B2B (business-to-business) marketing is the act of advertising, promoting, and educating prospects and customers (other businesses) about your product or service.
B2B marketing strategies vary greatly from company to company and are decidedly different from those used in the B2C (“business to customer”) sphere.
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about B2B marketing: what it is, how it works, and how to master the unique aspects that set it apart from B2C marketing.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What Is B2B Marketing?
- How Do B2B and B2C Marketing Differ?
- The B2B Marketing Funnel
- What Are the Best B2B Marketing Channels?
- Account-Based B2B Marketing
- How B2B Marketing Works With Sales
- 5 Examples of B2B Companies Doing Marketing Right
What Is B2B Marketing?
B2B marketing refers to all of the traditional and digital marketing techniques a business uses to make their potential customers — other businesses — more aware of their offering and more engaged with their brand.
B2B campaigns should be optimized to achieve high-quality lead generation. Most campaigns are represented by a variety of marketing channels and content.
For a B2B marketing team, knowing the pain points and motivators of their target audience is crucial for a successful campaign. Every single B2B marketing strategy relies on the team’s ability to authentically and tactfully speak to the heart of what their prospects really need.
This task comes with a unique set of challenges, though. Unlike B2C marketing, where salespeople can safely rely on emotional drivers to move individual prospects through the sales funnel, B2B marketers need to speak to businesses’ primary drivers: financial sense and ROI.
B2B marketing and sales teams typically work with teams of stakeholders for each of their target accounts. Because of this, they usually need to deploy a number of marketing strategies and campaigns simultaneously to ensure they’re meeting the needs of each of the many buyer personas involved in the decision-making process.
In short, the objective of B2B marketing is to enable other businesses to become more aware of your brand, highlight the value of your product, and convert high-quality prospects into loyal and long-term customers.
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How Do B2B and B2C Marketing Differ?
Although they share an important keyword, B2B marketing and B2C marketing have very little in common. They require completely different approaches, skill sets, and execution.
There is, of course, the most obvious difference, one that we’ve already touched on: B2C companies sell products to individual buyers for personal use; B2B companies sell products or services (software as a service, or SaaS, is a particularly popular B2B category) to other businesses.
Let’s take a look now at some of the other major differences between these two forms of marketing.
Length of Sales Cycle
B2B sales cycles are almost always longer and more complex than those of B2C.
A B2C sales cycle can be completed in mere minutes; on the other hand, it’s completely normal for a B2B sales cycle to stretch on for months or even over a year.
Sales cycle length has a direct impact on marketing decisions and strategies. B2B marketers need to design their campaigns accordingly and prepare to engage and nurture leads for the long haul.
Number of Decision-Makers
In a B2C sale, the only decision-maker involved is the consumer themself. The buyer does not need to consult with or gain approval from anyone else.
B2B sales, though, typically involve a team of decision-makers for each purchase. This adds complexity and time to the process, and can represent a challenge for marketers who need to speak to the needs of a variety of personas.
Education & Engagement Needs
The education and engagement needs of a B2C buyer differ greatly from those of a B2B decision-maker.
B2C buyers prefer to be educated through entertainment and are willing to allow emotion into the process. In fact, most B2C purchases are based entirely on emotions.
B2B buyers, on the other hand, prefer more traditional forms of content like blogs, white papers, and case studies.
Keep in mind, though, that most B2B buyers are already well-versed in the product you’re selling; no matter its format, your content needs to be valuable and innovative in order to really engage a B2B buyer.
Overwhelmingly, B2C buyers prefer to make purchases without any direct input from sales or marketing. They are happy to conduct research and evaluate products entirely on their own and with their own expertise.
That being said, although most B2B sales are notoriously “high touch,” even today’s B2B buyers are eager to leave marketing and sales out of the equation for as long as possible. In fact, most B2B buyers are already 57% of the way through the buying process by the time they reach out to sales. Marketing now takes the lion’s share of responsibility in nurturing prospects through the funnel.
But don’t use that as an excuse to check out or sit back — when B2B buyers do eventually reach out, they expect custom and personalized support and a bespoke buying experience.
Perhaps the most important difference between B2C and B2B marketing is the fact that they design campaigns for two entirely different buyer purposes.
B2C buyers are driven primarily by emotion. They make purchases for entertainment, personal gain, and sometimes even in direct response to an emotion they feel. They don’t care as much about the longevity of what they’re buying; instead, they purchase to satiate an immediate emotional need.
B2B buyers fall on the other side of the spectrum. Above all, their purchasing decisions are driven by logic. They value efficiency, long-term solution, and strong ROI value. There is little to no emotion involved in the purchasing process.
The B2B Marketing Funnel
The B2B marketing funnel, when designed correctly, should align with the buyer’s journey.
This funnel is designed with strategic content at specific intervals for maximum engagement.
In order to design a high-converting campaign, marketers need to develop a specific set of criteria. If marketers can complete these tasks successfully, and in collaboration with the sales team, their marketing funnel will have a strong foundation on which to build a variety of campaigns.
Well-Defined Buyer Persona
If nothing else, marketers absolutely must develop buyer personas for the various decision-makers in the purchasing process.
These personas will help marketers design effective B2B content marketing campaigns. It’s important to remember that each team of decision-makers will include multiple roles, including influencers, champions, skeptics, and C-level executives. Marketers should take care to develop unique and tailored buyer personas for each of them.
Thorough Competitor Analysis
A comprehensive SWOT analysis will help your marketing and sales teams position themselves as the best choice to potential B2B customers.
The results of this kind of analysis will help the marketing team improve brand awareness strategies and enhance the customer experience through the marketing and sales processes.
Establish Conversion and Business Goals
Clear and appropriate goals will help drive your business-to-business marketing strategy. Try writing your goals using the SMART goal framework for optimal results.
Work with sales reps to compare each team’s goal results. Use the outcomes of your goals to further refine your buyer personas and sales process.
There’s little to gain in creating a marketing strategy or campaign if you don’t follow through by tracking the metrics and KPIs it generates.
Teams can track and analyze marketing success through various relevant metrics: the number of web visitors, leads, MQLs, SQLs, sales opportunities, and converted customers. This data can shed light on valuable insights that can help improve performance.
What Are the Best B2B Marketing Channels?
There are a wide variety of marketing channels — tools, services, or platforms that businesses use to reach their target audience — that B2B marketers can leverage in order to reach their buyers.
Although it’s prudent to use a mix-and-match approach — dispatch campaigns through a number of different channels simultaneously to speak to different buyer personas and stages of the buyer’s journey — there are two universal “must-dos” that marketers should keep in mind when designing campaigns for today’s sales world.
First, think digital. These days, over half of all B2B buyers are millennials. This demographic is fluent in all things technology, and they expect a high level of intuitive automation in the marketing and sales process.
Second, take the time to develop a solid lead-nurturing strategy. Many businesses lose out on a tremendous number of leads because they failed to do so. Although 27% of leads arrive at the funnel sales ready, only 35% of companies have a lead-nurturing strategy that’s designed to guide them to close.
The results of implementing a lead-nurture strategy are dramatic: 67% of B2B sellers report a 10% increase in sales after embracing one. And for 15% of those companies, sales jumped 30%. Nurturing your leads properly increases your chances of converting by 47%.
With those points in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best and most popular B2B marketing channels.
Inbound marketing is one way that B2B marketers “reach” their target audience. That word is quoted because inbound marketing is actually all about not reaching out, and instead attracting prospects in.
Marketers can design things like quizzes, calculators, and tools to hook website visitors and draw them in. They can strategically contribute to relevant, popular publications, blogs, and forums. They can also leverage the power of SEO (search engine optimization) and social media to position themselves right at a prospect’s fingertips at exactly the right time. All of those things are examples of inbound marketing.
The content marketing strategy should be one of the core components of a B2B business plan; 87% of buyers report that content has a major or moderate impact on buying decisions.
Buyers want to be educated about the characteristics and financial benefits of your B2B product or service. There are a number of types of content that marketers can use to deliver those messages.
Your buyer personas and sharing platforms will help dictate what kind of content to use and when. You wouldn’t, for example, share a long-form blog post on Twitter.
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Account-based marketing, which we’ll go over in more detail later in this article, refers to a scenario in which marketers research, identify, and engage specific best-fit companies. And deliver a completely customized marketing campaign unique to their company profile and needs to each one.
Account-based marketing is a particularly effective strategy for B2B companies that sell to enterprise clients.
In terms of lead-nurturing marketing strategies, drip campaigns are hard to beat.
Drip campaigns are one way to approach email marketing. A drip campaign is named as such because it “drips” information to buyers in a way that subtly and productively moves them down the funnel until they are engaged enough to purchase. They’re highly effective, too; drip campaigns have been shown to generate a 50% increase in sales-ready leads.
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It’s no secret by now that social selling is here to stay. More than ever, buyers are using social media to help them make purchase decisions: 75% of B2B buyers and 84% of C-level executives report using social media to inform their purchase decisions.
Marketers and salespeople can leverage social media marketing on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to connect with buyers and provide valuable content.
It’s important to ensure your messaging lines up with the typical use of the platform you choose. Facebook, for example, is usually more casual and “social,” while LinkedIn works better for more formalized content like high-ranking blog posts and whitepapers. To learn more about social selling, check out Yesware’s Ultimate Guide to Social Selling.
Some marketers publish expertly-designed standalone landing pages with high-converting copy and a clear call-to-action. There is little to no navigation on this page, and no links other than the single primary CTA. This makes it easy for prospects to avoid distraction and focus on the desired end result: following through to purchase.
In addition to the many digital tools available to marketers, there are also a number of “traditional” or in-person strategies for attracting and converting B2B leads.
- Trade shows or conferences
- Direct mail
- Print ads
- Word-of-mouth referrals
Using a combination of some of the strategies outlined above will ensure that your marketing efforts capture leads from all corners of the target market.
Account-Based B2B Marketing
Account-based marketing (ABM) is a marketing approach that prioritizes personalized marketing and sales resources for a hand-picked subset of highly qualified leads.
ABM works really well for businesses that sell to enterprise companies. The idea is that these “big fish” will appreciate and respond to a custom marketing plan created specifically for their needs.
In the simplest terms, designing an ABM strategy looks like this:
1. Identify and Research High-Level Accounts
Start this process by studying your most successful current accounts. Note any similarities between them, and identify other companies with similar profiles.
An ideal customer profile (ICP) will help you create a system for how to identify your most promising prospects.
After you’ve identified a best-fit account, research as much as you can about their business and needs.
2. Identify Decision-Makers
The next key component of your research will include identifying the individual employees at your target accounts that will ultimately be responsible for collaborating on the purchase decision. Once you’ve identified this team, you can create buyer personas for each of them to help you tailor your marketing.
3. Design Your Campaign
Use what you know about the decision-makers at each company to craft a custom marketing campaign designed to meet the exact educational and business needs the company requires to move forward with purchase.
An account-based marketing strategy can include any of the techniques outlined above. Other effective tactics include custom offers, invitation-only events, and individual trainings and webinars.
How B2B Marketing Works With Sales
The single, most important aspect of a successful B2B marketing strategy is whether or not marketing and sales have aligned.
When marketing and sales work together, they gain a deep understanding of the customer. The two teams can provide a feedback loop for one another. This collaboration can generate new and exciting ideas for content marketing, and can help salespeople maximize where they spend their time and effort.
It’s very important for these two to be aligned because 68% of companies report having trouble getting enough quality data leads.
5 Examples of B2B Companies Doing Marketing Right
B2B marketing can sometimes fall into a rut of becoming boring or bland, especially when the product or industry is on the technical side. Take a look at some of our favorite examples of B2B marketing that do an incredible job of resonating with their audiences.
In this ad for their AdWords service, Google uses very effective storytelling to promote its product.
Google uses this vignette to show other businesses how easy it is for B2C customers to find and purchase their products.
General Electric uses video marketing very effectively by humanizing their otherwise complicated and technical product.
Although this ad doesn’t mention their product or service at all, it does highlight how GE views their business: built by real people, for real people.
Deloitte is a big-name brand, but many people likely couldn’t tell you much more about the company than that. That’s partially because Deloitte actually provides a handful of different products and services — consulting, tech, auditing, and more.
To mitigate the fact that they have so many offerings — and, therefore, so many different buyer personas to speak to — they created Deloitte Insights.
Deloitte Insights is their educational content page, where they house everything from blog posts to videos to podcasts. This content hub allows Deloitte to position itself as an industry expert to a variety of markets, and showcase itself as a company that’s willing to help solve their customers’ problems.
Caterpillar’s marketing team served up another one of our favorites with their construction-equipment-driven game of Jenga.
This campaign does a fantastic job of injecting some fun into the otherwise technical and serious world of heavy-duty machinery.
Slack, recently in the news for their huge Salesforce buyout, relies on a solid combination of word-of-mouth referrals, free trials, and social selling. These strategies have afforded them tremendous organic brand traction — 8,000 people signed up on the first day, and that number doubled two weeks later. They now have 4+ million daily active users.
What B2B marketing strategies does your team use? Are there any new ones you can implement after reading this article? Remember to encourage collaboration between marketing and sales as often as possible for the highest-converting B2B marketing campaigns.