Marketing in B2B companies has always been about getting the attention of the target prospect, building trust, and closing the deal with the sales team. From brand awareness to customer advocacy, the journey involves in building up the trust blocks steadily over a long period of time.
Some fundamental questions that are answered during this process
- Who am I in the market and why am I relevant?
- Who are my target prospects and how do I get the attention on my products & services?
- What channels will help me to reach my target prospect?
- How do I take my prospect from discovery to conversion phase?
- What factors help in building my trust with the prospect? And what differentiates me from the competition?
As we keep answering, we uncover more questions. This process of continuous discovery is what helps a marketing person to enhance his/her practice.
But, marketing is not new and so why shouldn’t it be governed by a set of standard practices?
If you have that question, you are not alone. A simple answer to that would be “we don’t want it to happen.”
Let us first let understand a little deeper on this practice of B2B marketing.
For simplicity, I will stick to broader shifts without diving into finer details of each of the phases.
Evolution of B2B Marketing
Marketing, since age old days, has been about educating the clients. In early 1990s and before, most buy-side companies depend on the sales folks for information. Buyers invite sales folks, from different companies, to get to know about the varied solutions in the market that can address their problem. If you had seen the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” you would be able to relate to the way Will Smith tried to educate and sell his medical scanners to hospitals. If not direct sales teams, the next best source of information was through events and conferences.
Since late 1990s, we arrived at a phase where agencies like Analysts, Media, and Research companies play a major role in educating companies. They come as brokers of information with a sound understanding of the technological landscape, both from the buy-side companies and vendors. A few even had a 2 way commercial model – for sourcing information from vendors and presenting it to the clients. The agencies in-turn garner information and position the participating companies through a capability assessment which is then presented to the buy-side companies in the form of a report or consulting. If a vendor features in such reports, there is a high chance of getting noticed by the buyers. Media companies, on the other hand, used the model of sponsored branded content from vendors to promote and educate buy-side companies on the market landscape.
With the rapid adoption of the internet and smart phones, the scenario evolved dramatically. It enabled companies to reach out to their clients directly in their digital mediums – emails, social media, search engines, etc.. Vendor companies, in a pursuit to move up the competition pyramid, started positioning themselves as thought leaders by creating educational assets in the form of articles, Whitepapers, webinars, etc., that can then become a direct source of information to the clients. Meanwhile, on the buy-side, the freely accessible repository transitioned them from seekers of information to informed buyers.
Brands, today, are trusted more than some of the best media companies for insights, owing to their expertise and experience they have in their field of operations.
Customer Centricity became the focus:
The rise of digital media enabled not just access for the vendor companies to be visible in front of its buyers, but also enabled the buy-side companies to evaluate multiple vendors offering similar products and services, across the globe.
The channels of engagement, on the other hand, also moved from a mono-channel era to multi-channel and now to omni-channel levels of engagement.
The availability and accessibility of choice for buyers propelled vendor companies to design experiences that would delight their potential clients.
The digital mediums also opened up the ability to measure the outcomes of each promotional activity. Tools like Google analytics, Marketing automation, CRM, etc. help marketers to measure every aspect of the customer journey. From campaigns to outcomes, the metrics form the feedback look for continuous enhancement for vendor companies.
This change in dynamics at both buy-side companies and vendors has brought customer centricity as the core focus for vendor companies even in B2B marketing – to design experiences that would delight the clients all the way from the phase of discovery to engagement and retention.
Time for Impact based Marketing for Demand Generation:
In the age of digital, marketing function became the primary source of noise in the market. The scope to reach the client directly opened up a tsunami of promotional activities from vendors to buy-side companies. The focus has shifted to being and doing “More and Most”.
The availability and ability to measure the performance of each asset and activity often lead marketers to a situation of analysis paralysis. Today, marketers run after hundreds of vanity metrics, mainly because it is available or passed through the hierarchy or the market leaders follows it or competition tracks it or… the list goes on.
In short, we don’t run short of options to measure.
To align with the theme of customer centricity, companies need to transition towards personalization of marketing practices, and be agile and cognizant of the impact of its activities.
Impact based marketing is nothing beyond the literal meaning. It is a methodology and culture to continuously focus on creating meaningful impacts in all forms of engagement.
It is about identifying and strategizing the components of the marketing elements to achieve the desired impact.
It is neither a structured process nor standard practice, but a culture and focus towards being aligned to the core objectives, and to continuously evolve the practices based on demands of the organization and market.
Align with Outcomes:
Every marketing activity should be tied to an outcome. The outcome expected should be derivative of the core objective of the overall practice – be it MQLs / SALs / Revenue / Market share / Brand reach / etc.. If you are not sure or don’t know the outcome of an activity, rather not have it in your plan of action.
Identify specific channels of promotion where there is scope of making an impact – use the Pareto rule 80/20 to relieve channels from your action plan.
“Less is the new More”
Choose between Branding through Business and Business through Branding:
If you are a small or mid-size company it is better to focus branding through business generation. Branding activities come at a huge cost to compete and get the customer mind share amidst the existing big brands. Inbound marketing practice can help companies in crossing this chasm.
For business leaders and disruptive / well-funded startups branding activities will more often lead to business generation. Example: When GE wanted to be a leader in digital transformation and Industry 4.0 initiatives, it started with brand repositioning to digital industrial company.
Humanize the Brand Experience:
To connect with the customer, the brand should evoke an emotion (an adjective). The design, content, and the channels of promotion should consistently reflect the emotion for long periods of time to make it stick with the prospect.
For example, if you choose your brand adjective as “Innovative” – does it consistently reflect the feel in all your messaging, design, and promotion?
Move from Persona to Person based Content:
Personas are good to start with, but quickly becomes a cliché term in marketing team discussions. Creating a virtual persona does not often connect in tangible terms with the content team, specifically in a B2B context. There is no direct attributable feedback on the content effectiveness. Neither is the scope for personalization of the content.
With the focus towards customer centricity and with the ability to reach the prospect directly through digital mediums, it is essential to personalize and create content specifically for the prospect to measure the impact.
Measure only What You Need and What You Can Act Upon:
Like mentioned earlier, it is easier to be swayed by the urge to track everything. Focus on everything means there is no focus. Track only the outcomes and the prime influencers of the outcome. For example, measuring the overall website traffic doesn’t make any sense if you are targeting a specific demographic region for the majority of your business.
Align your Team Culture towards Creating Meaning Impacts:
To align the team to Impact based marketing, there is a need to focus on 3 key aspects
Outcome based: Are all the activities tied coherently to the agreed outcomes? If not, throw it away.
Time bound: Is there a definitive timeframe within which we can measure the impact of the activity? If not, don’t take it.
Work for Excellence: Is the activity done with the spirit of achieving excellence? If not, redo it.
To stay distinct and be able to scale in this over-crowded B2B marketplace, companies should focus on doing fewer things right – creating meaningful impacts and engagements with its prospects and customers. Impact based marketing is a methodology to help B2B companies to stay agile, customize their marketing practices, and continually evolve with the rapidly changing market dynamics.