When it comes to marketing to a B2B audience, regular B2C marketing strategies simply don’t cut it.
Business audiences have different needs, goals, budgets…and what captures their attention in a sea of digital marketing is typically very distinct from what will work with a consumer market.
At the end of the day, you need to tailor your marketing strategies to your target audience. But you already know that. You know that the B2B buyer's journey is completely different to the B2C buyer. And that requires a complete rethink of your digital marketing tactics.
Don’t waste your precious budget on digital marketing strategies that have no chance of success. There are no winners in that game.
Instead, look to what the data and evidence are telling you to create a surefire B2B marketing pathway for your business.
In this ultimate guide to B2B marketing, I’m going to strip it back to basics to give you an overview of what is working in B2B marketing right now along with ideas of how you can make the most of those marketing strategies for your brand.
Quick chapter links
What is B2B marketing?
If you are a business that sells products and services to other businesses then you are in the B2B, i.e. business to business, marketing space. B2B business categories often include things like SaaS subscriptions, business accounting, manufacturing, distribution, office supplies or IT, just to name a few.
Some businesses will have both B2B sales and consumer customer groups for their products and services. If that is the case for you, you’ll need to have two different arms to your sales and marketing strategy that speak to each audience separately.
The decision-makers in B2B marketing are usually teams and committees such as a finance committee on a board or the procurement team in a business. Depending on your product or service, the considerations that drive purchasing decisions are not just product features and choice but also return on investment.
The B2B companies that do digital marketing well are the ones who understand their audience inside and out. And they make sure their lead generation efforts and sales funnel are matched to the buyer's journey.
B2B vs B2C
To really understand B2B marketing, it helps if you can see the differences between the B2C marketing strategies you are most familiar with, and the B2B marketing strategies you need to employ.
In the case of a business where you have both B2B and B2C audiences, you will need to have a solid understanding of both in order to create a holistic marketing strategy that targets both audiences. Simple examples of a business that has both B2B and B2C audiences are a wholesale distributor that also has a retail arm or a furniture store that designs both office and home furniture.
Generally speaking, B2C marketing strategies appeal more to the customer’s emotions, while B2B marketing strategy steers towards using logic in the selling process. This is, of course, a wide generalisation.
Any good marketing strategy is defined by having a deep appreciation and awareness of the pain points of your customers and demonstrating how your products or services solve their problems.
Emotion vs logic
I want to dive deeper into the concept of emotion versus logic in B2C vs B2B marketing because it defines so much of the way we market differently to different customer audiences.
Consider the consumer target audience. They have a problem and they need to fix it. You have the solution.
Some examples of consumer problems might be that they are:
Wanting to avoid putting their pet through the stress of driving to the vet
Overwhelmed by a disorganised home
Unsure of what to wear to an upcoming wedding
In need of help for an upcoming university exam.
In each case, there is emotion attached to the problem. They are worried, overwhelmed, uncertain or stressed. You can subtly appeal to those emotions in your marketing to show how your products or services are the answer.
Now consider the B2B audience and their problems. Examples of these might include that they:
Need to replace or upgrade the technology across the business
Want a coach to help take their business to the next level
Are looking to change office cleaning companies to reduce costs
Want to generate leads through digital marketing
In these cases, the way you market is less about appealing to their emotions and more about a logical process of showing how your products or services will deliver ROI.
Image credit: Zoovu
Selling to one vs selling to many
I’ve already touched on this, but one of the key differences between B2C and B2B marketing strategies is who you are targeting - one or many.
The B2C audience is generally one person, or often a couple. Your marketing efforts can speak directly to that person who can make a decision fairly easily about whether they are going to buy from you. In some cases, they will need to speak to a partner before making a purchase. Depending on the price of your product or service, you may only need one or two touchpoints with the customer to hook them to buy your product.
B2B on the other hand is more complex. Rather than talking to an individual, you need to appeal to a team of people. The larger the organisation, the larger the group of people who will be making the decision.
This is an important factor to remember in how you engage your customers in your marketing campaigns. A personal approach that speaks directly to one person won’t get the results you need. Instead, you should think about the decision-makers who will be involved in the process and create a holistic marketing strategy that talks to each of them.
Short vs long time to convert
A B2C customer can hit the buy now button with relative ease. If they have the money in their bank account (or they have an account with one of the buy now, pay later providers) they can make a purchase very quickly.
Of course, if you’re selling million dollar yachts, the time to convert is going to be significantly longer than if you are selling a monthly software subscription.
Because of the number of people involved in B2B decision-making, the time to convert is generally longer. With B2C marketing you can create funnels to establish need and educate the consumer about your product. There is a degree of flexibility with how the consumer will interact with your brand and the funnel gives them various opportunities to purchase.
In B2B marketing, more open and direct communication is required. Once you’ve established the relationship there will be more back and forth as you both work to determine if you are a good fit.
Here’s a great example of how the complex B2B buying process can unfold:
Image credit: Gartner Analysis
Transactions vs relationships
B2C marketing tends to be more transactional than B2B marketing. A B2C customer may also only make one or a few purchases throughout their customer lifecycle. The long-term value of a customer is lower than that with a B2B audience.
And that’s why the focus of B2B marketers is in building long-term relationships. Lead generation and personal relationship building is far more important than sending your customers down a funnel.
Repeat and referral business from a B2B customer can be the difference between sink or swim for your business. This requires meaningful relationships based on consistency and delivering on your brand promises.
As with anything in life, these aren’t hard and fast rules. There are exceptions. If your customers are sole trader business owners, you may find emotion works well with your marketing. In that case, you are also selling to an individual rather than a group so the decision-making time may also be shorter.
There can also be emotional drivers in larger businesses, particularly where buying decisions will have possible negative impacts on the people within the business or the companies reputation.
B2B marketing strategies and channels
Now, let’s get into the juicy part - the B2B marketing strategies and channels that are working now. These aren’t outdated B2B strategies from a decade ago. These are the methods businesses like yours are implementing to get results today.
One thing I want you to remember is that you can't measure marketing success unless you have defined your marketing goals. A B2B company that has well defined goals will have a much better chance of success than B2B companies that are floundering with no marketing plan attached to their business strategy.
Start with your website
If a business customer landed on your website right now, what would they think of your brand?
Would they see a perfect representation of your brand?
Is it easy to navigate?
Is it mobile friendly? Fast? Modern?
Is it optimised for lead generation?
Your website is quite crucial to your marketing strategy. Without it you won’t be found via the search engines (more on that later) or have a home for your content. You won’t be able to take advantage of paid ads and when you send an email to your customers, you won’t have anywhere to direct them.
Optimise for search
Before interacting with a website, the average B2B buyer conducts 12 different online searches (Google).
Image credit: Backlinko
While B2B customers may click through multiple search results to find the product they are looking for, B2B customers also have more of a time crunch. They need to find a solution to their problem. And they need to find it quickly. 25% of searchers only click on the first search result. If you’re not in the top position, you are potentially missing out on significant traffic, leads and sales.
Search engine optimisation is the answer. And it’s mission critical for B2B marketers.
Optimising your website for search rankings is a long term strategy that can deliver a stellar return on your marketing investment. You need to take a multi-pronged approach to look at both on and off page elements of SEO in order to drive the best results.
By identifying your keywords, creating relevant content to anticipate your customer concerns and optimising elements such as page speed while also developing a solid backlinking strategy you are on the right path to dominate the search results.
Create high-quality content
The cornerstone of your SEO strategy is B2B content marketing. But it also plays a huge role in educating your customers and demonstrating your expertise.
Content marketing for B2C audiences generally centres around blog posts. But B2B marketers should think bigger. Blog posts are essential for SEO, but beyond that your content marketing efforts should involve formats such as white papers, eBooks and original research. Publishing thought leadership content on relevant industry websites can also help to boost your profile, not to mention add valuable backlinks to your website.
Your customers may need various touchpoints with your business before they are ready to make a purchase. As we’ve mentioned -- before making a purchase, B2B researchers will generally do 12 online searches. The more content you have that provides solutions to their problems - and the higher that content appears in the search engine rankings - the closer you will be to the sale.
Invest in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
Search engine optimisation is a long term strategy with exceptional ROI. But PPC advertising is a powerful way to capture quick wins and generate leads. Spending on digital advertising is set to reach $375 billion by 2021 (eMarketer).
While your search engine rankings are steadily growing, PPC ads like Google Ads can help you to get in front of new audiences who otherwise may not be able to find you. If you are in a highly competitive market, PPC ads will also help increase your brand exposure and awareness over your competition.
Be present on social media
Most of the strategies I’ve already mentioned are focused on your owned assets - building your website, optimising it and investing in PPC ads so your customers can find you and then filling it with informative and engaging content. But a true omni channel strategy, the type that will deliver the best results, draws on other channels, like social media.
Before you dismiss social media marketing as the realm of B2C marketers, consider that 84% of B2B executives turn to social media as part of their decision-making process. Social media is not something you can afford to ignore in your B2B digital marketing mix.
LinkedIn is the platform of choice for B2B marketers. And it works. 80% of social media marketing leads come from LinkedIn.
Here's an example of a LinkedIn Ad:
Your social media marketing strategy should be focused on building brand awareness. It may be the first touchpoint a customer has with your brand and it’s the ideal place to be sharing the high quality B2B content you are creating through your content marketing strategy.
Harness the power of email marketing
59% of B2B marketers say that email marketing is their top revenue channel. Email presents a huge opportunity for your business.
Email marketing has been a superstar for both B2C and B2B marketers for years. And it is showing no signs of slowing down for many reasons.
When you capture an email address from a lead, email marketing is a great way to educate your market, demonstrate your expertise and build relationships - all at scale. You can share new product news, testimonials, blog posts and white papers to demonstrate ROI.
But inboxes today are more crowded than ever. The challenge for B2B marketers is to cut through the noise, show value and be consistent.
Here's a great example from Grammerly:
Image credit: Mailerlite
Developing your B2B marketing strategy
The strongest B2B marketing strategies make the most of an omni channel approach. The decision and buying process of B2B marketers isn’t unlike a B2C customer.
They have a problem, they research a solution and then they ultimately choose a product or service that solves their problem.
Your strategy starts with understanding your audience and their pain points and then building a plan to demonstrate how your business has the solution. Whether you're starting new with a go-to-market strategy or you are working to grow an established brand, you must consider the entire buying journey of your customer personas.
B2B marketing examples
There are no templates for B2B marketing strategies. And if anyone tries to sell you one you should be very wary. The most successful marketing strategies are targeted to the customers and tailored to the brand.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t take inspiration from brands who have absolutely nailed their B2B marketing strategies. Take a look at these B2B marketing examples to get you thinking about how you can drive effective B2B marketing in your business. These companies in these examples are total digital marketing goals.
I mentioned earlier that LinkedIn is the place to be for B2B business marketers. But as with anything to do with B2B marketing, there are no hard and fast rules.
Take Canva for example. They have positioned themselves as rule breakers, bringing graphic design to the mainstream. They also know that LinkedIn isn’t going to bring them the customers they need. Instead, Instagram is where they shine.
As a graphic design tool, Canva is all about the visuals. Hence why they do so well on Instagram - a highly visual platform.
Why is Canva such a great example of B2B social media marketing? Not only are they highlighting the capability of their product through each and every tile they design, but they are also shining a spotlight on their customers.
The beauty of this strategy is how Canva approaches showcasing their features and benefits through their content. Rather than boring tutorials, they use their customers to showcase the capability of the platform. The whole premise of Canva is about simplifying graphic design to the masses and this strategy is the perfect way to demonstrate this.
They have a clear understanding of their market - solo operators, bootstrapped startups and marketing teams who need a cost-effective, easy to use solution to turn around graphic design jobs with ease. And their B2B marketing strategy is perfectly tailored to meet those customers where they are.
When it comes to B2B content marketing strategy, HubSpot is king. Their website is packed with resources on a huge range of topics related to their core service - CRM and marketing automation software.
Through their content marketing strategy, HubSpot has established their expertise and given away tonnes of useful information to their potential customers. And it’s not just blogs. They publish eBooks, white papers, webinars and templates all designed to be super helpful for their customers.
The content is all optimised for SEO and has multiple opportunities throughout to capture email addresses for their database. They also excel at email marketing, tapping into their insights to build a connection with their potential customers.
Atlassian has a substantial offering across a wide range of tech products for businesses. But their website is built for ease and simplicity.
As soon as you land on the homepage there is a statement that clearly explains what they do. The menu is very simple with dropdowns that help the user to navigate to the right solution for their concern. For busy B2B customers who value time and ease, Atlassian have absolutely nailed it.
Scrolling down the page, you can see that what Atlassian does really well is to sell solutions, not products. They are selling the ability for teams to work more collaboratively and for more projects to run more smoothly. The products - Jira, Trello and others - are just the tools to achieve that.
What I like about this is it shows that B2B marketing strategy doesn't have to follow a highly corporate formula. The language is more casual to suit the Atlassian brand, but that doesn't take anything away from the strength of the message.
The Deputy website is another great B2B digital marketing example that showcases a really well planned user experience.
Again, they are selling the solution to a problem - simplifying shift work - and not just a product. The menu is easy to navigate, with clear calls to action.
Deputy also has a clever approach to email marketing. They have created resources like ebooks, which are available to download in exchange for an email address. They are generating leads and creating a sales funnel of customers who could benefit from their product.
MailChimp is an example of how less is more can often be a good approach to email marketing.
Courier is MailChimp’s content marketing arm where they publish digital marketing insights, resources, trends and expert commentary. That in itself is a great example of B2B content marketing.
But what MailChimp does really well via Courier is a simple approach to email marketing. This is a business that is used by 13 million small businesses to send their emails!
When a customer signs up to the Courier newsletter they see this notification. “You’re all set. Keep a lookout for your first issue of Courier Weekly, coming this Friday.”
There is no instant email. No daily series as part of a sales funnel. Customers aren't bombarded or adding additional unwanted emails to their already clogged inboxes.
They make their potential customers a simple promise of consistency.
Salesforce is another great example of B2B social media marketing done well. This time on LinkedIn.
With an enticing visual and a short, sharp caption, this post will stop the scroll and pique interest. The mistake many marketers make on LinkedIn is to go too hard with the corporate messaging and branding. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Posts and ads need to make people stop and listen to what you have to say. And this post ticks all the boxes.
The Gurus in B2B marketing
At OMG we love to sink our teeth into B2B marketing strategy. We always look to data and evidence to guide our decisions to turn your digital marketing strategy into a lead generating machine.
We offer a free B2B marketing strategy session to set you off on the right foot with your marketing strategy. During the session you’ll have the full focus of one of our B2B marketing Gurus who will look at your marketing plans and performance to date to uncover the hidden gold and marketing opportunities in your business.
B2B companies that want serious results turn to OMG.