Category Archives: Marketing Strategy

A B2B Market Analysis Template

When building a B2B strategic marketing plan for any business an in depth market analysis is of vital importance. Without analysis the resulting plan is likely to be of little practical use resulting in significant wasted resources on a document that simply sits on a shelf gathering dust.

What is strategic B2B market analysis?

The basis of any strategic planning exercise is a route from where we are now to where we want to be in a set timeframe. To plan that route it is necessary to know what resources we have at our disposal, what barriers are we likely to face (environment) and what skills can we utilise (strengths and weaknesses) to overcome those barriers

Appropriate analysis provides the data upon which we can answer the above questions. Analysis is the foundation on which the strategic planning process is built. If it is incomplete, or worse inaccurate then the entire process is likely to be a complete waste of time and effort.

Where The Theory falls down

All sounds wonderful in principle but the reality is somewhat different. Often the analysis process lacks focus or is superficial. Collecting key people in a room for half a day, drawing the dreaded cross on the flip chart and brainstorming through a SWOT analysis is not enough.

A SWOT is not the starting point but the end point, it is really only a tool to create a visual summary of a robust and quantified data collection phase. Appropriate focus is required or many hours can be wasted collecting data that is not relevant.

Before starting the analysis process it is worth asking some key questions including

  • What is it (in simple terms) we offer to the marketplace?
  • Who needs that offering and why?
  • Who else satisfies that need (competitors)?
  • Given the competition why should a customer choose us?

Pin the answers to these questions to a wall, or somewhere they can be easily referred to, make some assumptions, then challenge those assumptions using appropriate analysis and data collection techniques.

Marketing Analysis – Key Steps

The key issues to consider are:

  • Products and Customers
  • Environment
  • Resources
  • Competitive Environment

Product and Customers

Includes both a historic element and a projection into the future and includes:

  • Historic data on key products and product groups including quantity and price trends.
  • Current key customer analysis including establishing why they first became customers and what it is that stops them migrating to competition.
  • A detailed market segment analysis – both existing and those to attack.


The PEST analysis tool can be useful to assess the larger environment, its existing and potential future impact on the business and the business of key competitors.


A Value Chain analysis may be performed to analyse what resources the business currently employs to deliver a competitive advantage. How can these resources be better utilized in future, what is currently weak / missing and what new resources may be required to take the business forward.

Where possible resources should be classified against any established industry norms. In war (and in business) it is the side with both the most resources and the best method to deploy those resources that wins. Any business therefore needs to analyse carefully its available resources and how they may be best applied for competitive advantage.

The Competitive Environment

Porters’ 5 forces analysis is a good place to start. It covers the threat of new entrants to a market, the threat of substitute products and the bargaining power of both buyers and suppliers. This is an essential analysis tool to understand how the market may change and adapt over time.


The B2B market analysis process then is both complex and time consuming. With the data in place it is possible to take the next step and create a number of potential scenarios (based on the solid data collected), decide which of those scenarios is the most likely and a potential way forward for the business. Eisenhower said ‘plans are useless but planning is everything’ perhaps he was referring to the power of the analysis and scenario phase.

The Problem With B2B marketing Strategy

Let me get one issue out of the way straight away I am a big fan of B2B marketing strategy but too often the strategic planning process fails to achieve the desired outcome. Many strategic plans that take extensive time and resources to produce then spend time gathering dust on the shelf. In his re-thinking strategy lecture Sir Lawrence Freedman (really worth a watch if you have 30 minutes to spare) quotes Mike Tyson – ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’ and therein lies the problem

The Theory

At its most basic level a strategy is a means to control future events. It is a process to get from where you are now to where you would like to be. Based on a detailed analysis of where the business is now, how it got there and the likely future shape of the marketplace it builds possible scenarios for achieving the goal. Those scenarios are then analysed a way forward chosen and plans put in place along a path to reach the goal.

The Problem

The plan assumes if we do A then B will unfold but the real world of business is populated by people and they do not always act (some would say rarely act) in a way that is predictable, or even logical.

It is true that a plan could be built based on if A happens we do B or if C happens we do D but what happens if several issues do not fall into place as expected at the same time. People, markets and the World in general is unpredictable. A military planner once said (I paraphrase) ‘No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy’

A Possible Solution

Another great quote from Sir Lawrence Freedman’s lecture. Eisenhower said Plans are worthless but planning is everything () and that perhaps is the key – it is the process that matters.

The solution may be to employ a less rigid strategic planning process in B2B markets. Months, perhaps years, of planning went into D-Day. I guess Eisenhower and his generals new little would go to plan but that they had a basic structure in place.

They were probably well aware they would need to rely on their men in the front line and their immediate commanders to modify the plan (or what was left of it!) as the situation demanded. If the tanks did not turn up, or the enemy strength was more than expected the men on the ground needed to find a way to get off the beach. However, once they were off the beach they were well aware of what the plan stated as their next task.

The long established B2B strategic planning process remains valid but it does not need to be as resource intensive or as rigid. It does not need to be complicated but it does need to cover the basic key issues including what do we sell, what need does it satisfy, who needs it and why.

Analysis remains a key process as it is important to understand exactly where the business stands and why but given the uncertainty factor any analysis that tries to predict the future is perhaps futile. Scenarios should still be constructed so the business has at least thought about what may happen and potential solutions.

Objectives remain important for the short to medium term but tend to be irrelevant in the long term. Overall the basic plan should be understood by all but it should be flexible and a living document that changes and adapts. Perhaps all that is fixed should be the start and end point.

Why All The Hype About Branding? – A Voice From The Wilderness

As a professional B2B marketer I get the value of branding but I also believe all the hype surrounding it is doing serious damage to the marketing profession. Taking a straw poll of both business owners and the public in general I believe would show most believe marketing is advertising or branding and that is a problem.

I am not saying branding does not have a value but to give an example from our ancient ancestors. Art flourished in the ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian societies but less so in others. Why? Because in those societies food was plentiful and the society was well organised and structured. My point is this – if your prime focus is having enough to eat in the coming days and weeks and defence of your family you are not going to worry too much about your artistic side. Now swap branding for art and food for orders and perhaps you get my point.

In my humble opinion marketing prime purpose is to generate high quality and relevant leads for sales to close – that is it. That may not appeal to those with a creative side or have aspirations for marketing to be at the centre of every business but I am afraid it is time to wake up to the reality. If marketing can only talk brand it will have very little relevance to the wider business community.

Perhaps the problem starts at the very top. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has a major programme underway (#Marketing2025) to try and make itself more relevant. As a member of the CIM since the early 1990’s and a Chartered Marketer I read the recent article by the CIM Chief Executive on the subject in the CIM magazine.

Remember, this article was about making the CIM more relevant but in the entire (lengthy) article ROI was mentioned once and lead generation not at all. The word Brand was repeated many times and it may well be important to larger organisations but if the CIM wants to be relevant it needs to talk to the majority of businesses (and marketers).

Let me explain, I have spent over 25 years in the small business (from start-ups to businesses with £25m turnover) environment. As over 95% of the 4.9m businesses in the UK employ up to 9 people and 99% employ less than 250 people in (figures from 2013) then I guess I am not alone. Yet, all the CIM focus is on branding that is probably only a prime focus for perhaps <5% of the total business population.

In the SME world everything has to deliver a ROI. Business owners may get the value of authority to their business but not brand. It may be argued brand is at the central to any business but good luck selling that concept to SME’s. If I had any influence at the CIM (which I don’t) I would minimise the use of that word.

To use another example there is a phrase in football that goes ‘earn the right to play ‘. For the uninitiated it means that the creative players in a team (the ball players and goal scorers) don’t generally get a chance to have a major influence on a match until the early physical battles have been won. They may not like it but in the early stages of a game the quality players have to put in a shift running, tackling and closing down with the rest of the team.

Marketing may translate to the creative players but to really influence and be at the centre of a business they need to get down and dirty with the rest, do their share, get out there and understand customers and sales issues. Only then do they have they earned the right to play. Only then can marketing claim its rightful place at the centre of business and provide real value with strategic focus, vision and yes – brand. However, forget that prime purpose of lead generation and all that good work will be undone in an instant.

Current Best B2B Marketing Practice

Best B2B marketing and business development practice has changed dramatically in recent years driven, primarily, by increasing resistance to aggressive push marketing techniques and prospects access to all the information they could ever need via the internet

The Decline In B2B Outbound Marketing

When I started in B2B marketing over 20 years ago it was entirely push based. It was based on telemarketing, advertising, press releases, exhibitions and print / direct mail. More recently aggressive Email marketing was introduced to the mix to push the sales message.

With the growth of the internet, social media and all sorts of comparison and review sites the population in general have become conditioned to search out the information they need online before making a purchasing decision. Bad telemarketing and EMail practice in the B2C world have built a resistance to these techniques that spills over into the business world.

The Alternative – B2B Inbound Marketing

Current best practice in B2B marketing is pull rather than push based. It is based on deliveringbest practice B2B inbound marketing information to the point decision makers may find it. The information must be valuable, engaging, build credibility and gently guide the decision maker along a path towards the offering of a particular business.

The information (content) may be white papers, technical notes, how to guides, industry comment / trends, comparisons, regulatory issues of interest and much more. Some content may be created from scratch but as many businesses sit on a large amount of information that could be updated / amended to benefit customers and prospects this can simplify the task.

Inbound Marketing Is Resource Intensive

The problem with inbound Marketing are the resources required to deliver it successfully. With outbound marketing skills in a small number of disciplines may suffice but the same is not true of inbound. Today, a department (or person) implementing best inbound practice requires a wide range of skills in content creation, website design and build, blogging, social media and other delivery channels and SEO.

The time taken to build new content and/or re-build existing content should not be underestimated. The content creation process never stops and is a constant drain on resources.

A Inbound Marketing Plan Is Essential

If resources are not to be wasted a plan is essential. It is vitally important to analyze the market, carefully select market segments, build personas and create content specific to those segments.

With the basics in place it is then important to build a content delivery plan and to stick to that plan moving forward. Results should not be expected overnight, in fact to expect any meaningful results within 3 months of starting the process is wishful thinking.


Content marketing does not deliver results as fast as traditional push techniques and it does require significant resource to implement successfully but the resulting quantity and quality of sales leads tends to exceed that of push marketing.

The impact of push marketing then is decreasing with pull marketing the new focus. However, although pull marketing delivers more consistent and higher quality sales leads, it takes longer to deliver results and is resource intensive. Therefore push marketing techniques still have a place and can be selectively combined with pull techniques to deliver the best overall result.

How To Simplify The Strategic Marketing Planning Process

Although the importance of a periodic strategic marketing planning process is well established relatively few businesses actually have a strategic plan in place and fewer still utilize and implement any existing plan. We discuss the two main reasons the strategic planning fails to deliver results and a potential method to address these issues.

To survive for any length of time a business must be expert at whatever it delivers but this leads to a focus on today’s market and the short term that makes it difficult to step away and take a longer term view. Key staff often grow up with a business which blinkers their view of the market. The impact on growth (or even survival) of a short term view may be recognised but many businesses avoid market evaluation and long term planning for two key (and interrelated) reasons:

  • The complexity of the process and the time and resources involved.
  • The perceived usefulness of the finished plan to the day to day running of the business

The complexity of the planning process often generates information overload, a lack of clarity and a final plan which is difficult, if not impossible, to implement. Hence, if a strategic plan is produced it often sits on a shelf gathering dust. Kaplan and Norton research shows that >90% of organisations fail to implement their strategies.

Strategic Marketing Analysis

To simplify the process and to provide clarity and focus it is worth answering some simple questions before diving headlong into the market analysis and planning process, they are

  • Evaluating strategic optionsWhat does the business offer?
  • Who needs what the business offers and why?
  • Which other businesses offer the same product/service that satisfies that need?
  • Given the above why should potential customers pick your business to service their needs?

Simple questions in principle but not so easy to answer in practice. In our experience it is often the last question that causes the most problems.

A brainstorming session can usually answer these questions in 40 minutes or so. Answering the last question often stimulates a re-evaluation of the answers to previous questions. A further 20 to 30 minutes can therefore be required to work back up through the relevant questions.

Identify Customer Needs

What basic customer need does whatever the business supplies satisfy? It is important to stop thinking in terms of products and services and to think instead about what customer problems are addressed. Fail to answer this question properly and any marketing analysis and strategy process will fail.

The natural next step is to define which potential customers (or groups of customers) may have this need and to profile and segment them appropriately. Unfortunately, in almost all cases, there will be other businesses attempting to satisfy this need and it is important to list them and their relative strengths and weaknesses.

When starting with needs and not product and services competitor analysis often throws up surprises. New potential competitors enter the mix and others that may have seemed a major threat may turn out to be less dangerous than previously imagined.

With competitor analysis complete it should be possible to answer the final key question and define what sets the business apart from the rest. It is the answer to this question that is the key and, once the answer is in place, an evaluation of which businesses may require what the business offers and competition is required.

Although the above short form method can be no substitution for a thorough strategic planning process it does give both some clues where to start and some focus to the activity that ensures the final plan has more relevance to the business and more chance of being implemented rather than just gathering dust.

B2B Market Penetration Strategies

In B2B markets growth tends to be based on either new product introduction or attacking new markets. In this post we cover how to execute a new market penetration strategy with the aid of a case study.

Successful new market penetration depends primarily on the nature of the market and the existing competition. It is notoriously difficult to obtain any foothold in static markets but a growing market does offer some opportunities. Entrenched competition will often be at the top of the experience curve having learned from their mistakes over many years, whereas any new entrant must accept that it will take time to generate any meaningful results and gain traction.

Potential Marketing Strategies to Employ

Two potential, relatively low risk strategies, to employ are to only attack a small market niche and once established grow out from there and/or to collaborate (to the benefit of both parties) in some way with an intermediary with an existing foothold in the target market

Perhaps the greatest opportunity exists if the target market has an entrenched competitor that is either complacent or in a weak (financial, mismanagement, loss of key people) position. If a solid strategy can be put in place to deliver the highest levels of service at competitive pricing then a market presence may be established in a relatively short timescale by stealing market share
New market analysis.
If attacking a new market is to succeed detailed market research is vital. An experienced and flexible sales and marketing team is also required and in many organisations this can be a real issue. The best sales teams tend to be focussed on the immediate future and marketing teams are often competent in their own market but stretched when it comes to addressing something new.

New Market Penetration – A Case Study

What follows is based on a two real businesses operating in a high technology B2B market. The market exhibited slow growth but did offer high margins. To preserve confidentiality the company names and details of the precise market have been excluded.

A U.K based business had built a strong presence in the marketplace growing from a small start up to a business with turnover exceeding £20m. The business owner was a technologist focussed on longer term market and product development who, after the first few years of growth, had employed a managing director to run the business on a day to day basis.

The business was the dominant player in its market niche but was starting to lose focus for a wide variety of reasons. Top level management was not exceptional and this was starting to be reflected in a slow decline in levels of customer service. The new product development process tended to be based on small revisions to existing concepts rather than any real product innovation.

The new entrant was USA based but already had some exposure to the market as they were a minor supplier to the target customer base with a different product range. They chose a niche distributor to take on the UK based business, offering them excellent support and training and higher margins on each sale than they could expect from their other lines. The chosen distributor had excellent relationships with the target customer base.

The new entrant copied and manufactured a limited range of the most successful product lines of the UK business without customer orders at a considerable cost and focussed their efforts on specific projects. With a higher level of quality, excellent delivery, good customer service and investment in low pricing (in the short term) they were able to take initial orders on a limited range of contracts.

The U.K business due to a mixture of complacency and poor management failed to identify the long term threat of the new entrant dismissing the initial level of their orders as insignificant. They failed to recognise the importance of the foothold secured by the new entrant and their ability to capitalise and build upon initial relationships.

Five years later with its business destroyed by a combination of mismanagement (and resulting financial pressures), bad luck and a loss of a major part of its business to the new entrant what remained of the U.K. business was sold to a competitor for a minimal sum. The new entrant built on their initial success by leveraging the relationships established to introduce a number of new product ranges.

Although blessed with excellent support from senior management and the backup of operations the drive behind the new entrant entry into the marketplace and their market penetration strategy was effectively one individual who spotted the opportunity and drove it through.

The new entrant executed a market penetration strategy perfectly. They identified a weak competitor and an excellent intermediary. They started with a niche, gained a foothold and built from there and they had a marketing and sales team (actually just one person initially) able to spot an opportunity and to build and execute a plan.

The amount of research carried out by the new entrant is unknown but it is not thought to have been extensive. This was a major risk given the amount of financial and other resources allocated to the project but in this case the strategy did pay off.

Build An Effective B2B Marketing Plan

The lack of an effective B2B marketing plan can often result in lost opportunities, a long term decline in business and market changes that catch a business unawares. However, too many marketing plans are poorly constructed and a complete waste of time and money. This post outlines a marketing planning process, some tips on how to maintain focus and some mistakes to avoid.

The strategy and planning process can seem complex and time consuming and therefore often drops to the bottom of the priority list. In a previous post on marketing strategy and return on investment I outlined the steps in a typical marketing planning process. Often, it is the early steps in that process that are the both the most difficult to understand and the most crucial to achieving the required outcome.

Retain Focus During The Marketing Planning Process

B2B Markets are complex and there can be a wealth of data (see below) to analyse and crunch. It is therefore often all too easy to lose focus. Three simple techniques can help retain focus without influencing the outcome of the marketing process.

At a top level briefly answering some key questions and pinning these to a wall or some other place they can be easily referred can often bring a process that is starting to wander back on track. Key questions to ask:

  • What basic product / service does the business provide?
  • Why are those products / services needed?
  • Who needs them and why
  • Who else can satisfy that need?
  • Why should a potential customer pick me?
  • How do raise awareness of the business and its product / service

At the bottom level it is worth drawing out the well known sales funnel on a large sheet of paper (trust me – there needs to be plenty of space for notes and alterations). You can go at the funnel from either end but during the marketing planning process it will need some numbers. What is the growth target, how many leads are required, where are those leads going to come from, conversions, resulting in sales, by segment.

Marketing Plan – The Key Steps

The first step is to analyse the current position understanding where the business is now and how it reached there. The key point to remember is this data collecting process must be completed without bias or any pre conceived ideas. With the analysis complete the results may be summarized and considered in conjunction with the desired future direction of the business over the next 3-5 years set by the business owners or senior management.

Many text books fail to cover the next step in sufficient detail (if at all) but it is important to draft out a number of possible paths (scenarios) to get from where the business is now (based on the analysis) to where it wants to be. These scenarios should include well defined target customer groups or segments.

A step often missed is the sign off by senior management of the chosen path before proceeding into the detail of how the business is going to progress down its chosen path, its objectives and the strategies to achieve those objectives. With the above in place the rest of the process building out the detail of the plan, estimating results (go back to the funnel mentioned above), modifying plans and setting programmes and schedules should be relatively easy for most professional marketers.

Most marketing plans fail because the analysis is performed without sufficient detail or with bias and the scenario developed is incorrect. Incorrect analysis and segmentation of customer groups is also often an issue. If the early part of the process is performed correctly the rest should flow without major problems.

Measurement, Control and Feedback

With the plan in place it is then important to measure actual performance against that stated in the plan and to take appropriate action. A well constructed plan should layout in detail programmes, events, timescales and expected results so it should be a simple process to go back and measure actual against expected.

Too often marketing plans are constructed and then spend the rest of their life on the shelf. This is a wasted opportunity and a significant waste of time and money. The prime reason plans never see the light of day is they are badly constructed and fail to deliver the required detail on programmes, events and outcomes.

Although building an effective marketing plan is a time complex and time consuming activity if focus on the key issues and process is maintained and some common mistakes avoided the activity can pay for itself many times over. Without a plan a business is more likely to drift which in the longer term can be fatal.

Marketing Strategy And Return On Investment

Does the time and effort expended in preparing a marketing strategy really deliver an appropriate return on investment? This post sets out to answer that question for a small business (30-99 employees) involved in B2B markets.

The first step is to estimate the costs involved based on the time taken and the level of people involved. The costs can be relatively easy to determine to a reasonable degree of accuracy but the returns can be more difficult to establish. Generally, the returns can only be estimated based on a percentage increase in sales directly associated with the marketing strategy and planning process.

When considering the costs it is useful to first define the steps in a typical marketing strategy process before allocating time and personnel to each task. A typical process may be:

  1. Decide on the overall long term company objectives.
  2. Detailed analysis of the current situation.
  3. Summarize and consider findings.
  4. Consider various scenarios and the best way to achieve long term objectives.
  5. Once a way forward is defined establish a set of defined steps.
  6. Set objectives.
  7. Decide on strategies to reach those objectives.
  8. Set measurement criteria.
  9. Review, make required changes, sign off and agree.
  10. Implement.
  11. Measure and refine.

Steps 1, 4 and 9 require detailed involvement of the business owners or senior managers but all remaining steps can be completed by suitably qualified more junior personnel. Steps 10 and 11 are key parts of the overall process but are not included in the cost analysis.

Assuming one key decision maker or business owner then two days of their time should be sufficient to complete steps 1, 4 and 9. The most time consuming tasks in the entire process are steps 2 & 3.  Part of these tasks must be completed with by a suitably qualified marketing person but part can be completed by lower level staff to research, analyse and number crunch data. In the size of business outlined above one week of marketing person time and two weeks of administrative time should be adequate.

The analysis task often extends beyond the marketing team as data is often required from other business departments. Typically each department head may spend half a day on the task with up to a day of work required in each department by more junior staff. Department heads input will, in most cases, also be required during stage 9, taking up to a further half day each.

All other tasks may be completed by the senior marketing person with some lower level support. For the business size outlined above this may take a further two weeks of their time and a week of lower level support. Based on the above and some assumptions on salary costs alone then the total cost of the marketing planning process (excluding steps 10 and 11) will be in excess of GBP 4,700.

The returns on this investment are more difficult to quantify. At a base level it should be possible to determine what level of sales will return a margin to cover the above cost. This will then identify the breakeven point that may then be broken down further into the number of items to be sold to cover the costs.

If, as a minimum, the marketing strategy and planning process identifies the real unique selling points of the business and the promotional plan can be refined to ensure only this message is delivered by the most appropriate channels then the savings on wasted promotional effort alone are likely to more than cover the cost of the strategic process.

If the strategic process identifies a single new opportunity for the business or ensures that the business does not blunder down a strategic blind alley then the costs will be covered many times over. The issue then becomes how to make the time available to the marketing department, senior management and divisional management to complete the marketing strategy process.

How To Grow Sales In A Niche Market

Any business with a target to grow sales in a niche market faces a unique set of challenges. Unfortunately, most marketing advice and literature focuses on mass markets and little information is available on marketing to a niche.

A niche market is defined by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as ‘marketing of a product to a small and well defined segment of the marketplace’. Breaking that definition down product may be replaced with service. Small means there are relatively few prospects in the niche and well defined means that a niche does not exist at all unless it can be clearly defined with no ambiguity.

A niche must be quantifiable and measurable, accessible and, both of sufficient size to be viable and growing at a fast enough rate to sustain sales growth.

Niche marketing has many advantages including less direct competition and lower sales and marketing costs but there are also major challenges including:

  • A small number of customers/prospects.
  • Ensuring the message is heard.
  • Relatively small number of opportunities.

The Problem With Niche Marketing

The blunt truth is most marketing is shotgun based. That is aim to hit as many targets as possible in the hope a percentage (often a single figure percentage close rate is deemed a success) will respond.

There may be lots of talk about segments, targetting, opt in, pull marketing and focused content. The reality for B2B businesses with a large potential customer base is often somewhat different.

In any market niche, there are simply insufficient prospects to employ the shotgun approach. In some cases, there may be less than 200 customers in a niche which means mass marketing techniques simply will not work.

A small number of customers usually results in a low level of opportunities. It is therefore essential all potential opportunities are identified and tracked. Any business attempting to grow sales in a niche market must try to obtain a request to quote on a high proportion of the available opportunities.

Which leads to another problem, that of being heard. In B2B markets a specialist product or service may need to compete for attention in a space dominated by larger suppliers. Those major suppliers will most likely not be direct competitors but delivering other parts (perhaps several parts) on a project.

Larger suppliers may deliver significant parts of the total package required by the customer. With their brand presence and resources, they may dominate the conversations with the project decision making team.

A Potential Solution

Mass marketing does bring economies of scale. Niche marketing tends to be more focused and the cost of each conversion can be relatively high. It is therefore important to establish if the returns per customer justify that investment. That often means each customer must have a high potential value.

A well thought out strategy is of prime importance. Delivering a general message is not a viable way forward. Instead, it is important to precisely define the niche, the specific offer the business provides and why (exactly) it satisfies customer needs.

Armed with this information on the benefits the business can offer and a precise profile of target customers it should be possible to identify all potential customers in the niche. The next step is to define key functions and personnel within those customers that may influence the purchasing decision.

The challenge then is to deliver the message on what benefits the business may offer to as many potential customers (and the key departments within those customers) as practical. What are the key information requirements of each of function and what is required to remove any roadblocks that may be thrown in the way of a sale.

It is important to identify and track key projects that each key customer may be bidding on. If the customer wins a contract it is important to be ready and in a position to make a specific offer that addresses the challenges the customer may face.

To achieve the above it is important to accept the customer is in control. All the business can do is ensure they deliver the support the customer needs to understand how the solution on offer can solve whatever their problem may be.

Sales should have the direct customer relationships and therefore have to lead the process. Working hand in hand with marketing to provide the market intelligence and information needed to progress the sale. The objective should be to supply the required information, build credibility and start an ongoing communication process.

Of course, that assumes sales have made some inroads into a customer. For customers where sales have a weak presence or worse no presence at all, there is the problem of growing awareness in a crowded market.

Every effort should be made to secure press coverage in the form of press releases and feature stories in relevant publications to push the message to the target market In one respect it can be difficult to obtain coverage in a market dominated by major brands but on the other a story about something outside the mainstream is often of interest to journalists.

It is highly likely prospects in the niche will be searching for information on the product or service offered by the business. For a niche product, it is probable those searches will be specific and either carried out online (in most cases) or by reviewing specialist publications. A web presence focussed on delivering information to any prospect typing in a specific search term is essential.

There is no doubt growing sales in a niche B2B market is difficult. Buyers and those that influence the buying process tend to perform early supplier evaluations before engaging with sales tends to put them in control rather than the supplier. However, with a well thought out strategy in place a sales and marketing team working in harmony and a solid communications strategy those difficulties can be overcome.

Current Best B2B Marketing Practice

Best B2B marketing and business development practice has changed dramatically in recent years driven, primarily, by the rise in internet marketing and increasing resistance to aggressive marketing techniques.

For many years marketing in B2B markets was entirely push based. It was based on proactive sales work, telemarketing, advertising, print / direct mail and (although it could also be classed as a pull technique) press release. More recently Email marketing pushing a sales message was introduced to the mix.

A fact often missed (or ignored) is business people also have a personal life. With the growth of the internet, social media and all sorts of comparison and review sites people have become conditioned to search out the information they need (and make comparisons) online before making a purchasing decision. Bad practice Email and telemarketing practice, particularly in the B2C world, have built a resistance to these techniques that spills over into the business world.

Marketers have recently switched on to this change and current best practice in B2B marketing is pull rather than push based. It is based on delivering information to the point decision makers may access it to inform their decisions. The trick is to ensure the information is valuable, engaging, builds credibility and gently guides the decision maker along a path towards the offering of a particular business.

The pull process has become known as content marketing and is based on delivering content using a wide variety of tactics – many of which are listed here. The content itself may be white papers, technical notes, how to guides, industry comment / trends, comparisons, regulatory issues of interest and much more. Many businesses sit on a large amount of information that could be updated / amended to benefit customers and prospects.

Content marketing does not deliver results as fast as traditional push techniques and it does require significant resource to implement successfully but the resulting quantity and quality of sales leads tends to exceed that of push marketing. There are many challenges to overcome including finding and / or writing sufficient engaging content and finding the most appropriate channel to deliver that content.

The impact of push marketing then is decreasing with pull marketing the new focus. However, although pull marketing delivers more consistent and higher quality sales leads, it takes longer to deliver results and is resource intensive. Therefore push marketing techniques still have a place and can be selectively combined with pull techniques to deliver the best overall result.