GARY DISLEY ON THE STRATEGIES FOR BUSINESS TO BUSINESS ACTIVITY
The Holy Grail for marketers is to give customers what they want, at times before they even know they want it. It means generating customer insights and developing an understanding of the buyer. While many embark on the journey with great intentions, getting to the final destination brings its challenges. Without careful navigation, it is easy to go off track, resulting in a marketing strategy that overpromises and underachieves.
It is now widely recognised that business to business (B2B) marketing is a discipline in its own right, requiring its own strategic approach. The differences between B2B and business to consumer (B2C) run deep. B2B markets are inherently complex, underpinned by a diversity of products, relationships and buying motives, across segments or within large organisations.
The target audiences are diverse, with groups of changing individuals with different interests and motivations. For instance, the procurement function in an organisation will seek a good financial deal while the sales function will be more interested in improving sales performance. And those are just their simple, functional needs.
There are challenges that make B2B marketing distinctive and that must be addressed to attain success. It’s relationship driven, so marketers must maximise the value of the customer relationship. It’s a small, focused target market – people are on first name terms, personal relationships are developed, and brand identity is created through these relationships.
It comprises a multi-step buying process and a longer sales cycle. The decision process is complex with multiple stakeholders evaluating a range of purchase criteria. Educational and awareness building activities are critical as the products themselves are often complex and the purchase of an industrial, technical or business related product often needs expert input.
Buying decisions tend to be rational, based on a business value. But we need to recognise that although the rational, functional information is necessary, it’s the non-rational dynamics (whether emotional or cognitive) that will prompt customers to internalise that information to drive action. Success means addressing the customers’ needs in these different scenarios and formulating a communications strategy that meets them. Sales team management, capability and support should be firmly plotted on any strategic B2B marketing map.
Ultimately, it is the interaction and activities of the sales teams that are the difference between success and failure. As marketers, we must be able to deliver a set of messages, tools and programmes with the right level of structure, yet also allow the sales teams to adapt to the various situations that they face, like productivity and ROI focused messages for a finance audience. While it’s important to connect with customers and prospects, it is equally important to influence the employees who interact with those customers.
There are the communication messages that talk about benefits rather than features. To really drive the ‘wow factor’ home, you must clearly communicate the user benefit that resonates with the decision maker. In the case of a tablet computer that provides remote access to data files, the benefits that could appeal to the sales director might relate to greater productivity while on the road. For the human resources director, the benefit of the technology supporting a flexible and remote working policy could be a key selling point.
One needs to see how the creative works and get cut-through. Although this is a common truth across B2C as well, it is still one of the main challenges in B2B marketing. The temptation to revert to clichéd business creative is strong, but to bring a story or proposition to life we need to look at alternatives. Media selection is a key consideration in targeting and tailoring messages to the right audiences with the right message at the right time.
Maximise the right sponsorship opportunities. Sponsorship of relevant events is important in delivering messaging and positioning in the right context. Sponsorship falls down when activation is poor, limited to the event itself and pushes an overt sales message. To maximise sponsorship, you must maximise activation before, during and after to really drive the message and association. Sales force engagement and visibility is also paramount.
It is all about leveraging the sponsorship to create a platform that brings the right people closer to the message, enhances their experience at the event, with the right content that ultimately improves relationships and creates opportunities.
Digital has a role in audience engagement. The buyer journey is starting earlier with search, before sales has any contact with a prospect. Increasingly, social media is becoming an essential platform for B2B activities and initiating and developing relationships with both potential and existing customers, which will, in turn, reveal customer insights.
One final point needs to be made about B2B customers. Put simply, they tend to be more demanding. They have a responsibility to get it right when buying for their companies. They take fewer risks and need to be convinced that they are making the right decisions for their organisation. With the right strategy, the B2B marketer can deliver exactly what they want.
Gary Disley is marketing director of Eircom Business Solutions