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?
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?
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
Relationships have the potential to last
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
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
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
However, there are some general commonalities across the entire B2B sector.
Economic disparity among smallest and largest players
Decision-making units are complex
Each member of a decision-making team has diverse needs
Longer decision cycles
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:
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:
- Account-based marketing
- Customer-centric content marketing
- Data-driven marketing
- AI-driven CRM
- AR & VR
- B2B influencer marketing
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 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.
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.
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!
That’s a lot of info!
Here’s what you should take away from this article:
- What is B2B marketing? B2B marketing is the marketing of products and services targeted specifically at corporate customers, as opposed to retail consumers (B2C).
- How does B2B marketing differ from B2C? The main differences between B2B and B2C are: fewer potential buyers, longer-term relationships, higher purchase values and more rational purchase decision-making.
- What are the common characteristics of B2B companies? Common B2B company characteristics include longer, more complex purchase cycles and smaller, but more profitable customer bases.
- What are some examples of major B2B markets? Examples of major B2B markets include manufacturing, import and export, specialist consultancy, corporate law and professional services.
- What are the latest trends in B2B marketing? The latest trends in B2B marketing include AI-driven CRM, and using augmented and virtual reality to showcase new offerings.