Thursday, August 13, 2009

What is B2B Marketing?

What exactly defines Business to Business (B2B) Marketing?

It’s an interesting question, as marketing is a discipline that is common across both business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B) organizations. However, beneath the surface, there are significant differences in how B2B and B2C marketing is done in today’s environment. It’s worth exploring what B2B marketing entails.

Let’s look at a few of the areas that differentiate a B2B buying process:

Information Exchange

In B2B marketing, you are often dealing with a buying organization that requires a significant amount of information during their buying process. Unlike in many consumer marketing situations where the need for clothes, food, or cleaning products may be well understood, in B2B marketing, that may not be the case at all. Early stage education on industry transition, technology changes, or regulatory changes can be needed in order to best understand why your solution’s category even exists in the first place.

This need to exchange information continues throughout the buying process. Buyers, when convinced that a potential solution exists to their business challenge, will then need to know which solutions to evaluate, what criteria to evaluate them on, and what evidence exists that one solution is better than the others. B2B marketers need to understand where in this education process their largest marketing challenge exists in order to better educate the buyer.

Social media becomes a critical part of this information exchange in a B2B environment as social media forms a great medium through which to educate, converse with, and build relationships with prospective buyers who may be interested at a point in the future. Over time, a great social media strategy in a B2B organization will improve market perceptions of your organization in ways that other brand investments never could.

Multiple Buyers

In B2B marketing, the most common situation is one in which multiple buyers are involved. Each buyer may take a different role in the buying process, whether it’s a technical evaluator, decision maker, or economic buyer. Each of these buyers needs to be educated at each stage of the buying cycle to ensure that they facilitate moving things forward. This leads to a need in B2B marketing for a significant amount of content. Each buyer in the buying committee, at each stage of their buying process, has specific educational needs. Mapping marketing content to the buying cycle is key in ensuring you have the right assets available for each of the buyers involved.

Whereas in B2C marketing, there may be a husband and wife both involved in a buying decision, the unique roles that are played by B2B buyers allow very clear differentiation of buyer roles. By carefully monitoring buyers’ digital body language, B2B marketers can identify buyer roles based solely on their actions. This allows messaging to be catered precisely to the unique needs and interests of each buyer role.

Sales Involvement

The complexity of most B2B transactions means that there is usually involvement of a sales team prior to a deal being finalized. This may be an inside sales team, a field sales team, or a channel partner’s sales team, but the direct involvement leads to another unique aspect of B2B marketing. One of marketing’s main roles in a B2B organization is to provide sales with a steady flow of qualified leads. Given the length of the buying process, this is a challenging undertaking. First, the marketing organization needs to understand the digital body language of buyers in order to see indications of who is ready to buy, both on their main web properties, and also as seen being referred in through the social media “periphery”.

With this insight, B2B marketers can then establish a lead scoring system that identifies and ranks prospective buyers. Those that are ready for sales involvement can be passed on to sales, those who are not yet ready can continue to be nurtured until they do show the signs of being ready. This active management of the top of the marketing funnel leads to unique challenges for B2B marketers, as there is a need for rich thought leadership content of interest to prospects at the top of the marketing funnel in order to effectively nurture leads until they are ready to consider a purchase.

Marketing needs to work on not only a steady flow of qualified leads to sales, but also needs to provide the insights needed to sell better through sales enablement techniques. Sales enablement involves providing insights into which prospects are actively interested, who within an account is a key influencer, and which accounts within a territory should be focused on.

Length of Buying Cycle and Challenges for Marketing Analysis

The length of the B2B buying cycle also causes significant challenges for marketing analysis. Given that buying cycles can last months or quarters, if not years, the analysis that can be performed on marketing’s effectiveness is very different. B2B marketers must take a top-down approach to marketing analysis that looks at an overall lead funnel, where each prospect is within it, and what changes in the lead funnel have been made within the last period of time.

When looking at individual campaigns, each campaign can be analyzed, or even A/B tested against results, but often should only be analyzed against tactical results such as the creation of marketing qualified leads or inquiries of a certain level of qualification. Analyzing individual campaigns contribution to revenue can only be done in B2B marketing with the acknowledgement that many campaigns will have contributed to one revenue event, and that the resulting revenue must be attributed across the contributing campaigns.

Concluding Thoughts on B2B Marketing

As today’s buyers continue to evolve, and gain more of their education online, through social media, or through any other form of online information exchange, the role of the marketer continues to evolve. Whereas the classic role of marketing (as described by Peter Drucker), to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits them and sells itself, has not changed, the techniques for doing that in a B2B scenario are different from those used in a B2C scenario.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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Craig Duxbury said...

Always an interesting debate even when discussing with prospects - here are just a few more....

1) B2B products are bought and not sold ... a need versus a want ... you want a pint of beer (don't need) whereas you need a bag of cement to do your job

2) The consequences of making the wrong B2B purchasing decision can be catastrophic in terms of money, litigation, life and death. Buy a beer you don't like... throw it away and never buy it again... no harm done

3)Rational vs emotional... consumer purchasing decisons tend to be ruled by the heart whereas in B2B the head rules... although you need an emotional brand connection

Steven Woods said...

Craig, great points - although it would be interesting to dig into how rational B2B decisions truly are... I think it's generally accepted that they are more rational, but I'm not sure that all the evidence is in agreement with that...

Craig Duxbury said...

Bet we'd find old pareto kicking in with 80% rational and 20% emotional. We always measure rational and emotional in client brand tracking surveys - B2B audiences still have the same left and right hand side of the brain! Many B2B brands have to find a differentiated positioning that isn't based on a product or service proposition. This is because the product and service offering can be very similar. You than have to look a providing a superior all-round brand relationship and contact strategy (sales & marketing)- which needs an emotional connection.

Steven Woods said...


Similarly, the depth of analysis one would have to make to truly be 100% knowledgable in most B2B purchases is just too deep. Without that perfect knowledge, you're left with a "what do you believe", "who do you trust" decision, which is essentialy emotional at its core.