B2B marketing is the way businesses generate demand from other businesses for their products and services. Just like B2C (business to consumer) marketing, B2B marketing includes many types of content, and it can take place across multiple online and offline channels. But there are some key differences between B2B and B2C marketing.
The main difference between B2C and B2B marketing is right in the names: it’s the audience.
The audience for B2C marketing is people who are buying products or services for themselves, their friends, and their families directly from a company. Many of us experience B2C marketing every day, as we receive emails or see social media posts with personalised offers from our favourite brands.
Unlike B2C you are not marketing your product or service to one consumer. In the B2B space, your digital customer you are marketing to is a buying committee of decision makers that engages with a B2B business exclusively online. The makeup of this committee depends on the product or service being purchased. For example, if the B2B business is marketing office furniture, the buying committee may include office planners, facilities staff, and operations personnel. If the product is marketing software, the committee may feature representatives from marketing, sales, information technology, and finance.
Your B2B marketing approach will look different based on industry, company size, and other factors. For instance, there are different B2B marketing strategies for engaging with buying committees at small and medium sized businesses (SMBs)
versus large (enterprise) companies.
Read on to explore key components of B2B marketing.
The process of B2B marketing is often described as the marketing funnel. In the marketing funnel, demand generation efforts lead to awareness. After awareness, lead generation results in an audience displaying interest and consideration. B2B marketers then shift from lead generation to lead nurturing, during which they share information to help shape the buying committee’s intent to purchase. The buying committee then spends time in a period of evaluation before deciding to purchase. Ideally, the process continues as the business grows their relationship with the buyer over time.
Lifecycle marketing includes the marketing funnel, but goes beyond it. It’s about engaging with an audience as they move from prospects to customers and finally become advocates for the business. Through lifecycle marketing, the marketing funnel is able to repeat over and over, as advocates introduce new prospects to the business.
is a marketing strategy that uses content to build awareness around a product, service, or brand. This is accomplished through inbound marketing, in which marketers create helpful content designed to solve key problems for your audience and drive interest in what you have to offer. Examples of demand generation content include informational articles, blog posts, social media posts, podcasts, videos, and more.
This is different from outbound marketing, in which marketers directly engage potential customers through third-party avenues such as billboards, ads in magazines, on the radio, and on TV, and door-to-door sales and cold-calling.
is a demand generation tactic used to attract potential customers who have shared some of their information with a business. The value of lead generation is in driving leads to sales. It’s something marketing and sales teams need to collaborate on in order to target leads that have the most potential to generate new business.
In B2B marketing, an account is a group of leads from the customer company, most of whom are likely on the buying committee. One of the most effective demand generation strategies is account-based marketing (ABM), which we explore later in Section 4.
is the process of engaging with leads as they consider a business’ products or services and sharing information to influence their intent to purchase. It’s a time when a B2B marketing team should work with sales to showcase everything their business has to offer, and build deeper connections with leads. Lead nurturing is a tactic that’s often used in demand generation.
is similar to demand generation and usually refers to the overall process of managing leads from generation to purchase and beyond. It includes lead generation, lead nurturing, lead routing to sales, follow-up after purchase, and more.
In the B2B space, marketing and sales interact with leads in different ways — which means it’s essential for these departments to work together
. With their powers combined, marketing and sales can create more seamless experiences for prospects and customers and share their unique expertise to target the best leads as a united front.
A great way to start is for marketing and sales to align and collaborate on the account selection process. They can use targeted ABM strategies to pursue accounts with the strongest buying signals, engage those leads with personalised content, and leverage technology to maintain a shared view of how leads are engaging with content and progressing through the marketing funnel. This ensures that every lead receives the right message at the right time.
B2B marketing today looks nothing like it did in the past. While the fundamental intent remains the same, digital transformation has changed the way it happens — and things are still changing.
As customers’ expectations change in response to the great experiences they’re having with their favourite consumer brands, B2B businesses have the opportunity to capitalise on what’s working in that space and put their own spin on it. The biggest area of opportunity is in building excellent customer experiences.
The answer is simple: Customers expect seamless, personalised experiences across every digital channel and in every stage of the buying lifecycle. According to the State of the Connected Customer report
, 76% of customers expect consistent interactions across departments, but 54% say it generally seems like departments don’t share information. In the Salesforce State of the Connected Customer Report,
85% of customers said they expect consistent interactions across business departments.
But the process for creating these experiences is anything but easy. In particular, 85% of business buyers place the same emphasis on flawless engagement as they do on product quality. These buyers expect businesses to:
- personalise messaging and offers based on an in-depth understanding of their unique needs and pain points
- Make it easy to engage at any time, on any channel, and empathise with what they may be going through personally due to what’s happening in the world
- anticipate their future needs
These expectations are non-negotiable for the all-digital customer.
In the B2B space, the all-digital customer is actually a buying committee of decision makers that engages with a B2B business exclusively online.
For B2B marketers seeking to engage these buyers, this means sharing marketing content on each buyer’s preferred channels, making content accessible from any device, and being available at any time.
This is a daunting task for a B2B marketing team to attempt with even one account, let alone multiple. That’s why top B2B marketers use data, artificial intelligence (AI), and marketing automation to identify accounts with the highest value for their business and deliver uniquely personalised experiences to each buyer on the account.
and using it with AI and marketing automation is the key to delivering personalised experiences that help buyers feel known and understood. With the right technology, a B2B business can get a complete view of their accounts and buying committees, down to each individual lead.
All this information can be filtered by AI to deliver insights that inform the best marketing content and strategies for each account and buyer. Then, marketing automation
can help send the right messages to each buyer at the right time on their preferred channels.
The days of siloed data stacks are over. By aligning
around a shared source of account data, teams across marketing, sales, and customer service can easily align on account selection, targeting, and nurturing. Aligning your data is the choice of high performing businesses. According to Salesforce's State of Marketing Report
, 78% of high performers say they use a customer data platform (CDP), versus 58% of underperformers.
In B2B marketing, there are many strategies and channels that marketing teams can use. But in the digital-first era, one of the most effective is content marketing.
Content marketing is a core inbound marketing tactic that brings potential buyers to a business’ website or other owned digital channels. Once there, buyers can read, watch, or listen to content that offers insightful information and expert advice around the business’ products or services.
The value of content marketing lies in demand generation and lead generation. By building up the business’ reputation and expertise and showcasing its products and services through how-to content, customer case studies, and more, content marketing can increase buyer demand and generate new leads. Content marketing can also be used in ABM, which we will explore in more detail in the next section
Content marketing works on every digital marketing channel. Content marketing can be used in:
- Blog posts
- Resource guides
- Digital advertising
- Social Media
- Virtual events
- ...and more!
When it comes to content marketing on owned channels like a website or blog, search engine optimisation (SEO) is a popular and effective tactic for bringing in website traffic. By tailoring content to popular search terms, a business’ web pages can rank higher on search engines, which helps them get found more easily by the audiences who would most benefit from that content.
When selecting the right mix of channels for their leads and buyer groups, B2B marketing teams should evaluate engagement and behaviour data to identify top performers and the optimal times for delivering content. For example, knowing when a lead is likely to check their email or scroll through Twitter can help teams deliver tailored messaging to those channels at the right time.
For B2B marketers, knowing when to say things is half the battle — the other half is knowing what to say. Just as digital transformation has changed the way marketing happens, societal transformation has changed the way marketing sounds. The days of aggressive selling are gone. Now, marketing is all about empathy.
Leading B2C brands already have a proven track record of showing that they understand their customers inside and out and relate to their needs and struggles. In comparison, B2B marketing has been more transactional than empathetic, but B2B businesses are working to catch up.
To bring a greater sense of empathy to their marketing, B2B marketing teams should listen and respond to buyer feedback. Paying attention to social media
comments and asking for feedback through surveys are smart ways to gather insights that can be shared across marketing, sales, and service departments. With a stronger understanding of customers’ daily realities, B2B marketing teams can make their messaging more human and personalised than ever before.
We briefly mentioned account-based marketing
(ABM) earlier in this article — but it’s important enough to warrant its own section. Read on to learn all about how this strategy can help businesses drive deeper engagement and greater revenue over time.
In ABM, B2B marketing teams focus their efforts on a selection of high-value accounts, target each as a market of one, and deliver highly personalised digital experiences that generate demand.
In recent years, ABM has become one of the most popular and profitable B2B marketing strategies — 86% of ABM practitioners say it improves win rates, and 80% say it improves customer lifetime value.
ABM differs from traditional, broad-based marketing because of its narrow focus on high-value accounts. Instead of marketing from 1-to-many or 1-to-few, ABM is about 1-to-1 relationships with key buyers in an account.
It’s important to remember that ABM doesn’t replace regular marketing — it complements it. The most successful B2B marketing teams use a variety of strategies; ABM is just a powerful part of the mix.
Every B2B business is unique, as are the needs of each buying committee. Finding the perfect mix of messaging and content for each high-value account takes a lot of data and a little trial and error.
However, all ABM initiatives share some similarities. To start a new ABM strategy on solid ground, B2B businesses should follow the three pillars of ABM success:
1. Understand your buyers: Gather and use as much data as possible to build a strong understanding of the buyers in a high-value account.
2. Align marketing, sales, and service: With a shared view of high-value accounts and consensus on how to engage them, B2B marketing, sales, and customer service teams can work in tandem to engage leads with compelling content, avoid duplicative and overlapping messages, and share valuable insights on buying pain points and product satisfaction once they become customers.
3. Grow account relationships: In ABM, lead nurturing is dialed up. It’s all about being there for the leads in the high-value account when they need information, insights, or assistance. This applies to the entire customer relationship before, during, and after a deal, which is why it’s so important for marketing teams to collaborate with sales and customer service on lead nurturing and relationship management.
Marketing technology (also known as martech, or a business’ martech stack) is exactly what it sounds like — it’s the software and digital systems that help marketing teams execute their strategy and achieve their goals. As there are now more than 8,000 martech platforms currently available
, it’s important for B2B marketing teams to understand what they need and choose the right martech solutions for their company size, industry, and growth plans.
There are a variety of martech tools that can be used to manage content, connect data and unify customer profiles, streamline operations, and support growth.
There are two main types of martech: comprehensive solutions and specialised tools.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM):
is a system for managing all of a business’ relationships and engagements with potential buyers and existing customers.
Content Management System (CMS): A CMS helps create and modify digital content for websites.
Customer Data Platform (CDP):
collects and organises customer data and shares it with other systems, such as a CRM or marketing analytics system.
Comprehensive solutions like these can work together to act as a single source of truth for customer data, giving it an easily accessible home where various departments can analyse it for insights.
Marketing Automation: Marketing automation provides automatic management of various marketing processes across multiple channels, including lead qualification, email marketing, campaign creation, customer journey optimisation, and more.
Marketing Analytics: Marketing analytics systems help measure campaign data and evaluate the success of marketing initiatives.
Email Marketing Platform: Email marketing platforms are dedicated systems specifically for email marketing planning and execution.
Business Communication Platform: Business communication platforms, such as Slack, facilitate communication between internal and external partners, typically serving as a more efficient alternative to email due to its asynchronous nature.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Platform: SEO platforms showcase keyword data from search engines.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI simulates how humans think to deliver personalised customer experiences with the scale and efficiency of a machine. It learns from experience to perform tasks like humans do, then uses machine learning to better mimic and automate those tasks.
Chatbots: A chatbot is a customer service application that uses AI to simulate conversations and troubleshoot problems with customers, or routes them to a service or sales rep who can help.
B2B marketing teams should consider all of these technologies when evaluating their martech stacks. As teams identify strategy gaps and new ways to grow their marketing capabilities, one of these tools may help to bridge the gap.
Virtual And Hybrid Events And Sponsorships:
The pandemic has caused the way we organise a traditionally analogue channel. Events and sponsorships are expected to continue to be virtual or use a hybrid format as it can create a greater audience reach as individuals don’t have to deal with the barrier of physical distance. According to Salesforce's State of Marketing Report
, virtual and hybrid event formats are here to stay with 40% of events expected to be virtual in 2022 and 30% will have a hybrid format.
Digital Video Marketing:
Digital video marketing including YouTube, Tik Tok and Twitch continues to grow as a marketing tool for marketers. The Salesforce's State of Marketing Report found
that video is the channel with the biggest increases in value over the past year (2021). This channel is highly engaging and is an important source of customer data in this current market.
The Rise of First-Party Cookies: A major sea of change in customer data collection is shaping the future of digital marketing. Third-party tracking cookies, a longtime marketing staple used to enrich website experiences, will be phased out by all leading web browsers in the next couple of years.
AI-Driven Personalisation: As marketing teams are challenged with delivering personalised engagement to buyers at scale, most are turning to AI to intelligently filter through data and surface insights about the best marketing actions for each individual. AI can easily personalise messaging and offers based on each buyer’s preferences. It’s especially helpful for B2B marketing teams using ABM.
Marketing and Information Technology (IT) Alignment: Now more than ever, it’s essential for Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) — and their teams — to be on the same page. Since most buyer experiences today are digital, marketing and IT have shared priorities and a vested interest in working together to achieve their goals.
Marketing teams are shifting to treat IT teams as genuine partners instead of a shared service. By collaborating with IT, marketing can share insights that help build digital experiences that truly connect with buyers.
Salesforce is committed to helping B2B marketing teams grow buyer relationships and revenue at the same speed: fast.
To learn more about how Salesforce can help B2B marketing teams align with sales and service, leverage the latest technology to build long-term buyer relationships, drive greater revenue, and prove marketing ROI, please visit the following resources: