B2B Marketing; It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

B2B marketing is a very different animal from business to consumer. When you’re dealing with business to business communications, you’re likely to experience a much longer sales cycle than you do with individual customers. It’s not only a longer sales cycle, but it’s often either a bigger buy or an ongoing, regular order. It might take longer to get to the finish line, but chances are good it will be worth the sweat. Here’s how to go about it.

It’s What You Say… and How You Say It

When you’re marketing to B2B customers, you’re selling your unique product or service to a company that is entrenched in its industry, which may have been using that product or service for years, and that does as much research about its industry as you do about yours. So, while using technical or industry “jargon” can put B2C customers to sleep, it’s acceptable (to a degree) in B2B marketing campaigns and materials. A few well-placed technical terms help to reassure B2B customers that you know what you are talking about, and that can help you to get your foot in the door.

Neil Patel (@NeilPatel) calls this ‘telling your brand’s story.’ That is exactly what you are doing. Creating a narrative around your brand, and encouraging your visitors and followers to keep reading the story.

Selling to Customers Who Know What They Want

Very often, when you are selling to consumers, you are selling a solution to a problem they might not be aware that they have yet. Or an issue that they were vaguely aware of, but hadn’t really looked for a solution yet. You make a suggestion that seems to offer a solution, and they give it a try.

When you’re selling to B2B customers, they already know what they want. They have worked out how to solve their own problems, and they have had meetings and circulated memos about the pain points. Whether you are selling them a product or service they already use or an alternative solution, they are going to need data more than marketing-speak.

While you formulate your message to include those, bear in mind that in a Harvard Business Review (@HarvardBiz) study of what B2B customers really want, the ability to provide solutions and product expertise were at the top of the list for desirable qualities in vendor sales teams. B2B customers know what they want, and they want to be sure that you know what you are delivering.

Who Are Still Open to Innovation

Even though B2B customers tend to have preferred brands, solutions and methods of production, they are also more likely than B2C customers to try something new – if the value proposition makes sense to them.

If you can prove to a B2B prospect that you can speed up a process, cut costs, automate or reduce staffing requirements, or provide any other significant benefit with an innovative product or service, they are more likely to try it than their B2C counterparts. Consumers tend to need a lot of social proof before they will try something new, and that makes getting traction hard. B2B customers like to do their own research, and draw their own conclusions. They don’t care if their friends like it on Facebook. They care about numbers and results.

Of course, not all B2B customers are early adopters or innovators, as identified as ideal customers for innovative products by Lean B2B (@LeanB2B), however, if you can identify those that are, and sell them on an innovative spin on your product or service, you can leverage this to great effect.

Results Trump Loyalty

Another major difference between B2B and B2C customers is that when you are selling to businesses, loyalty is less of a factor.

Consumers tend to develop brand loyalty, and once they have, they will continue to buy that particular brand as long as possible. Even if it becomes more expensive, or someone comes along with a better product, they will keep buying their brand, because they are loyal.

Companies won’t do that. If you can offer them a cost reduction, an opportunity to outsource, or a product or service that improves productivity, then loyalty won’t stand in their way once they are convinced.

Of course, if you can gain their business, and you do deliver consistently on promises, price and quality even B2B companies can become brand evangelists, as noted by Forbes (@Forbes). It is tough, and you will only retain loyalty as long as you deliver, but if you can achieve B2B loyalty, you can literally build a company on it.

But You Are Battling Vendor Relationships

B2B customers may not be loyal in the same way that B2C customers are, but they do tend to have established relationships with vendors. Typically, companies will buy from vendors who offer attractive pricing, prompt and predictable delivery and favorable payment terms on products and services they want or need. It may be a relationship of convenience, but it could still be tough to get a foot in the door.

In order to remain competitive and have a shot at a lucrative long-term contract, you need to include incentives when you market your product to the world, alongside a product or service that meets or exceeds what they are already using or purchasing. If you are not matching or exceeding what these customers are already getting, you may not be able to compete.

Reaching B2B Customers Through Editorials

The good news, if you are looking to market your business to B2B customers, is that the internet, inbound marketing and content marketing are all tailor-made for this customer type.

B2B customers are looking for experts in their field, and they need to have information in order to make buying decisions. Online marketing strategies that are content-heavy and information-rich are perfectly suited to these customers. In fact, since 94% of all B2B procurement officials research online before they purchase these days (as noted by Marketing Charts, @marketingcharts) online marketing is not only important to B2B sales, it is possibly the most important step you can take.

One of the keys to leveraging content marketing for B2B is to use what can only be termed ‘edutorials.’ These are the same kinds of content pieces that your prospects would read in their trade magazines. They share information and offer solutions without being overly salesy. Combined with a social media digital marketing strategy that is heavy on LinkedIn and Twitter, and you should have a winning strategy to reach and engage customers, and build the expert reputation you need to succeed in B2B.

Edutorial content goes beyond the usual content you write. It is in depth articles, or case studies. It includes data sheets, MSDS and instructional manuals. Your B2B customers know what they want and need, and your editorial content needs to deliver information that proves you can meet those needs.

All of this, of course, requires you to know your target customer in detail, as Valeria Maltoni (@ConversationAge), a marketing professor and strategist said: you need to be using your experience and processes to serve customers better, and you need to use content to tell them how you are doing that!

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The final major difference between B2B and B2C marketing and customers is that when you’re dealing with companies, the sales cycle is going to be much longer, and you’re going to have to stick with it for much longer.

Unlike consumers, who will make impulse buy decisions from time to time, every purchasing decision in a company will be the subject of many meetings, will need to be approved by many departments and individuals, and will take time to happen. If you are serious about marketing to B2B customers, you need to be ready to be in it for the long haul.

Mastering the Modern B2B Sales Process

Heidi Cohen, (@heidicohen) broke the process down into five steps, which makes it all sound simple. However, she also cites a study by Google that indicates that B2B customers require contact with 10.4 pieces of content before they take action. Getting visitors to return to your site once, let alone 10.4 times is no mean feat, and that is where the art and science of online marketing for B2B lies.

If that was not enough to think about when it comes to B2B sales today, and as noted on Think With Google (@ThinkWithGoogle), nearly 60% of the B2B buying process happens before your prospect ever talks directly to you. Or as Harvard Business Review put it, B2B customers have moved on from the solution sales model. Enter the age of information sales.

In other words, content marketing and inbound marketing are two of the most critical elements in your B2B sales process today. If they are not there, you may never hear from a prospect at all.

Are you doing enough to make the most of your online presence? Share your thoughts and concerns in the comments. We would love to hear them!

Picture of Todd Mumford

Todd Mumford