B2B marketing has existed in a tradition for a long time, but now the same impact that technology is having on the expectations of consumers is also affecting business buyers, argues POSSIBLE’s Thomas Stelter. Here’s how B2B marketers can update their approach.
Viewed from the standpoint of traditional CRM systems, B2B marketing is obsessively funnel-centric. You have a sales team, you field inquiries, you nurture leads, and so on — all the way down to making a sale. Then you walk off into the sunset.
Unfortunately, this cozy and comfortable process is facing strong headwinds. The reason lies in the consumer world, where brands are meeting consumers in places outside traditional funnels, providing products and services in surprising new ways. This has created expectations around convenience, utility, and value that are spilling over into the B2B world.
As a result, B2B businesses need to update their approach, and sooner rather than later. Today, they have the ability to identify potential customers earlier, make their path to purchase smoother, and create more valuable relationships. A single data point bears this out: By the time B2B customers reach out to a vendor, 70 percent of their research and consideration is complete. The action they take that alerts you to their presence—filling out a form or downloading a white-paper—happens long after they’ve started determining what product or service they want. So how do we get ahead of them?
Start relationships now
There’s a reason account-based marketing (ABM) is at the top of most B2B marketers’ priority lists. It’s critically important for B2B brands to find ways to move up the funnel and connect much earlier with the most qualified leads, as well as those who influence them.
A great place to start is by connecting your CRM data to your engagement and target-discovery tools. For example, if we combine Salesforce, Marketo, and LinkedIn, we suddenly have ways to locate key decision makers, establish contact, and deliver content sequences tailored to that individual. Such a marketing technology stack can also apply scoring models that tell sales and marketing teams which leads to focus on, based on tracked behaviors that indicate the highest probability of success. This ultimately shortens the sales cycle.
Make content a service
It is not enough to have an online library of white papers anymore. Content should be personalized according to industry, specialization, and individual online behaviors. Rather than a resource, it should be a service relevant to the audience in the discovery and consideration phases. American Express OPEN Forum offers a great example of a successful B2B content and social community program.
Innovative brands might also consider experimenting with voice. For example, Amazon Chime could quickly be developed into a customer support platform, with behavioral data and customer records conveniently connected to Alexa and Echo devices—and that’s not all. With an estimated 10 million Echo units sold, Amazon’s Alexa might appear to have a lead in voice, but Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant has 145 million monthly active users. Likely over 100 million of those are B2B users.
Utilize your greatest asset
For 84 percent of B2B buyers, word of mouth is the primary influence on purchasing decisions. Yet brands consistently underestimate the power of employee advocacy to improve their visibility, elevate brand equity, and increase employee engagement. Data suggests companies with employee advocacy programs can increase their lead generation by approximately 33 percent, drive five times more site traffic, and increase lead value by 25 percent.
Such a program can be as simple as letting your employees share content based on what they feel is most relevant to their audience. And if you connect their efforts to your CRM system, you are able to pinpoint exactly what types of content and segment combinations influence outcomes and drive results.
Create services outside the funnel
Many B2C companies are already providing online services that go well beyond their products. The North Face offers training advice, Patagonia delivers sourcing information, and Nike and Red Bull produce content and sponsor events. All of these activities have a single purpose: building a relationship that delivers value beyond a product.
These kinds of activities enable brands to build relationships not merely with customers, but with people who may become customers. For example, Amazon has been building a B2B marketplace and procurement platform called Amazon Business that streamlines the purchasing process and creates a great customer experience (sound familiar?). It is now adding approximately 100,000 new accounts per quarter. Smarter companies can take advantage of this targetable audience to move outside (and potentially up) the funnel to build a relationship with customers who are not yet considering a purchase or own a competitive product.
Above all, B2B is headed for a big shakeup. Not many companies are taking full advantage of the possibilities today, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Businesses need to learn to step outside their funnel comfort zones and take a hard look at how they do business. Sooner or later, these new ideas will catch on, and first movers will have a big advantage.