Many issues add to the complexity of B2B marketing. They include the project driven nature of many B2B markets and servicing the needs of a large decision making team. This post offers some guidance on how an appropriate content marketing strategy can address these challenges.
There are many reasons why B2B marketing is much more complex and challenging than B2C including:
- Purchasing decisions made by a group rather than a single person.
- Long buying cycles.
- Project driven – changes and delays in the final project can cause design changes and new objections. This can open up opportunities for competition.
- A Lower number of prospects compared to B2C.
- Product complexity leads to more potential objections and information requests.
The Traditional B2B Marketing Approach
The traditional methods of dealing with complexity depended almost entirely on the sales team. Their job was to identify the key decision makers and develop strong ongoing relationships with each of them. Sales tried to position themselves to manage a sale and react to potentially damaging situations as they arose.
In many B2B organisations the same set of sales people were responsible for generating leads and progressing the sales process. In truth, often an impossible task. More effective organisations split responsibilities between those responsible for generating leads (marketing) and those qualifying leads and progressing an opportunity to close (sales).
Push marketing tended to be used exclusively to promote a business and its products or services. The sales team tried (and often succeeded) to control the process. The most common promotional channels were advertising, direct mail, telemarketing and PR. Most company websites were little more than digital brochures.
How B2B Marketing Has Progressed
Today there is little doubt the balance of power has shifted. The supplier is no longer in control of the (push) process. Now it is the buyer who controls (pulls) what they need when they need it.
Over the years the B2B sales process has changed from leading the customer by the nose, to guiding the customer down a preferred path to running alongside the customer helping them along a route they are quite capable of choosing for themselves.
The issue today is predicting what the customer may need on their journey while spotting in good time any obstacles that may trip them up on their way. Sales people able to identify key people and develop relationships are still important but their control over the process is much reduced.
Account Based Marketing with all customer departments focussed (as a team) on the needs of the customer is now a common approach. With the sales person designated as the spearhead.
Content Is The Fuel For The Process
Content marketing represents a large part of the modern marketing process and is based on delivering useful, engaging, information to prospects via the most appropriate channel and at the correct point in the sales process.
Content marketing then services the information needs of a diverse group of decision makers; it raises the credibility of the potential supplier and keeps them front of mind. Content may be delivered over an extended period of time and address objections and product complexity issues before they arise.
Ongoing delivery of appropriate information can maintain relationships over the long term, reduces the cost and improves the effectiveness of the sales process. Today, Personal relationships are still of importance but are most effective when combined with an inbound marketing process.
All the above is easy in principle but much harder to achieve in practice. To have any chance of success a close working relationship is required between sales and marketing. The key is to identify prospects needs early and satisfy those needs with appropriate information.
Content As A Disruptor
Often many sub contractors (each a potential customer) bid for a single major project. It is important to cover each of these potential customers (sub contractors) and their decision making teams to avoid missed opportunities and wasted resources. It is all too easy to be well placed with one customer only to find that another sub-contractor wins the contract and all the hard work is wasted.
It is important to track what is happening at the project level and the sub-contractor bidding process. Covering all the bases is a sensible precaution but given strong competition it can be difficult to have strong relationships with all the key players.
Where it is not possible to break into a target customer content can at least be used as a disruptor. It is much harder from a distance but if a prospects needs and pain points can be identified information (content) can be delivered that illustrates a way to solve those challenges.
Delivering content to the right person at the right time is a challenge but as information is available on many different channels it can be impossible for an encumbant supplier to block. Potential customers with a problem will no longer sit back and be spoon fed potential solutions by their current supplier.
To be successful in B2B markets requires a well structured sales organisation and effective marketing. A specific type of marketer is required with industry knowledge, long term experience of the traditional B2B marketing process and knowledge of how to integrate what is best from the traditional approach with the latest best practice inbound marketing techniques