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 we all engage in on a day-to-day basis, whenever we visit a store or buy something online. But, depending on the type of business you want to build and the type of product you plan to sell, B2B marketing may actually prove to be a better fit.
But that’s not to say it’s without its challenges.
Before committing to a B2B marketing strategy, it's critical to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses and determine whether it aligns with your business goals. Here, we break down B2B marketing in detail.
In this B2B marketing guide, you’ll discover:
- What is B2B marketing?
- How does B2B marketing work?
- Examples of B2B marketing strategies
- The differences between B2B and B2C marketing
- The benefits of B2B marketing
- How to do B2B marketing: best practices
- B2B marketing examples
- A step-by-step guide to creating your B2B marketing strategy
- Frequently asked questions about B2B marketing
- Optimize B2B marketing with Marketo Engage
B2B marketing is a strategy in which businesses focus on selling goods or services directly to other businesses.
In some cases, B2B companies operate as such because they sell products that only other businesses want to buy in large volumes.
Take a manufacturer of car parts. Although there may be a few individual consumers who want to buy tailpipes and brake pads to fix their own cars, the vast majority of automotive parts are purchased by other businesses. These could be auto manufacturing firms who use to build cars on assembly lines, or mechanics who use them to repair existing cars.
So instead of selling automotive parts in small quantities to fix one-off consumer repairs, you can think bigger — selling larger orders to businesses on a regular basis.
In other cases, a company might offer a product that would work for both B2B and B2C models but choose the former to simplify business operations.
For example, a company that sells printer paper could market to individual consumers. However, doing so would require working with any number of retailers to place paper inside their stores. Alternatively, it may require an eCommerce site and fulfilment operation.
For some businesses, this can be logistically challenging. 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.
So, in these scenarios, B2B marketing strategies focus on connecting with those other businesses who will then trade with you.
B2B marketing involves nurturing prospects through the buyer's journey – much like B2C marketing.
In B2B marketing, that journey starts when a business identifies a problem it needs to solve. Perhaps they’re expecting a spike in trade for certain products, or a company to help them upskill their team. At this point, the business researches products, services and candidates to help.
Next, the business evaluates those candidates. It then finally settles on one and commits to a purchase.
The goal of B2B marketing is to guide prospects along each step of this process.
Your B2B marketing efforts should:
- Make it clear which problems your business can solve
- Show how you’re different from the competition
- Provide trials and demonstrations so your customers can evaluate your products
- Allow easy purchases
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.
- Organic media. A strong voice on business-focused social media platforms like LinkedIn can help you position yourself as an expert in your industry.
- Paid search. You can place ads on search engines that highlight your products and services 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. Blogs, thought leadership, eBooks and product tutorials can boost SEO, build brand awareness and help your customers evaluate products.
The fundamental difference between B2B and B2C marketing is the end target in terms of buyers. In short, B2B marketing is focused on selling to businesses. B2C is about selling to individual consumers.
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. B2C marketing can be successful, quickly — an example could be a fashion retailer promoting a 50% discount offer on a range of items, which is fast and easy to deliver.
In contrast, B2B marketing strategies might be more in-depth. You might have to nurture leads for several weeks. It’s highly likely that you’ll be connecting with businesses who are experts in their industry, and therefore more diligent and detailed in their decision making.
B2B marketing may involve long-term contracts – instead of selling summer fashion items to consumers, you could be supplying a logistics company, with employees located in several locations around the country, which branded uniforms. In these situations, it’s usual that instead of a single individual making the decision to buy, it’s a senior leadership team, a board of directors, the company owner or CEO.
B2B marketing may require more of a long-term, patient, strategy than a B2C marketing campaign. Read more about the differences between B2B and B2C marketing here in the Marketo blog.
If you’re at the very start of your B2B marketing journey, you might still be evaluating its merits. Make no mistake, a detailed, productive B2B marketing strategy requires effort and commitment — but it’s worth it.
There are several benefits of introducing a B2B marketing strategy, including:
- Build awareness. Businesses and potential clients need to know who you are, what you can deliver, and how they can work with you
- Generate leads. One of the major benefits of B2B marketing is to generate leads, and a comprehensive strategy can put you in front of prospective buyers. Word of mouth tactics have a limited ceiling.
- Drive traffic. Marketing content, hosted on your own website as well as on influential third-party websites such as LinkedIn, will help to drive traffic towards your business.
- Improve your rankings. if potential buyers search for support from a business like yours online, will they find you? Will your business rank high enough, when it comes to organic search? If you’re not even in the top 10-20 search results returned, your chances of engaging are low. Effective content marketing can improve your search rankings and, in turn, your visibility.
- Reduce customer churn by building relationships. It can be counter-productive chasing new leads and new business all the time. An effective B2B marketing strategy can help to establish you as one of the experts in your field, helping to establish long-lasting relationships with clients.
- Provides great customer insight. A B2B digital marketing strategy can provide superb insight into how other business interact with you. What’s the most read content on your site? How are business engaging with your strategies?
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 products may be a better fit for some types of buyers than others. Make sure you know who your ideal buyer is, so you can focus marketing efforts on attracting that type of persona. For example, if you sold printer paper, 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. 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 not ready to make a purchase. Evaluating your leads can ensure you don’t waste sales and marketing efforts on the wrong prospects.
- Nurture and educate leads. Attracting and qualifying leads is just one part of the process. Equally important is lead nurturing. This helps 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 and dealing with their queries directly.
- 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.
Want to know how marketing to businesses works in practice? Check out the following examples of real businesses who put B2B marketing strategy into action.
Roche Diagnostics: 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.
Panasonic: 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.
As the examples illustrate, different companies will prioritize different goals in their B2B marketing strategies. In general, however, there are a core set of steps that all businesses should follow when devising a B2B marketing strategy. Run through the checklist below when creating your B2B marketing strategy.
1. Analyze your market.
Start by assessing your market. You should determine how many competitors operate in the market, and what their B2B marketing efforts look like. After that, you can determine ways that you can craft marketing content that will stand out from the crowd and highlight 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).
In this scenario, you’ll have identified a genuine gap in the market that you can potentially capitalize on. 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. Consider questions such as:
- Which roles do the decision-makers hold in the company?
- How long do they spend researching products before 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 — and it’s likely to be expensive, too. One of the key advantages of a B2B marketing strategy is that there are several low-cost channels. You might find, for example, that inbound marketing efforts like thought leadership content or blog posts on LinkedIn have excellent impact. The only cost to you, as a business, is the time it requires to write and publish these posts.
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. Plan your marketing tasks.
Once you’ve completed your preparation and research, you can start to plan your marketing tasks and activity.
What type of marketing will you do? There are several methods to consider including:
- Email marketing
- Website content creation
- White papers, thought leadership blogs
- Case studies
- Social media campaigns
- Video tutorials
The conclusions you’ve drawn from the first two steps — analyzing the market and evaluating the buyers — will help to inform your marketing plans and activity.
5. 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 detailed 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.
How do you target a B2B customer?
Creating a B2B marketing strategy is the first step to targeting B2B customers. Following that, you need to understand where your potential customers are, and then plan your marketing activity around that. For example, email marketing remains one of the strongest channels for B2B marketing.
What type of content should I create for B2B marketing?
The content you create for B2B marketing is likely to be different to B2C marketing. You’ll be aiming to connect with other businesses, so your content needs to be authoritative and informative, demonstrating your expertise and professionalism. Content such as white papers, eBooks and case studies of successful partnerships are all examples of what can score well.
Which social media is best for B2B?
You can use social media as part of a B2B marketing strategy, though the type of posts you create and share, and the platforms you use, will probably be different to that of a B2C campaign. With more than 675 million professionals on LinkedIn, that’s the obvious go-to for the B2B market but Twitter is also a strong channel. Many CEOs and business leaders post and share on there, making it a genuine opportunity to connect.
Marketo Engage’s marketing automation platform provides the tools that businesses of all types need to plan, execute and analyze B2B marketing initiatives.
Marketo Engage 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.
It allows 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,
Learn more by taking an interactive tour.