Imagine this scenario: You've decided to start a retail business that will sell office supplies. There are two basic business architectures available to you: Business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B).
The B2C approach may feel more familiar, because it's the type of business model that every consumer engages in as a buyer on a day-to-day basis. But depending on the type of business you want to build and the type of product you plan to sell, the B2B strategy may be a better fit. B2B typically allows retailers to make high-value sales to smaller numbers of customers, which may simplify business operations because there are fewer customers to engage with. B2B profit margins can be higher, too, and there may be less competition than you'd face in a B2C market.
On the other hand, there are unique challenges associated with B2B sales and marketing. The sales cycle tends to take longer, for example, and qualifying leads can be more difficult.
Before committing to a B2B marketing strategy, it's critical to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of this approach and determine whether it aligns with your business goals. To guide you in making that determination, this article explains how B2B marketing works, best practices to follow, examples of successful B2B companies and tips on creating your own B2B marketing strategy.
What is B2B Marketing?
B2B marketing refers to a strategy in which businesses focus on selling goods or services to other businesses. It's the opposite of B2C marketing, where businesses sell to individual consumers.
In some cases, B2B companies operate as such because they sell products that only other businesses want to buy in large volumes. Automotive parts manufacturers are a good example — although there may be a few individual consumers who want to buy engine parts of tailpipes to fix their own cars, the vast majority of automotive parts are purchased by auto manufacturing businesses who use them in new cars, or mechanics who use them to repair existing cars.
In other cases, a company may offer a product that would work for both B2B and B2C models, but choose the former in order to simplify business operations. For example, a company that sells printer paper could market to individual consumers, but doing so would require working with other retailers, in order to place paper inside their stores, or operating an online store and fulfillment operations, which are logistically challenging when dealing with a large volume of individual orders. By choosing a B2B strategy instead, the company can focus on selling paper in large quantities to a relatively small number of businesses. This eliminates the need to partner with other retailers. It also simplifies logistics because there are fewer sales to fulfill and fewer customer relationships to manage.
Like B2C marketing, B2B marketing involves nurturing prospects through the buyer's journey. In B2B marketing, the journey starts when a business identifies a problem it needs to solve. It then begins researching products or services that will solve the problem and identifies a few candidate solutions for purchase. Next, the business evaluates those candidates. It then finally settles on one and commits to purchasing it.
The goal of B2B marketing is to guide prospects along each step of this process. B2B marketing efforts should make it clear which problems your business's products solve and what makes them different from competing offerings. You should also make it easy for buyers to evaluate your product through a trial, demo or similar solution. And you should be sure that it is easy for them to make a purchase from you when they are ready.
There are multiple approaches to achieving these goals through B2B marketing:
- Paid social: To build awareness of your offerings, you can place sponsored posts on social media channels.
- Paid search: You can place ads on search engines that highlight your offerings when buyers search for relevant terms.
- Organic search: By designing web pages that target SEO terms that your buyers are likely to search for, you can attract them to your site and educate them about your offering.
- Content marketing: Content marketing -- such as blog posts, eBooks and product tutorials -- can also bolster SEO efforts, as well as provide educational content that helps buyers evaluate a product or learn more about the problems it solves.
B2B Marketing Best Practices
Because there are so many different potential approaches to B2B marketing, it's important to follow best practices in order to ensure your marketing strategy is the best fit for your business's goals.
Essential B2B marketing best practices include:
- Identify your target buyers: Your offerings will be a better fit for some types of buyers than others. Make sure you know who your ideal buyer is, so that you can focus marketing efforts on attracting that type of persona.
If you sold printer paper, for example, you might want to focus on companies of a certain size, or specialize in a certain industry. Doing so would help keep your marketing and sales operations from becoming unwieldy.
- Omnichannel presence: In order to reach buyers most effectively, you must maintain multiple marketing channels that allow you to reach prospects wherever they perform their research when identifying products or services for their business. Some buyers may be most active on social media, for example, while others turn to search engines. You want to make it easy for buyers in all contexts to learn about your business and product.
- Qualify leads: Not every lead who expresses interest in your product or service is a good candidate for a sale. Some leads may lack buying authority, meaning they are not authorized to make purchasing decisions on behalf of the companies they work for. Others may be in the very early phases of the process of researching solutions, and are so far removed from being ready to make a purchase that they are not yet good prospects for you to focus on.
Be sure to evaluate your leads based on criteria like these in order to ensure you don't waste sales and marketing resources on prospects who are unlikely or unable to make a purchase from you.
- Nurture and educate leads: Attracting leads and determining that they are qualified is only part of the sales process. Equally important is helping leads understand what makes your product stand out and how it will solve their business's challenges. Educational content in the form of videos or product tutorials is one way to do this. So is contacting leads directly to answer questions they may have.
- Measure results: In order to make sure that you're achieving the best ROI on your B2B marketing efforts, collect data such as how long it takes to close the average customer and how much money you spend on each deal. This information will help you assess which marketing efforts are the most effective, as well as which customer types drive the greatest success for your business.
B2B Marketing Examples
To illustrate effective B2B marketing in practice, consider the following examples of companies that successfully leveraged B2B marketing initiatives to drive business growth.
Understanding buyer needs
Roche Diagnostics provides pharmaceutical and healthcare testing solutions to companies across the globe. Because the healthcare industry is so large, the company places a premium on reaching the right customers in order to avoid marketing to prospects who are not a good fit for its products and services.
By leveraging marketing automation tools, Roche Diagnostics is able to qualify and nurture leads more effectively than it did in the past when they relied on a "batch and blast" approach to marketing. Marketing automation helps the company collect data about different customers in order to determine where they are in the buyer's journey. It can also compare customer data between different business units in order to increase engagement with existing customers and achieve higher rates of repeat business.
Increasing marketing ROI
Panasonic sells to 300,000 B2B customers worldwide. Those customers are spread across a variety of verticals, from higher education to technology and beyond. Because customers in different industries have widely varying needs, a generic marketing strategy that attempts to send the same message to all customers would make for a poor investment.
Instead, Panasonic relies on marketing automation to drive high-impact, cost-effective marketing campaigns. By launching around 1500 campaigns per year, the company is able to tailor messaging toward different types of companies and ensure that its marketing content speaks directly to their needs. Doing so leads to a high return on the time and money that Panasonic invests in B2B marketing.
4 Tips For Creating Your B2B Marketing Strategy
As the preceding examples illustrate, different companies will prioritize different goals in their B2B marketing strategies. In general, however, there is a core set of steps that all businesses should follow when devising a B2B marketing strategy.
1. Analyze your market
Start by assessing the market you operate in. Determine how many competitors operate in the market, and what their B2B marketing efforts look like. Then, determine ways that you can craft marketing content that will stand out from the crowd, while also highlighting unique features of your products and services.
Analyzing the market may also help you identify buyers who are currently underserved. For example, you may find that a number of vendors offer solutions in your market designed for very large companies, but few serve small and medium businesses (SMBs). By catering to the latter, you may be able to generate higher returns on your marketing efforts.
2. Evaluate your buyers
Knowing your buyers' specific needs and preferences is critical for effective B2B marketing. Identify who the buyers are at the types of companies you want to contact. Which roles do the decision-makers hold in the company? How long do they spend researching products before identifying candidates and making a selection? What is the volume of the purchasing deals they handle?
By being able to answer questions like these, you'll be in an ideal position to craft marketing content that speaks to the needs of your target buyers, and avoid marketing to the wrong people.
3. Identify marketing channels
As noted above, you typically need to market through multiple channels. But that doesn't mean you should market through each and every channel. A billboard campaign may or may not be a good fit for your target audience, for example.
That's why it's important to identify the marketing channels where your buyers operate most frequently, then design marketing content that will drive successful campaigns in each of those channels.
4. Measure results
In order to avoid haphazardly launching marketing campaigns without clear visibility into what's working and what's not, you should have a plan in place from the beginning to collect and analyze marketing data. Know how much you spend on each campaign and how many qualified leads the campaign yields. Track, too, how long it takes to close deals, and which marketing efforts speed closing time.
By collecting and analyzing data like this consistently and comprehensively, you will be able to make the best decisions and how and where to pursue future campaigns.
Optimize B2B Marketing with Marketo
Marketo's marketing automation platform provides the tools that businesses of all types need to plan, execute and analyze B2B marketing initiatives. By allowing you to consolidate marketing data from all different business units, assess and manage leads, deliver personalized marketing messages and deploy marketing content across multiple channels, Marketo makes it easy to build a multi-faceted B2B marketing strategy, no matter how many buyers you need to reach or how complex your market is.
Learn more by taking an interactive tour.