I have been fortunate to experience humility personally, and within the culture of business only after having sat and played on each side of the table – B2B, B2C, tactical and strategic.
Regardless of agency-side or corporate side (where I sit today), or the level of organizational digital maturity, I see a consistent model in the form of the customer narrative that has seen B2B marketing evolve from its days of crawling to a stumbling and face improving walking pace.
Within the context of the end user (customer in this case), there is a hell of a lot of noise across B2B and B2C with marketers. You won’t get it out of a book or theory at another lecture, but perhaps only through time and energy invested the fog begins to clear and you see clarity in the vision of the customer and his journey.
Foremost, to put the debate to bed, yes there are some clear distinctions between the markets of B2B and B2C. Whether it’s the demographics, firmographics, user-journey’s and buying cycles, the differences do exist.
But while clear distinctions remain between the business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets; buying cycles are typically longer, and the purchase motivation is different, there are fundamental ways in which the marketing lines of B2B and B2C are blurred and overlapped.
How so? A B2B buyer are maturing in the digital space, becoming just as empowered as their consumer counterparts. Yes, B2B was slow to the game, and perhaps this is partly due to the change in view of risk-tolerance, innovation or new blood reaching the c-level with a refreshed mind-set.
It shouldn’t be unknown that like the B2C marketplace online, the B2B space is a rapidly evolving marketplace that is evolving at unprecedented speed. It’s essentially a living and breathing organism within its own eco-system. To see B2B marketing evolve to more mature levels in the digital space, may be the realization that traditional marketing efforts are simply not enough to stay competitive.
To excel in this B2B space, every marketer must relinquish old ways of thinking and doing, and expand their existing models to the data-driven decision-making that can complement years of experience. The traditional, linear marketing funnel is experiencing a rapid death. To survive, they must shift their lens to focus on continuous interaction through relationship connectivity, and with singular meaningful dialogue…not just ‘communications’.
The ultimate goal is not summed up to ‘engagement’. Engagement is simply the context of what needs to be performed. The meaningful outcome out of all of this is to achieve the individuals’ goal of the moment.
How do you do it? An easy place to start is to begin departing from what makes you comfortable. Take risks. Look no further than mainstream personal brands of Mark Cuban or Richard Branson. These serial entrepreneurs got to where they are today through constantly stepping out of their comfort zone, making qualified failures, and applying the new found knowledge.
To make this leap in change, and realize that humility, just become the customer. If your strategy or campaign or assignment does not have a goal to understand the customer, and how you plan to engage and measure the success factors of that engagement, then stop.
The overlap of where B2C and B2B marketing blends together, is that both begin and ends with the users wants and needs, and addressed by understanding the intent of their behavior. Empathy plays a major role in this to pivot the mindset of marketing “to a customer”, to market by doing something “with the customer”.
It may just start by inducing to your marketing vocab sharing, helping and conversing. This mindset shift to move away from driving the point home about how great your product is, only resonates with you and your internal team. The end user doesn’t care, and its just more noise that dilutes the core message that is meaningful to them.
Your customers do not care about your product, rather they care what it does for them and how it helps them accomplish something meaningful, or a solution to a problem at the moment it matters. Thus your B2B marketing should focus on content (broad term) that connects on how it helps the customer today, and better and faster than the next guy.
When you consider the users buying-cycle, and their behavioral intent they exhibit at each stage, the foundational goal you’ll be faced with is how to gain the users trust….trust in that they’re making not just the right decision, but the best decision for their needs at that moment.
If you focus most your efforts on how a customer can get the most out of your business, then that is becomes the foundation to plant your marketing pillars. That foundation looks like your mass potential customer base can immediately understand and feel you’re providing value to their business. Deliver that, and you’ll build the trust.
When I wear the digital marketing gloves, and open up the hood of a brands objectives and components of what makes it work today, I’ll spend some immediate focus on the digital marketing framework and get an understanding how mature the brand is with the core pillars of the framework.
One of the pillars of this framework is the infrastructure and assets. In other words, do the players on the team (marketers, product, business units, etc.) have responsive technologies and tools that allow them to listen….and respond, to the customer across the omi-channels customers will travel.
Lets assume now that you’ve built trust with your B2B market and audience. What next?
The next step will vary depending on your goals. Rather instead, look at this not necessary as to “now here is what we need to do next”, but rather as a signal to cement and build that relationship. Look at the big picture. What is your roadmap over the next 12 to 24 months to build the relationship with your audience?
Leads and revenues keep the lights on, I get that. But there are tactical pieces to build leads and revenues in the short term. There is even greater value and impact to build leads and revenue by not focussing on just the volume, but the overall lift in your meaningful measurements in how you build that relationship, which is a long term path. Think of one-off sales versus recurring and amplified advocacy from your one customer.
The wakeup call in B2B is where marketing (and product) is the necessity to marry themselves to the customer, and make the relationship the best it can be. And just like marriage, there is complexity in the relationship between the customer and marketing/sales/product. To help simplify this complex marriage, understanding the human element within marketing/sales/product will help better serve the customer in a personal and meaningful way.
Now here’s the shift in mindset (mind explosion 😉 ) The relationship between you (the marketer) must be built across the full customer journey, and not just in one operational silo.
The measurement of your customer relationships across online (and online) will be solely determined by the meaningful experiences in the moment that you deliver across marketing, sales, product, and service. The relationship is not just transactional. Like your childhood friendships or your marriage, your story is built over time through meaningful experiences and continuous conversation.
The short term gains will lay the foundation to win the long-term power of that customer relationship. And you’ll know when you’ve reached that meaningful point when you get the first sale, second sale, referral or a their voice to evangelise their trust and experience….like my wife does with her Facebook status, BBM status, What’s App. status, and Tweets.
Simply put, for B2B marketing focus what you want that cohesive story to look like with that customer and either begin to set the stage, or take it to the next level, or knock their socks off.
Like B2C marketing, the B2B marketer might think the answer is then about personalization. Yes, it’s a start, but it goes far beyond personalization. If you can anticipate the customers wants before they ask, you’ve hit the grand slam in the world series.
Unless you have Nostradomous as a marketer on your team, then the next best opportunity is what you already have, but likely not using. Data.
Baking data into your mix will help B2B marketers get to the next level of that relevant connectivity to deliver ‘at the moment’ the customer engages…and even before. For example, Groupon shows this by understanding I like Sushi, I live in Vancouver, and like many couples and families, will eat out on the weekend. So its no surprise to see on a Friday afternoon an email arrive to my Blackberry from Groupon about a timely deal on a fine dining sushi restaurant.
The magic to the short-term wins, such as conversations, is in creating that trust and loyalty in the long-term. Simply reflect on your own personal relationship stories and you’ll find similar context.
The beauty in marketing today is the wealth of data at their disposal. Between transactional data, CRM data, web analytics data and hooking into 3rd parties for the external data (ex. hooking into LinkedIn to append the customers business profile, and Facebook for their personal profile), will help you achieve Nostradamus capabilities to deliver predictive insights that can drive intelligence actions to foster and nurture the relationship.
This data-driven approach to a customer’s activity and behaviors will go well beyond what you see today in your CRM customer account profile. Think what data you can extrapolate to unveil churn events, price sensitivity, up/cross sell opportunities or timely re-buys during personal ‘moments’.
When I’ve talk with other businesses about this, a common thought they all seem to feel is ‘I can’t afford it. I need to buy more tools or software to do that.”. Yes, some tools are needed but there are plenty of free options on the web today to help. But regardless of the cost, first think about the approach and support. Don’t just throw money at new technologies to solve problems, as you’ll soon realize you’ve bought the car, but don’t know how to drive it, let alone get the optimum performance from it.
I’m a huge advocate of data-driven marketing because I’ve found its much easier to prove the value of B2B (and B2C) marketing investments, when I can demonstrate the impact on spend and return. But even when it’s easier to “sell on the numbers”, the challenge still exists to solve or improve the issue when the immediate outcome is not a transactional sale. But those who have the mind-set and understanding of the relationship-value, you will get buy-in much easier.
Marketing, and in my case primarily digital marketing, must be spread through the value-chain of the business. The strategy and platform to drive this is only 50% transactional (ex. ecommerce sales or online conversions). The other half is transformational growth to “get in bed” with the customer.
Within the digital strategy, as a B2B marketer your goal will be to shape the digital eco-system so that it can cohesively become a component of sales, service and product, and deliver connectivity across all platforms – channels, devices, etc.
To accomplish this however it requires companies to accept the challenge from the above c-levels. They must embrace the opportunity to transform the business to reach the customer ‘in the moment’. I’ve often found it’s easier said than done, as this business transformational voice from above is often challenged to support their words with the investment to prove the gains. The tunnel-vision short-term view is a disease.
With the right organizational structure (and technology, data and opertions) that works within the business “for the customer”, and a c-level mindset to make this marketing pivot “for the customer”, will help knock down the silos in the business, and apply success measures for each area against the customer relationship.
You’ll find more acceptance and action for this among those nimble businesses whose business model holds a primary footprint in the online eco-system.
So where to start? I’m sure there are over two dozen places a B2B marketer could begin this transformation. But I believe at the core of it all is within you and those who influence change in your organization. So it’s a mindset shift from above that is a first place to start.
Your challenge is understanding if they’re willing to listen and accept change? If you can win them to your way of thinking before the customer does (which means it probably too late), you’ll get less friction to begin the dialogue to make small, incremental, but impactful changes.
I prefer the old adage of the half cup full, or half empty. You can probably see what is working for your business, but play the advocate and ask what are you doing that is not working.
Starting there can work to get the issues on the table and spark the conversations, but it should never stop there. This change in mindset is long term, and what I like to consider an ‘evolution’. It’s something that doesn’t stop, and shouldn’t stop.
Digital is a living and breathing thing. So is your customer. Create a marriage with them and your business. Nurture and foster it like your grandparents did over their 60 years of marriage. How did they do it? Conversation to get understanding, empathy and anticipate the others needs and wants. The end result is relationship that is priceless.