B2B Marketing Basics

 

When we talk about B2B, we are referring to the business-to-business environment: the commercial space in which businesses exchange products, services or information with other businesses.

There are three main contexts in which B2B commercial transactions occur:

  • A business procuring materials for their supply chain (e.g. a clothing company purchasing the fabric and materials to make their clothes).
  • A business requiring the services of another to facilitate their business activity (e.g. a software firm needs an accountancy firm to file its tax return).
  • A business reselling the goods and services it purchases (e.g. an agency white-labelling a reconfigured online tool and selling it to a client.)

Of course, B2B businesses have a need to market their goods and services just as much as B2C companies do. This calls for an effective B2B marketing plan.

 

What is B2B marketing?

Like B2C or “consumer” marketing, B2B marketing is a business practice in which businesses market their products or services to potential buyers. Where B2B marketing differs from the B2C variant is that instead of targeting individual consumes, it is focused solely on other businesses.

This means that marketing principles and techniques must be executed in a specific way, which will be explored in more detail later in the article.

B2B marketing is carried out primarily by providers of products and services targeted primarily at corporate customers. Classic examples would be industrial goods such as concrete or steel; more recent examples include business software and consulting services.

However, B2B marketing is also carried out by companies whose target audiences include both consumers and other businesses.

B2B marketing techniques are founded on the same key principles as business-to-consumer marketing. However, unlike B2C customers, B2B customers tend not to buy on a spontaneous, emotional or impulsive basis. They have a very specific set of needs and are often buying on behalf of a large number of others.

This calls for B2B marketing techniques to be shaped in a specific way.

What are the differences between B2B and B2C marketing?

Though B2B marketing is often compared to business-to-consumer marketing (B2C), the same methods and channels cannot simply be carried over to B2B marketing strategies in an analogous fashion.

Below are some of the key differences that shape the way in which B2B and B2C communication should be carried out.

Limited number of buyers

The number of potential buyers for a B2B product or service will generally be much smaller than for a mass-produced consumer product. This calls for marketing content to be very carefully targeted to the interests and needs of the target group.

Relationships have the potential to last

When a consumer purchases a product, this often represents the final stage of the marketing and sales funnel. For a business buyer, a purchase is often just the first milestone in a long-term relationship. It is vital to make sure that expectations for after-sales support are fulfilled.

Not only this, but B2B marketing can also continue after the sale – for example in the form of newsletters with product updates, invitations to webinars and other similar measures for maintaining and consolidating the customer relationship.

B2B buyers are more “rational” and are held accountable to more stakeholders

In the B2B marketing field, buyers are likely to be better informed and are less likely to buy on the basis of impulse or whims. Since they are spending their organisation’s money, not their own, they must account for their decisions to others.

They ask key questions about ROI that private consumers often overlook, which means that your team must be equipped with the knowledge to give sophisticated, in-depth answers to technical questions.

Personal connections are more important

We mentioned above that a key feature of B2B marketing is long-term relationships with a smaller number of customers. With this in mind, many B2B companies often appoint dedicated account managers to nurture personal connections.

These account managers can for example pursue an account-based marketing approach, cultivating relationships with a small number of well-qualified leads by addressing them on their preferred channels.
 

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Characteristics and Examples of B2B Markets and Products

It goes without saying that not all B2B companies are created equal. In the introduction, we mentioned the different contexts in which B2B transactions can occur.

However, there are some general commonalities across the entire B2B sector.

Economic disparity among smallest and largest players

The difference in purchasing power between a B2B company’s smallest and largest customers is usually fairly significant. A few “key accounts” are likely to bring in a disproportionately large portion of the company’s profits.

Decision-making units are complex

Because of the high value - and sometimes high financial risk - of the products, the decision-making unit in business-to-business markets has the potential to be highly complex. It is also likely to be a dynamic entity, with specialists entering and exiting to contribute their expertise as needed.

Each member of a decision-making team has diverse needs

The target audience for B2B marketing is constantly changing and is made up of stakeholders with varying motivations. Buyers look for good value, production managers for efficiency and health and safety reps for risk minimisation. Increasingly, the purchasing decisions of companies are also affected by factors related to corporate social responsibility, such as the desire for ethical sourcing or ILO standards in the supply chain.

Longer decision cycles

Because of the factors named above, the B2B buying cycle is often much longer than in the B2C field. In other words, the time between initial contact and receiving payment is longer and must be planned for accordingly.

Customer-specific discounts

Price lists, discount options and possible product combinations tend to be complex, and sales reps typically have some leeway to negotiate individual discounts as incentives to buy.

Examples of B2B Markets and Transactions

Any business that generates the majority of its revenue from commercial transactions is classed as a B2B company, even if the product or service is eventually intended for a consumer audience.

Some examples of B2B markets include:

 
 

Manufacturing

High-value corporate accounts are a staple of firms in the manufacturing sector. One example of this would be Samsung’s production of OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes) to sell to Apple for use in its iPhones.

Service provision

Examples of service providers that earn their income exclusively from B2B transactions include commercial cleaning and property management companies.

Consultancy

There are consulting firms specialising in just about every field imaginable: e-commerce, innovation, change management, strategy, compliance and many more. Consulting is a major corporate market.
 

Social media marketing

With the ever-increasing importance of content marketing, many B2B firms are opting to outsource their social media strategy and content to a specialised content marketing firm.

Import and export

Import and export companies facilitate access to a whole range products destined for private consumers.

Corporate law

Any law firm specialising in business-related law (e.g. patent litigation or insolvency proceedings) is classed as a B2B entity.
 

Let's break this down with an example: The Automotive Industry

The automotive industry is built on B2B transactions. Most vehicle components are manufactured by independent suppliers and sold on to auto manufacturers such as Toyota to enable them to build cars.

These cars are usually then kept at a dealership for a short time before being sold on to the end consumer. Accessories such as batteries, window mechanisms and door locks are also manufactured by specialised suppliers and sold directly to manufacturers.

 

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Up-and-coming B2B Marketing Trends

We are currently seeing the emergence of a range of pioneering technology-driven channels and methods for B2B marketing. As you will see below, these include customer-centric approaches such as account marketing and the use of big data and AI to refine a business’s customer contact and customer relationship management efforts.

In the past, the methods available to B2B marketers were relatively unsophisticated: personalisation was surface-level and content was written for a rather broad audience, since companies were limited in their ability to quantify their customer base.

Now, however, technological advances are allowing for a much greater degree of personalisation and tailoring.

This is important because B2B marketers risk turning off prospective customers if marketing fails to address a specific niche. They are also better equipped to get the right marketing messages in front of the buyers who matter.


Here are some examples of modern B2B marketing techniques that you could use in your B2B marketing plan:

  1. Mobile-first
  2. Account-based marketing
  3. Customer-centric content marketing
  4. Data-driven marketing
  5. AI-driven CRM
  6. AR & VR
  7. B2B influencer marketing

Mobile First

More and more B2B buyers are accomplishing work-related tasks using smartphones, and the influence of mobile is changing the B2B purchasing pathway.

Becoming mobile-friendly begins with providing a mobile-optimised website and, depending on the product or service, an app. The overall aim is to build a powerful mobile brand, which includes making sure that buyers have easy access to first-hand information via their smartphone.

Account-based marketing

Account-based marketing focuses not a broader target persona, but instead drills down into individual customer profiles. The golden rule is that there is no such thing as “too specific”. In an ABM-based strategy, the traditional sales funnel becomes more cylindrical; the team chases fewer accounts, but a higher rate of conversion.

They seek to display tailored content to all of the contacts listed on an account using all of the channels they actively engage with, helping maintain their interest through the sales funnel.

To understand ABM better, it is helpful to compare it to content marketing, in which the marketing team strives to build as large an audience as possible and deliver them into the top of the funnel. After this, it’s the job of the sales team to work out whether the leads are any good. ABM reverses the responsibility.

Customer-centric content marketing

To date, content on manufacturers’ and B2B service companies’ websites has tended to focus primarily on technical details. Although well-maintained product information is important - especially if the company sells a component that is destined to be assembled into a wider system or product - it is no longer enough to set a brand apart from the competition.

Nowadays, even B2B customers expect to be taken on a coherent and personal buyer’s journey, with content that places the product in the context of the modern-day industry and shows them how it can address their problems.

Video content is playing an increasingly important role in persuading B2B buyers why a product is right for them. In addition, content must be optimised with human search behaviour in mind to make sure that it can easily be found.

Data-driven marketing

Twenty years ago, the ability to draw up a numerical picture of customer behaviour would have seemed an unattainable dream. Now, data-driven marketing is an industry standard.

The data for data-driven marketing can be sourced from a vast range of places - social media use, search history, and CRM tracking previous purchases, interaction with customer services, content engagement and many more.

Marketing teams can then leverage this customer data to create a comprehensive picture of their target customer base, allowing them to refine their marketing automation campaigns and to restrict their efforts to the customers who actually represent realistic prospects.

AI-driven CRM

Not only is technology evolving faster than ever in terms of what it is able to do, but the world is more connected than ever, too. With many billions of devices around the world creating an expansive network of interaction, companies must leverage the potential of the resulting data flows to implement the next big computing trend: AI-driven predictive action.

This has huge potential for B2B CRM. Rather than the software simply pulling and providing information at the request of a human user, as it has done to date, it will retrieve relevant data at the exact moment when its usefulness value is highest. This will allow brands to accomplish a number of invaluable tasks, such as focusing effort on the most promising leads, detecting issues before they happen and forecasting product inventory based on fluctuating demand.

AR & VR

Like B2C products, the products and services sold by B2B organisations evolve over time. Within this context, augmented reality (the overlaying of graphics, sounds, haptic feedback or even smell on the real world) and virtual reality have presented B2B organisations with new ways of presenting their changing offerings.

For example, a maker of interior fittings might allow them to be overlaid on images of interior spaces so that interior designers and architects can see how they will look (augmented reality), while a telecommunications company could be taken on a virtual tour of a new data centre.

B2B influencer marketing

Influencers are recognised individuals within a particular industry who share content on their social media channels with the aim of guiding the opinions and actions of their followers.

Customers - including B2B customers - are turned off by the idea of a faceless corporation. Influencers are perceived as more authentic than other marketing measures and can leverage the trust between them and their audience to achieve better brand engagement.

The Future of B2B Marketing

Where once B2B marketing was a one-way pursuit, social platforms have opened up opportunities for managed, two-way interaction. What’s more, companies are now better placed to make efficient, data-driven decisions about who to pursue and how.

Forward-thinking B2B companies are continuing to find innovative ways to use social media, CRM, and big data for greater growth. Start utilising these new opportunities in your B2B marketing plan today!

 

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