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Welcome to the new era of B2B marketing.
In the past five years, digital has changed the way we think, learn, act, and shop—and the B2B sector is included. The most successful B2B brands have embraced the digital transformation, and the very best of them are thriving. I’ll let you in on a secret, though: most B2B business owners I know have, at some level, made the same mistake—they’ve treated their sales and marketing strategy like it’s still 1999.
If you’re in that same boat, allow me to catch you up: Y2K never happened, Beanie Babies were a bad investment, and B2B buyers now have instant, unlimited access to information via a tiny, internet-connected screen that fits in their pocket.
B2B buying has always been a tricky process. That hasn’t changed, even with all the digital tools and resources available. Why? Because most B2B marketers and business owners—while they have adopted some digital tools and created digital content—haven’t altered their overall B2B marketing strategy. A new study from marketing research firm Gartner found that despite the proliferation of digital access, 77 percent of B2B buyers still feel that making a purchase is time-consuming—and even painful.
After years on the front lines of the B2B digital marketing transformation, I’ve learned what it takes to succeed and what leads to failure—and I want to share that insider tribal knowledge with you.
Below, I’ve condensed everything you need to know about creating a winning B2B marketing strategy into this easy-to-understand guide. It’s broken down into seven sections (you can jump to each section by clicking below):
- The modern B2B buyer’s journey
- B2B marketing framework to guide your strategy
- Crucial elements of a sales-driving B2B marketing plan
- Demand generation strategies
- Lead generation strategies
- Retention and recovery strategies
- Executing your B2B marketing plan
By the end of this guide, you should have a solid understanding of today’s B2B landscape, the trends and behaviors to capitalize on, and strategies the pros use to get you to your goals.
First Things First: Understanding the B2B Digital Transformation and the Modern B2B Buyer Journey
The majority of B2B business owners I speak with understand—at some fundamental level—that the digital transformation changed business as usual. And that includes the way buyers look for and find B2B vendors.
Traditionally in B2B sales, there was one main buyer. They followed a predictable, controlled path like the traditional marketing funnel template below:
The typical marketing lineup included salesy, printed marketing collateral. Sales reps went to trade shows, made cold calls, and conducted business face-to-face.
That’s not entirely true anymore, for four key reasons:
- Half of all B2B buyers are now millennials, and millennials hate cold calls.
- More people are involved in B2B purchase decisions. The typical buying group is comprised of six to 10 members, and while 64 percent of C-suite executives have final signoff, 81 percent of non-C-suiters also have a say.
- The modern B2B buyer does their own research, frequently online. The average B2B buyer now makes an average of 12 online searches before interacting with a vendor’s website, and they are already 57 percent of the way through the buying process before they want to speak with a sales representative. Even in industrial and manufacturing industries, 67 percent of purchases are influenced by digital.
- 90 percent of B2B buyers now twist and turn through the sales funnel, looping back and repeating at least one or more task in the buyer’s journey
In a nutshell, the new B2B buyer’s journey is now a looping, multi-person online journey full of twists and turns as they flip back and forth through the research and discovery stages:
The phases are similar to the old framework, and work like this:
- Multi-participant consideration, along with the research and discovery loop
- Post-purchase experience and the loyalty loop
The new B2B buyer behaves like a B2C consumer, and they expect the same purchase experience and level of service. Nowadays, 80 percent of B2B buying decisions are based on a buyer’s direct or indirect customer experience and only 20 percent are based on the price or the actual offering.
What this means is you need to create a journey-based digital experience that guides your target audience through the stages of the buyer’s journey, and keeps them as raving fans and lifelong customers.
“It is about stepping out of the traditional B2B mindset and seeing your customers as people who live within the digital space as ‘consumers’ as well. That will open up more ideas and doors for creativity and new practices” – Daniel David, Manager, Digital Corporate Communications at Fuji Xerox.
The Best Marketing Framework to Guide Your B2B Strategy
I wrote an article similar to this about the B2C buyer’s journey, and I stand by the framework I used to drive that article—like I said above, the B2B buyer’s journey is now the same as a B2C buyer’s journey, it just involves more people.
The framework is Avinash Kaushik’s See-Think-Do-Care model.
The See-Think-Do-Care model is based on consumer intent and divides each stage into audience clusters:
- See: Largest addressable qualified audience with no commercial intent
- Think: Largest addressable qualified audience with some commercial intent
- Do: Largest addressable qualified audience with loads of commercial intent
- Care: Current customers with two or more commercial transactions
We can easily build this framework into our model with the modern buyer loops:
Within this framework certain B2B digital marketing channels are better than others, depending on the intent:
Use this audience guide to inform your marketing decisions and your strategy will drastically improve.
Crucial Elements of a Sales-Driving B2B Marketing Plan: Demand Generation, Lead Generation, and Retention Strategy
There are six jobs, or tasks, that all B2B customers must complete over the course of any B2B purchase:
- Problem identification
- Solution exploration
- Requirements building
- Supplier selection
- Consensus creation
To create a customer experience that solves for each task and guides your target audience through the buyers stages, your B2B marketing plan should have three components:
- Demand generation – top of the funnel marketing strategies that create an awareness of and interest in your product or service. Demand generation solves for the first three tasks B2B buyers need to perform; problem identification, solution exploration, and requirements building.
- Lead generation – middle and bottom of the funnel marketing strategies that convert interest into action. Lead generation tactics solve for the last three tasks buyers need to perform; supplier selection, validation, and consensus creation.
- Retention and recovery – loyalty loop marketing strategies that turn one-time customers into repeat customers. Retention and recovery bring customers back to the beginning of the journey with new problem identification and solution exploration.
In order to accomplish these three components, you’ll need to use these top 10 B2B marketing strategies:
- A great website
- Social media marketing
- Video marketing
- Content marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Pay per click advertising (PPC)
- Event marketing
- Affiliates and partnerships
- Marketing automation (including email marketing)
A few of these channels and strategies work for more than one stage in the buyer’s cycle depending on how you apply them and are therefore listed more than once below.
The Best Marketing Strategy for Any Stage of the Sales Funnel: A Professional B2B Website
It gets its own section because it plays such a huge role in every single stage of the buyer’s journey—half of all B2B customers today expect a supplier’s website to be a helpful channel and more than a third expect the site to be their most helpful channel. That number will get bigger as more Baby Boomers leave the workforce and more millennials (and soon, Gen-Z) take on buyer roles.
On top of being stocked with great content (more on content marketing further down), your website needs to be five things if you want it to generate B2B leads and sales:
- Fast – 40 percent of users will abandon a webpage if it takes longer than three seconds to load.
- Secure – 85 percent of consumers won’t browse an unsecured site. Make your website HTTPs instead of HTTP by purchasing an SSL certificate.
- Mobile-friendly – over 60 percent of online traffic comes from a mobile device. Not only that, but 80 percent of B2B buyers use a mobile device at work, and more than 90 percent of buyers say they’re likely to buy again from a vendor that had a superior mobile experience, compared to 50 percent of those who report a poor experience. Not enough? Mobile drives or influences an average of more than 40 percent of revenue in leading B2B organizations, and 50 percent of B2B search queries today are made on smartphones (and this percentage will grow to 70 percent by 2020).
- Actionable – Your website is not a brochure, it’s a 24-hour sales rep. Approximately 44 percent of B2B marketers say the main reason they abandon websites is that there’s no contact info immediately visible. Your website needs clear calls-to-action, engaging contact forms, and authority builders like testimonials, awards, and affiliations.
- Professionally designed – 37 percent of buyers will leave a website because of poor design or navigation, and 46 percent will leave a website because of a lack of message (it’s not clear what the company does).
Learn more about website design »
B2B Marketing Strategies for Demand Generation
There are dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of companies that need your services or products. You know that. I know that. The companies themselves? Not so much. They may not even realize they have a problem. That’s where demand generation comes in.
In a nutshell, B2B demand generation marketing makes companies and buyers aware of a problem they have, aware that a solution exists and that you have it, and interested in learning more about your product or service. These are the digital strategies that work best for demand generation:
- Display advertising
- Content marketing
- Video marketing
- Social media marketing (and advertising)
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
At the beginning of the B2B buyer funnel is the “see” stage, and display ads are a perfect “see” strategy. If you aren’t familiar with them, display ads are image, video, and text ads displayed on the pages of websites participating in Google’s AdSense program.
Display advertising is a reliable medium for the top of the funnel for two reasons:
- It’s contextual advertising—advertising on a website that is relevant to the page’s content.
- It takes advantage of the cell phone theory, which says consumers subliminally take in what’s around them even when they’re distracted. Later, those subliminal surroundings seem familiar, meaning consumers can remember your company simply by subliminally taking in the message from a PPC display ad while they’re doing something else.
Learn more about display advertising »
B2B Content Marketing
Content marketing is a big bucket, and one that 91 percent of B2B marketers are currently using. It includes blogs, social media, videos, press releases and news articles, FAQs, email newsletters, e-books, white papers, case studies, infographics, and many more granular pieces.
You need it because more and more buyers are relying on digital content to make decisions. More than half of all B2B buyers view at least eight pieces of content during the purchase process, and more than 80 percent of buyers view at least 5 pieces. A full 75 percent of buyers say content significantly impacts their buying decision, and 62 percent say they can finalize their purchase selection criteria based on digital content alone.
The biggest mistake you can make in content marketing at any stage of the journey is to make it all about you.
B2B companies must create “buyer enablement” content—content that supports the completion of critical buying tasks. To build this type of content, marketing leaders must:
- Understand the specific tasks that buyers need to perform through the purchase journey
- Provide information and tools that target these specific tasks
- Make the information available to buyers through their preferred channels
Gartner’s study found that currently, only roughly 20 percent of the information on B2B websites out there display characteristics of buyer enablement—which means you have a big opportunity.
“Most companies build [content strategies in the name of thought leadership, brand awareness, and personalization—focusing primarily on their own features and benefits. However, as it turns out, there’s significant commercial benefit for companies that focus their content on customers and helping them through the purchase process” – Martha Mathers, MVP, Gartner
These are the types of content marketing pieces that work at the top of the funnel:
- Blog posts – Blogs in the demand generation stage should make buyers aware of and interested in your product. Identify the problems your product or service solves, and incorporate them into engaging blogs posts. The idea here is to move away from producing content that focuses on what you do and create more content that shows customers you understand their pain points and are capable of eliminating them. Bonus points for blogs that accomplish storytelling and make an empathetic connection—B2B buyers love that. ALERT: If you want these blogs to actually work for you, you need to distribute them and optimize them for search engines (more on SEO further down)
- Social media posts – See below.
- Infographics – Our minds are drawn to images—they’re easier for our brains to understand. We can process a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second. Essentially, infographics condense information into an easy-to-understand snapshot.
- E-books – To make e-books work for you, be sure to provide the reader with actionable takeaways as well as valuable resources like checklists, tips, and actual guides. The biggest mistake you can make with an e-book is making it overly about you, which will turn off buyers in a heartbeat.
Don’t forget—you need a content distribution plan in order for your content to work for you.
Learn more about content marketing »
Social Media Marketing
Social media is the modern-day billboard. It’s a must-have for any B2B company because 75 percent of B2B buyers use social media to support their purchase decision.
Will social media become your top source of B2B leads and sales?
Probably not—that’s why it’s under the demand generation section.
Will it support your lead generation tactics, improve your branding and authority, and help tip iffy buyers over the edge?
If you’re good at it, yes—but you have to be good at it, or have a social media marketing company that is. Based on my experience in managing social media for B2B companies, these are the best types of social media posts for B2B demand generation:
- Blog posts
- Upcoming (and previous) webinars
- Statistics and “did you know” facts
- Industry news
- How to, branding, and attention-grabbing videos under 60 seconds
Before you jump into B2B social media marketing, I’ll let you in on a secret: pick your platforms wisely, because not all social media platforms are best for every business. Except for LinkedIn. If you’re B2B, you need to be on LinkedIn. Here’s an entire blog post of LinkedIn statistics that will explain why.
Learn more about social media marketing »
Every day when he gets home from work, Blue Corona’s CEO sits down on his couch, turns on his smart TV, and watches business, leadership, and marketing YouTube videos for 20-odd minutes until dinner’s ready.
He’s not alone—70 percent of B2B buyers and researchers watch videos on their path to purchase. Business decision makers LOVE online videos because they’re the fastest, easiest way to get information. No decision maker in any company ever has said, “wow, look at all the time I have.”
That’s not the only reason to use videos in the awareness stage—viewers retain 95 percent of a message when they watch it in a video compared to ten percent when reading it in a text.
Get their attention with top-of-the-funnel video marketing. The best videos for top-of-the-funnel marketing are:
- Video mid-roll and pre-roll YouTube ads
- How-to videos
- Branded videos and video ads
- Blog videos
- Entertaining, funny, or attention-grabbing videos
The key here is that you have to distribute them. Sure, you can make a bunch of videos and let them sit on your YouTube page, but that’s about as effective as throwing a bunch of brochures in the air and walking away. Distribute your videos via PPC ads and social media ads.
Learn more about video marketing »
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization is the process of altering your website’s code and content in order to rank higher in search engines (like Google), for specific keywords and phrases. You need it because 71 percent of B2B researchers begin their research with generic Google searches, and researchers do an average of 12 searches prior to engaging on a specific brand’s site.
That means you (and your competitors) have 12 opportunities for your website to rank at the top of the search results and grab the attention of a buyer.
SEO fits in both the demand generation and lead generation buckets, depending on what keywords and phrases you optimize for—for example, if you optimize a piece of content for “what is B2B marketing,” you’re more likely to catch the attention of someone in the very early stages of the buyer’s journey. Switch that optimization to “B2B marketing company reviews” and you’re more likely to attract buyers in the purchase, or “do” stage of the journey. This is called optimizing for search intent.
Learn more about search engine optimization »
B2B Marketing Strategies for Lead Generation
Once buyers are aware of your product or service, you can nudge them into the “think” and “do” stages. Below you’ll find the top marketing strategies for B2B lead generation:
- PPC search ads
- Affiliates, testimonials, partnerships
- Content marketing
Pay Per Click Search Advertising (PPC)
What if you could serve ads to buyers at the moment they’re looking for your products and services? You can, with PPC search ads.
Open a new tab in your web browser, right now, and Google something. See those ads that take up the very top of the search results page? Those are PPC search ads. On average, 41 percent of clicks go to the top 3 paid ads on the search results page. Another reason to use search ads for middle-of-the-funnel marketing? You can literally bid on keywords and phrases that drive customers to your websites—and if you’re really good at it, you can identify the key phrases that result in the most leads and sales, which will reduce your ad spend costs and increase your return.
Learn more about PPC ads »
You know the phrase, “out of sight, out of mind?” With remarketing, you’ll never be out of your target audience’s sight or mind. Remarketing (or retargeting) is the practice of serving ads across the internet to people who have already visited your website. It allows your company to seem like they’re “following” people around the internet by serving ads on the websites and platforms they use most.
On average, only two percent of your website visitors convert. Remarketing goes after that other 98 percent.
And guess what? Remarketing increases conversions. Research from WordStream found that the more times a user sees an ad, the higher the conversion rate.
Learn more about remarketing »
In the B2B setting, events help generate the most leads. This hasn’t changed from years past. Today’s empowered buyer still wants to build relationships, and events are the best way to do that. If you don’t have the capacity to host an event, make sure to go to the ones that are relevant to your industry, and always do research on attendees.
Learn more about event marketing »
Affiliates, Testimonials, Awards, Partnerships
Some marketing strategies help tip iffy prospects into becoming solid leads and sales. Creating authority builders is one of them. And when it comes to authority, everybody who knows anything about business gets that it’s not so much what you know, it’s who you know. One testimonial, award, or affiliation can do the same amount of work as 20 white papers and blogs.
Take yourself out of this article for a minute, and think about hiring someone to repair your roof. You’ve narrowed it down to two companies that cost the same and have the same general reviews. You see on one company’s website that they are affiliated with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and are Better Business Bureau accredited with an A+ rating (BBB A+). The other company’s website has no awards, partnerships, or affiliations.
You’ve got five seconds—which one would you choose?
From my gut (which—let’s be honest—is where most purchase decisions are really made) I’d choose the one with the BBB A+ rating and membership to NARI. Why? Because it increases my confidence that they’re better qualified and held to a higher standard.
Point blank, creating an extensive network of testimonials, affiliates and partnerships, and accreditations/awards is the best way to generate authority by association.
Blogs and webinars are great demand generators, but you’re solving for a different problem with lead generation content marketing. In the lead generation stage, you need to solve for the last three tasks/jobs buyers have to complete during the purchase process—supplier selection, validation, and consensus creation. The best content marketing pieces for this stage are case studies and authority-builders like:
- Content that helps create buy-in from other parties in the purchase process
- Testimonials and reviews
- Press coverage
- News releases
- Blurbs about awards and partnerships
- Anecdotes about your company’s culture, history, and core values
- Case studies
There’s a caveat: currently, 57 percent of buyers say much of the B2B content out there is useless. Here’s what buyers want: customer/peer examples, content from credible sources, and short, digestible content. Avoid product features, articles written by unseasoned pros, and long content.
SEO fits in both lead and demand generation buckets. The difference here lies in what you optimize for, or search intent. For B2B lead generation, you’ll want to focus on high-commercial-intent key phrases, including:
- Purchase-related keywords, e.g., “buy,” “RFP,” “packages” or “quote”
- Branded and competitor terms
- Contact keywords like “contact,” “call,” or “request”
- Comparison, cost, and pricing terms like “reviews” “how much,” or “cost of”
- Location-specific keyword modifiers like city, state, or zip code
B2B Marketing Strategies for Customer Retention and Recovery
Great, you’ve got a new client!
Now, how are you going to keep them? An important part of the B2B buyer’s journey is the loyalty loop—according to Marketing Metrics, it’s more than 350 percent more profitable to sell to an existing customer than to a new one. The goal is to make your buyers start the process all over again with a new product or additional service, or even better, become a brand advocate for you.
The strategies below are the best ways to accomplish customer retention and recovery.
Content marketing is one of the best ways to keep current clients interested. Not only does it keep your company top-of-mind, but it also empowers your buyers to make better decisions with your service or products. There are five types of content marketing that work for client retention and recovery:
- Blogs – Every morning, I read up on my favorite marketing and MarTech blogs to see what’s new. The better the blogs, the more skills and knowledge I gain, the more I respect the vendor, and the more likely I am to use them again.
- E-books and whitepapers – Now that you’ve got a customer, empower them by giving them educational material in the form of whitepapers and e-books.
- Social media – Regularly post your blogs, webinars, new products, and client testimonials to your social media profiles. You never know when they’ll see something that sparks their interest.
- Videos – Video marketing is great for customer retention and recovery. Create video versions of your blogs, explainer videos, and short ads for different products and services.
- Webinars – Help customers use your product or take advantage of your service more effectively with educational webinars, interviews, and Q&As.
Marketing Automation (including email marketing)
Email marketing has a 4400% ROI and $44 for every $1 spent. It’s also a great way to stay top-of-mind and help your existing customer base stay aware of new products, insights, and deals/savings from your company.
Some examples of good email marketing for the bottom of the funnel include:
- Monthly newsletters
- Blog newsletters
- Webinar notifications
- New service offering notifications
- Thank-you and culture-building emails
- Webinar announcements and reminders
- New e-book announcements
- Staff introduction emails
Learn more about email marketing »
Executing Your B2B Marketing Plan in 2019: Five Steps
Now you know the best B2B marketing strategies for each stage of the buyer’s funnel.
That’s worth exactly squat unless you know how to execute these strategies.
Step One: Identify Your Target Audience and Their Behavioral Characteristics
Who are your customers?
Most B2B business owners will rattle off company names or job titles. Bad news—that’s not who your target audience is. Meaning, a title or job role says nothing about how they behave, what motivates them to purchase, and how they react to certain marketing content. Different people are motivated and engaged by different things, not to mention that the modern B2B sales funnel involves more than one person. Open an Excel sheet, get with your company’s main players, and write down the following about your target audience:
- Their general demographics
- Their general common interests
- Their motivations for using your product
- Their pain points that your product or service solves
- Their preferred method of communication (Do they use email more than social media? Do they watch more videos on YouTube or Facebook? Are they more likely to read an infographic or a white paper?)
You can do this with Facebook’s audience insights as well as your own Google Analytics data.
Once you’ve identified who your target audience is, what motivates them, what their pain points are, and how they prefer to communicate, you can start on step two.
Step Two: Identify Your Weak Points with a Digital Competitive Analysis
At Blue Corona, everything we do for clients hinges on their digital competitor analysis. Ultimately, the growth of your company depends on how you stack up to your competitors. If you don’t know the score, you can’t win the game. This is what we always include in our competitive analyses, and what you should include in yours:
- Website evaluation (speed, mobile-friendliness, crawlability, sitemaps, etc.)
- Search engine real estate evaluation, including current search results rankings, content authority, and search opportunities
- Marketing content evaluation (whitepapers, e-books, email newsletters, etc)
- Product, service, and value proposition evaluation, including what sales funnel you and your competitors are encouraging potential customers down (to identify ways to nurture more opportunities and leads into sales)
- Online advertising evaluation across PPC and social media sites
- Customer and employee satisfaction evaluation, including online reputation gauging
With a thorough competitive analysis, you should be able to identify the strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities from a digital marketing perspective—including actionable insights you can take to close any gaps and get ahead of your competition.
Step Three: Identify Your Goals
Take a look at your digital competitive analysis. Where do you need to be in order to pull ahead of your competitors? Is it more leads? More conversions? Better branding? Identify your goals, write them down, and review them often.
Step Four: Match Your Goals to The Top B2B Digital Marketing Strategies
Once you’ve got your goals, you can match each one to the best B2B marketing strategies. For example, if your main goal is to increase leads by 20 percent, lead generation will be your biggest bucket. If you need to get more people in the door and aware of your product, demand generation should be your priority. If your reviews are under par and you can’t seem to keep customers, you’ll need more effort in the customer retention bucket. Need a little bit of everything? Fine, as long as you track and test everything.
Step Five: Track, Test, Tweak, Repeat
Our mantra at Blue Corona is Track, Test, Tweak, Repeat, and it’s truly how we operate. The root of this is in data and analytics. We track our marketing campaigns, test new strategies, tweak the campaigns based on the results, and repeat the process. The result is snowballed digital marketing success.
I see two camps of business owners that walk through our door—those that don’t fully utilize analytics, and those that are drowning in data. The solution for both is identifying which metrics matter, and to do that, you need to understand the difference between a metric and a Key Performance Indicator (KPI).
Metric: A metric is a number
KPI: A KPI is a metric that is most closely tied to the overall business success
While metrics are helpful in forming specific campaigns, only certain ones can help you refine and tailor your business strategy.
Bounce rates, page views, time on page, new visitors, and search rankings are all metrics.
These are the KPIs that really matter to your digital marketing strategy:
- Total sales
- Return on marketing investment (ROMI)
- Lead-to-sale conversion rate
- Booking rate (from calls)
- Cost per lead (CPL)
It’s Go Time. Need Help with Marketing for B2B Companies? We’ve Got Your Back.
We covered a lot, and I get that this might be a lot to wrap your head around. The strategic planning process in B2B marketing is a tough nut to crack if you’re not well-versed in tips and tricks us digital marketing pros use. Hopefully, you’ve gotten enough from this guide to get started on your B2B marketing plan. If you didn’t, let me know—I will happily fill in the blanks and answer any questions you have.
Or, take a load off and let us handle your entire B2B marketing strategy for you. Contact us here to learn more or get started on your own winning plan.
About The Author: Betsy is Blue Corona's in-house Digital Marketing Specialist. When she’s not directing Blue Corona's corporate digital content campaigns she’s urban exploring with her wife, diving into the latest marketing trends, or teaching horseback riding lessons. Twitter: @educatedbets
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