization. Someone looking for your services can spew jargon until they’re blue (just like you), but that doesn’t mean that’s how they want to spend their time on the web, getting through the workweek.

Your audience also wants to know that you understand them, that you have great advice, that your opinion is credible and that you offer a value not just to their bottom line but to their personal sensibilities. They want to do business with companies that reflect their own motivations and morals.

Creating this connection is step one in building a B2B strategy. So who, exactly, is your audience?

Who, what and where is your target audience?

To roll out a marketing campaign, especially one that relies on a sophisticated content strategy, you must be aware of who you’re speaking to. A lot of content and messaging goes right over the head of most people – it simply wasn’t geared toward them.

Creating buyer personas is a start. (Learn how here.)

These should include attributes such as:

  • Age.
  • Job title.
  • Hierarchy within the company.
  • Professional interests.
  • Personal interests.
  • Expertise or understanding of your market/services.

At Brafton, we go a bit further to understand what really makes your audience tick. Those questions and characteristics include:

Populating your findings into formatted docs that other stakeholders can use is recommended. And you can follow this process across as many personas as you like.

And who is your actual buyer?

Armed with all of your audience information, you should be able to pinpoint the person most likely to contribute to your company’s revenue, who makes or breaks the success of your B2B strategy.

Hint: It’s probably not your average site visitor.

Differentiate between:

  • Commercial influencers – those who hold sway within the company but don’t normally engage with your brand.
  • Avid readers – those who are blog and email subscribers and may recommend your company to their superiors.
  • Buyers – those who are the ultimate decision-makers but who rarely do research about or engage with brands, relying instead on the information provided by internal stakeholders.

You need the buyer (aka decision-maker) to sign a contract with your brand, but they don’t follow your marketing campaigns, they don’t read content online and they prefer to speak by phone only. So how do you turn him or her into a customer?

You need a more savvy tactic: Target commercial influencers. These stakeholders may love your brand and then filter up your information to their bosses (aka buyers).

Additionally, once you’ve got the ear of influencers, you can then pivot your messaging to make your business an easy sell for buyers. You can do this through customer testimonials, web demos and product samples.

Automate your B2B marketing success

All of this work of understanding prospects, creating marketing programs and building your brand image takes time. But you can fast-track a lot of your B2B marketing with automation tools.

Utilizing marketing automation software allows you to gather data more quickly and remove repetitive tasks from your day-to-day work. Many tools are also configurable, meaning they can integrate with existing platforms or even with each other as you add on more layers of automation.

Tools you may find helpful are:

  • Email: Constant Contact. MailChimp. Campaign Monitor.
  • Social media: Sprout Social. Hootsuite. BuzzSumo.
  • CRM: Salesforce. Oracle. Adobe.
  • Analytics: Google Analytics. SEMrush. Moz.
  • CMS: WordPress. Drupal. HubSpot.
  • Customer service: Zendesk. Front. Issuetrak.
  • Lead gen: Marketo. HelloBar. Pardot.
  • Project management: Slack. Wrike. Basecamp.

For reference, more than half (55 percent) of B2B companies are currently using some form of marketing automation. Studies show that, through automation, you can reduce marketing overhead by 12.2 percent and increase sales productivity by 14.5 percent.

Never discount just how powerful automation can be to your company.

Prospecting and lead gen

A B2B strategy focusing primarily on inbound marketing, by definition, needs a model for bringing leads to your site, scoring them as valuable to your company and moving them closer toward a sale.

Inbound is more effective and cheaper to execute than outbound tactics such as cold calling or attending trade shows (though you can experiment with those, too), so it’s likelier to produce ROI in both the short and long term.

So how do you funnel all those leads into your sales pipeline?

Account-based marketing

ABM is the targeting of high-value leads. Instead of sending out templated emails to 1,000 prospects, you distribute highly personalized messages to just 10. Those 10 should have high commercial value attached to them and should collectively outweigh the advantages of landing other clients.

In practice, it means employing your buyer personas at the most granular level and devoting the majority of your marketing and sales resources to winning new name-brand business. Because just 0.75 percent of leads result in closed revenue, ABM ensures you’re focusing your attention on deals that will more than pay for themselves.

Content diversity

You can find targeted leads based on the types of responses you receive from the content you publish. Certain blogs generating a lot of chatter? You may be on to something.

A social media post recording high engagement? Allow that commentary to influence the next video you produce.

You may also have prospects who email you directly asking for more insights or collateral on the topics you frequently distribute. If you’re receiving interest, then it’s clear site visitors are moving further down the funnel.

Experimenting with different types of assets can help you quantify which ones work best for your audience and which ones you should be investing more heavily in.

Channel-specific engagement

Although the web is a digital leviathan with tentacles stretching into every corner of the online experience, it doesn’t mean your audience is everywhere at all times. In fact, they’re usually using only a handful of social platforms and prefer to operate through specific mediums when interfacing with other companies and vendors.

We’ve found that B2B websites drive 34 percent more traffic from social media than B2C sites, and much of that quality traffic is via LinkedIn. B2B companies in 2018 are consolidating their channel spend to proven platforms rather than investing small portions into every medium on the market.

Similar to content diversity, testing which communication vehicles your audience prefers is key. Is it email? LinkedIn? Phone?

Sales and marketing alignment

Uniting your sales and marketing teams is not just a possibility with a concrete strategy in place. It should be one of your top priorities.

Centralizing your high-level commercial goals into actionable directives that apply to more than just one department keeps your company honed in on what matters most: driving revenue.

Consider the following KPIs, which sales and marketing teams can simultaneously work toward:

  • Leads Generated and Reduced Cost Per Lead.
  • Sales Demo Requests and Faster Time to Purchase.
  • Number of Assets and More Sales Generated.
  • Email/Social Media Engagement and Lower Distribution Costs Per Post.
  • Total Customers Acquired and Lower Customer Acquisition Costs.
  • Repeat Visitors and Revenue Influenced.

The above metrics have connotations and action items that sales reps and marketers both understand, making tracking the success of your campaigns much more quantifiable.

Grab some inspo from top B2B brands!

Here are a few B2B companies that aren’t afraid to be creative with their strategies:

IBM

 

DHL


Intuit QuickBooks

Accenture

 

Drawbiotics

Mike O'Neill is a writer, editor and content manager in Chicago. When he's not keeping a close eye on Brafton's editorial content, he's auditioning to narrate the next Ken Burns documentary. All buzzwords are his own.