The B2B (business-to-business) environment is rapidly changing. Most of this change is driven by businesses modeling the purchasing behavior of the general population by using personal and professional networks, as well as information available online, to inform decision making. This “crowd sourcing” of solutions is a paradigm shift for any business that provides products, services or information to other businesses.
To remain competitive, smart businesses and organizations must adapt or die.
Fortunately, for most companies, salvation may be only a few, key adjustments away. Because B2B markets are increasingly mirroring general consumer behavior, we have experience and analytics that tell us how to keep potential buyers engaged.
But transitioning your marketing and digital strategies to reach potential customers in this new environment comes with its own set of unique challenges, the most important of which is creating an integrated, responsive marketing team that is able to provide engaging, relevant and unified content on multiple channels.
The Changing Landscape
The Internet has democratized expertise, and mobile technology has given everyone a voice.
And this shift is reflected in B2B buyers. According to a Acquity Group study, “Overall, 94 percent of B2B buyers report that they conduct some form of online research before purchasing a business product.”
A similar study conducted by CEB Marketing Leadership Council, in partnership with Google, found, “On average, B2B researchers do 12 searches prior to engaging on a specific brand's site.”
Customers’ willingness to perform these deep Internet research dives is definitely changing the way business is conducted; the Acquity Group study found the number of people who spent almost their entire budget online (90% or more) doubled from 2013 to 2014.
And that number will only continue to grow.
Real Problem or Real Opportunity?
The Acquity Group study also found, “Only 37 percent of B2B buyers who conduct research through a supplier’s website feel it’s the most helpful tool for research.”
For many B2B businesses, this is an opportunity masquerading as a problem. By broadening digital outreach, while centralizing management, B2B organizations better positioned themselves to engage and convert buyers.
The CEB study identifies three levels of digital marketing sophistication. The least sophisticated is “dispersed experimentation,” which basically involves a company hiring a social media expert, a web designer and a content writer.
This hit-or-miss approach makes it nearly impossible to develop a consistent and compelling digital presence.
The middle level, or “consolidation of expertise,” involve gathering and allocating limited resources most effectively. During this phase, businesses recognize what they need to be successful, but struggle with recruiting talent and implementing strategy.
At the height of sophistication sits “multichannel management.” In this scenario, everyone is not only an expert in her or his niche, but they all have a deep understanding of their role in meeting the company’s well-developed, comprehensive marketing vision through digital media.
The first, most honest and important challenge is figuring out where your company is on that spectrum.
A Part from the Whole
No matter what level of digital marketing sophistication your company possesses, there are a few things you must do to become a well-oiled, digital marketing machine.
Luckily, they all involve navigating the gap of a common grammar mistake.
Many B2B companies have marketing teams that operate “apart from the whole.” Commonly referred to as “siloing,” these groups work independently, on individual campaigns, often with different goals. This is one of the biggest potential pitfalls for most companies, as siloing diffuses the blame for failed implementation.
Imagine kicking the tires on a new car and the radio breaks, the A/C stops working, the battery dies and the other three tires go flat. The best you can hope for is to ducktape it back together and pray it gets you home.
That’s the danger of silos; it’s very difficult to identify what’s broken and why, and, besides, you’ve invested too much to start from scratch.
However, for B2B businesses willing to embrace the challenges of empowering “a part” of the whole by integrating and connecting siloed groups to form specialized teams working towards implementing a unified and vetted strategy, they will be able to create a unique and engaging user experience that leads to conversions.
There are different approaches to accomplish this, but your internal marketing strategy must be transparent, codified and replicable, while your external marketing must engage a savvy marketplace much more adept at filtering out useful information from content farming and clickbait.
Yes, Content is (Still) King, But. . .
It’s no longer good enough to make the front page of Google for your chosen keywords. Content’s kingdom has expanded greatly and, depending on the size of your organization, you must allocate resources prudently.
But, no matter how broad or streamlined your approach is, you must have a cohesive digital marketing plan that dedicates human resources to reach at least some of the many channels buyers frequent.
According to Nick Panayi, Head of Global Brand and Digital Marketing CSC, “The role of the content directors is to reinforce and integrate the content efforts of the business units…we loathe seeing good ideas get buried because no one owns the activation side of the equation.”
In other words, how can a brilliant idea go viral if no one Tweets, Facebooks or Instagrams it? Not to mention if no one, Vines, Snapchats or Periscopes it. And this is another potential hurdle for businesses shifting their marketing strategies: they may decide to deemphasize content quality to focus on reaching the widest possible audience.
If your demands exceed your capacity, scale back and focus on providing your best content to fewer channels. Let analytics be your guide.
B2B Digital Marketing Resources
This post is just the tip of the iceberg.
For a more thorough understanding of the current and future B2B marketing landscape, and how your business can adapt accordingly, you should read “The Digital evolution in B2B Marketing,” and “Uncovering the Shifting Landscape in B2B Commerce.”