Is your company just dabbling with social media? Are you ready to dive deeper into online marketing but not sure how to go about it or how to develop a strategy?
For us in the Business-to-Business (B2B) world it’s easy to see that there is value in online marketing and of course we don’t want to miss out on this opportunity. At first sight, it seems inexpensive and easy to get started but all too often companies jump onto social media with whatever information or digital content they have available and hope for a successful outcome.
Unfortunately, these short-term and unfocused initiatives usually yield disappointing results.
More and more B2B customers are researching their information online early in the procurement process and may only engage with sales staff in person closer to the decision stage. So, the more effective your online marketing is, the more influence you can exert at an earlier stage.
In the following 5 steps, I explain the basics of B2B online marketing, why you need to align your organization and how to do plan a strategy that will get results for your business:
1. Understand the difference between online marketing and traditional marketing
Traditional or ‘offline’ marketing has typically been used to drive awareness, for example with print advertisements, commercials, flyers, newsletters, billboards.
Compared to these passive traditional methods, online marketing is ‘active’ and encourages ‘inbound’ communication to your website or sales team. Techniques include social media, email marketing, webinars, blogging, search engine optimization (SEO) and Adwords.
A key tactic is to capture the attention of your target audience by delivering informative and useful content that your customers are eager to obtain. Typically, this information will speak to the pain-points or challenges that your customers are facing. By taking this more indirect approach your customers will not feel like they are being sold to, and they will feel more comfortable reaching out to engage with your company.
Examples of this engagement could be an online comment on a social media post, a visit to your website, responding to a webinar Q&A session, or even a direct communication to your sales team. Once this engagement starts you can nurture the prospect both online and offline towards a purchase decision.
2. Don’t copy B2C companies, B2B online marketing methods are different
The Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketer is typically trying to create stylish content that will engage and entertain a large customer base of end-users. These end-users are also the decision-makers, they often make their evaluation quickly and their trigger to purchase is typically an emotional one.
On the other hand, B2B marketers have to reach out to influencers, decision-makers and end-users, some of whom may be outside the purchasing customers organization. These stakeholders tend to understand their industry well and have a good idea what you are selling. They usually want details of features and benefits, but they are looking for value and seek out proof-points through case studies and testimonials.
The B2B marketer must create suitable content and target the relevant stakeholder typically over a longer purchasing cycle. It is therefore important to strive to build a long-term relationship between the audience and your brand.
3. Align your Online Marketing with your business strategy
Your marketing strategy should be aligned to the company’s overall business goals as it can play a vital role in delivering the growth strategy. This should be obvious, but all too often marketing teams are viewed as a back-office function, there just to create collateral for the latest widget or to organize the booth at industry tradeshows.
A robust online marketing strategy can spearhead business development initiatives by targeting existing customers as well as reaching out to new customers in new geographies and even into new industries.
So, your marketing strategy needs to be developed hand-in-glove with your business strategy. It is important also to think of the big picture; a good marketing strategy will not just focus on short-term campaigns or initiatives, instead it will be geared towards building and sustaining brand authority to achieve the company’s long-term business mission and vision.
‘Vanity’ or ‘awareness’ promotions, and copying your competitors’ activities are not robust marketing strategies, and they tend to have a short shelf-life.
4. Collaborate closely with your Sales team to define your strategy
For an online marketing campaign to be successful, both sales and marketing teams need to work closely together.
In the B2B world, the sales representatives will know their customers better than anyone and are up to date with the issues and challenges they face. Importantly, it is the sales team who can discover how supplier information is gathered and how purchasing decisions are made.
Marketing needs this continuous flow of input from sales to ensure that relevant content is developed and then promoted accurately to reach the appropriate stakeholder persona. B2B marketers often make the mistake of focusing on features and benefits which may be interesting only to the end-user. Engaging with the influencers and decision-makers should yield better results but may need a different marketing approach.
Understandably, sales teams guard their customer relationships carefully and so are likely to be apprehensive about online marketing. The reality is that by working closely together, both sales and marketing can be more valuable in the goal to generate business growth. The customer will be more engaged by the marketing collateral which will build trust in your brand. The sales team will benefit from having a customer who is already ‘warmed-up’.
As the online marketing efforts start to bring prospects into the sales funnel, marketers need to continue the close cooperation with sales to ensure that leads are first qualified and then nurtured as appropriate. Ideally your company will be using an integrated CRM system, but I won’t go into further details of that or the additional topic of marketing automation in this post.
5. Get creative with your in-house expert teams
There are always some key issues at the top of your customers’ agendas, or hot topics your industry is facing. It’s likely that your in-house experts have some great ideas for solutions to these issues, or smart opinions that they want to communicate. You can exploit this expertise and build your brand influence through thought leadership marketing techniques.
In my opinion, a thought leadership blog on your website is an essential tool to build your brand’s authority. Sharing these blog posts via your social media account will expand your reach and drive visitors back to your website, which has the welcome side-effect of improving your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
A webinar is another great tool to showcasing your thought leadership and expertise. Webinars require attendees to register which will be effective in growing your customer email list quickly. However, the webinar title and content needs to be crafted carefully to ensure that your target customers will be interested or intrigued to register and attend. Do not use webinars to sell! Webinars need to be marketed well, social media is ideal for this, and highlighting your renown experts as speakers will help drive interest.
Growing your email list through webinar registrations and subscriptions to your website will allow you to segment and focus your email marketing at a targeted audience. These are your ‘warm’ prospects and again your in-house experts will be crucial in helping to provide relevant content that will lead the customer towards a purchase.
As you may have gathered by now, the quality of your content is crucial. However, don’t let a lack of resources deter you from starting. You may be able to inexpensively recycle and re-purpose great content that is already available, for example case studies, conference papers, video, animations, presentation slides, etc.
Lastly, take the time to clean-up and upgrade your website as it will be central to your online marketing activities.
Online marketing should be an important component of any business’ marketing plan.
Understanding online marketing techniques and tactics will help you to reach out to a wider audience and engage with specific customer profiles, helping to build authority in your brand over the long-term.
Being strategic in your approach will align your marketing activities with your business plan to deliver the growth targets. Continuous cooperation among your internal teams is essential in the preparation of a strong online marketing strategy that will get results.
So, it’s time to stop dabbling and instead start building a plan for success!
I’d be interested to hear if you have any tips or tactics to help develop your online B2B marketing strategy.
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