When you think about B2B digital marketing, what comes to mind? Images of fractured attempts to produce meaningful content and endless IT infrastructure updates? Or a cohesive strategy with clear outcomes and a tactical plan to get from A to B and ahead of the competition? If it’s the first and you wish it was the second, this article is for you.
As with any innovation, the digital marketing revolution needed a leader. And it’s B2C companies that have stepped into the breach. Not only have they exploited digital technology to deliver high-quality customer interactions but they have made this a competitive differentiator and set customer expectations in both the B2C and B2B markets.
That’s not to say that B2B organisations have been dragging their feet – some have developed fully aligned such strategies and tasted the success they bring. Research from McKinsey & Company has shown that turning your company into a top quartile B2B digital player can increase revenue by 3.5% – that’s five times more growth than your rivals.
But, with all the information out there about developing a strategy, it’s hard to know where to begin. So, we have pulled together everything you’ll need to know under four key areas covering 21 points.
“Every battle is won before it is fought.”
1. Adopt a strategic mindset
As a leader, one of your (many) jobs is to unify your team around a vision and influence your organisation to adopt a B2B digital marketing strategy. Getting one of your team to write a few blog posts on a Friday afternoon does not a digital marketing strategy make. Bring digital marketing to front and centre and commit to invest in a long-term plan. Add measurable results and join the dots between the strategy and return on investment to get the organisation to commit.
2. Align your people to your plan
For a digital marketing strategy to be successful, it needs the right people with the right skills and focus to make it work. Conduct an internal skills audit to see where you have skills gaps and make an honest assessment of workload. Asking people to squeeze in a lot of additional activity on top of already hectic schedules simply doesn’t work. Once you know what training you need or who you need to hire, get the buy-in and JFDI (just flippin’ do it).
Starting with senior hires is a good way to do this. Having Digital Marketing representation at a strategic level will help to drive through the strategy and ensure accountability.
3. Aligning organisational culture
Leading B2B digital marketing strategies don’t stop at getting the right mix of skills and people. They align the organisation’s culture to their new strategy, ensure they have an agile mindset and people who can rapidly deploy new approaches.
From improving processes to reducing speed to market, they aren’t afraid to make mistakes, quickly learn and move forward. A shift in mindset is required to allow teams to make mistakes. Agile working needs space to breathe. Give the right mix of people some time and the tools they need and watch them solve the company’s trickiest problems.
Further align effort with more formal changes to job roles, company and personal objectives and any performance related pay schemes. Focus people on innovation, collaboration and execution for the best results. For more on this in relation to content creation jump here.
4. Aligning the organisation’s technology
If the last piece of software you bought ran on floppy discs, it’s definitely time to invest in new technology. Get a good feel for what you would like to be able to do and what you can afford and invite some suppliers in for a beauty parade. Buy the best technology to support your strategy both now and for the future.
Take a customer focussed mind-set
5. Use your data
So, what should these front-end solutions look like? That all depends on what your customer wants, not what you think they want. Leading B2B digital marketing strategies place their customer at their core, using advance data analytics to generate insights into the offers, content and services that would best fit different customer segments. Interrogate your data and then act accordingly.
6. Develop a customer avatar
Bring your customer into sharp focus with an avatar. If you can make these highly individual, your campaigns are more likely to cut through, help open the door for your sales teams and put them on the front foot to develop significant relationships and secure more sales.
7. Provide a seamless service
Back-end processes in B2B businesses are typically well-automated but, like an Ikea coffee table, the link to the front end can have missing parts. Customers don’t want to be passed around from one department to the next, wait for quotes or log in to different systems to buy from you.
Imagine receiving an email from Amazon with a book recommendation based on your customer avatar. It sounds great, so you log on to buy it. You select the book only to be told you have to log in to another system to pay. And then you need to print out and fill in a form with your delivery address. Two weeks later your book hasn’t arrived so you phone up to find out why and it turns out that the form you were given to use is an old form they can’t accept. We wouldn’t accept this as consumers but some B2B businesses still operate in this way.
The best B2B leaders generate a 360-degree view of the customer across the business so employees are empowered to execute their job role with the customer in mind. Whether this means a single integrated ERP system or multiple systems that can talk to one another, aligning your business processes from end to end to provide a seamless service to your customers is the goal.
8. Know your buying processes and influencers
When businesses buy, there are often several levels of approval before a sale can be made. If your systems can provide data to identify blockers in the approval process, you can take steps to remove them. For example, if additional information is relatedly requested from purchasing teams, make this available for your sales team to access or, where possible, include it in the marketing materials up front.
9. Create a content strategy
The role of great online content is to attract and engage existing and prospective customers and drive them towards your product or service. To get the best results, you need a content strategy within your overall digital marketing strategy. Start with a mission statement to guide you from customer awareness to engagement.
10. Know your customer - even better
Because you have systems that capture quality customer data, you have a good insight into your target audience. You know what they want from content and how to engage with them. You also understand the motivations of the different people involved in the buying process. Use this to inform how you write your content and you can’t fail to gain their interest and secure the sale.
11. Become an authority using Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned (PESO) media
A good content strategy should aim to hit the sweet spot of true brand authority. Generate credibility by building a tactical content strategy that includes paid, earned, shared and owned media.
Source: Marketo Blog
Influencers in a B2B context are unlikely to be celebrities so you’ll need to find other sources to act as advocates. More on that in point 19
12. Develop or recruit content writing skills
With Curata reporting that 50% of companies will be hiring an executive role to manage content creation by the end of 2017, the people element of your strategy will also need to consider the aims of your content strategy. Hiring in this experience will give the content strategy focus, accountability and drive. It may also require additional headcount – asking one of the team to write daily blog posts or webinars on top of their current workload is unlikely to deliver quality content.
13. Write regular quality content
How much is too much? The jury’s still out on this one. If your competitors are getting in front of more people more often you could end up behind the curve. However, quality content, not just any old content, is key as is customer preference. It’s better to have four really useful, high quality pieces of content in front of your customer than thirty that don’t put your business in the best light. See point 16 for more.
14. Choose the right medium for the content
It’s no secret that video killed the radio star but is it about to kill off the written word too? Incorporating video into your marketing increases brand awareness, customer loyalty and ROI as well as being more thoroughly consumed than scan-able written content. That’s not to say that you should replace all your content with video – there’s a time and a place. Choose those topics that work well when presented visually and combine them with the right words to get best results.
15. Deliver quality content every time
Whatever format your content takes, it needs to be good quality and useful for your customers. Use customer interactions to feed back into your content to answer customer queries and provide solutions to problems. This feedback can come from social media but also reach out to your frontline sales or customer services teams for the real story. (If you’re not that joined up, read one of our earlier blog posts about how to link your marketing team to your sales team.)
And don’t forget the basics – get ahead of 45% of the competition by including relevant SEO ALT tags on your pictures and copy some of the 50 fastest-growing B2B companies by using clear calls to action to drive traffic to your website.
16. Promote your content
We all know that putting a blog post on your website, sitting back and waiting for the sales to roll in rarely happens. And now, the big two content distribution stalwarts, email and website, have become three, to include social media. So, if you aren’t using the right social media channels to promote your content, you need to start doing it now.
Try thinking of your content as a new Broadway actor. They come along pretty frequently (several times a week these days) and need a helping hand to promote themselves to make it big. Get your content up in lights on paid or shared social media and turn it into a star. The public sees the adverts, reads your content for the details and goes and buys a ticket (your product or service). Simple.
17. Build trust with a consistent writing style
Why do we often go and see films with the same actors in them? Because we like their style, we get to know them and, eventually, we trust that we’ll get a good performance so we keep going back. Just as you don’t always go and see a new actor’s film straight away, your customers are unlikely to see your first lot of content and buy immediately.
That’s why it’s important to be patient and develop long-term relationships by being human, friendly and always giving a performance that’s focussed on your customer.
18. Engage your customers with meaningful influencers
Talking of film stars, just how are you supposed to get a celebrity to promote your brand? Forget ‘celebs’ and look for customers you have worked with who can act as advocates. More senior customers, such as CEOs, work well as do people who have credibility in relation to your product or service. Showcasing your talents via the kind words of a satisfied client is more relevant and useful than any celebrity. However you work with your influencer, develop a mutually beneficial arrangement where they get to make their company look good too. This way you strengthen your relationship and everyone’s happy.
19. Content management
Customers won’t neatly form a line to your website and fill in the right forms there – they will respond on FB, Twitter and other platforms. And you need to be able to respond and deal with their queries or pass it on as required. Whoever gets this task could also manage your content so it’s easier to access.
Get your sales teams to promote your content to build relationships, help clinch a deal and improve the quality of customer relationships. With the right hiring and organisational structure, job roles and culture this will happen naturally.
20. Continue to monitor data
The story it tells you doesn't stand still and neither should your strategy. Use the data you have available and the combined knowledge and expertise of your team to tell you what is happening on your field of battle. Then adapt and react. This is true for both your digital marketing and content strategies.
21. Measuring success
Looking at what is happening externally is helpful. But also keep an eye on the performance of your team against your strategic goals and ensure your systems, organisational structures and content strategy remain fit for purpose and that you are set up for success. This will help demonstrate ROI for your organisation and identify any areas where your strategy could be improved.
How to get started
It can feel overwhelming to develop a strategy with such reach and resonance. It works well to start small with a quick win that has good returns. That might mean hiring one new team member, getting the most from existing systems and data and developing digital content for a specific customer group.
If this is successful, it will help secure buy-in from business leaders to develop the strategy and include other business areas.
If there’s one key takeaway from all this, it’s that proper planning prevents poor performance. Take some time out, away from the office, to develop your strategy and plan regular time in your diary to monitor progress and make adjustments as required. Get this right and, not only will your B2B digital marketing strategy deliver five times more growth, it will leave your competitors standing.