Effective marketing always requires long stints of planning, implementing, and testing different iterations. Market research, developing buyer personas, and A/B testing are all part and parcel of the industry. You know it. You’re ok with it. You budget for it.
But not all marketing efforts are created equal. Before even starting to create content for all stages of the sales funnel, you first and foremost want to keep in mind who your audience is. And when that audience consists of other businesses, you do have a steeper hill to climb. But that’s ok. With the right strategies and tools, you can overcome many of the most common B2B challenges in marketing and sales.
There are several things that make the modern B2B more sophisticated than those of yesteryear.
They Are Better Educated
Once upon a time, people had to go to libraries, purchase books, or enroll in courses to learn about a specific subject. Nowadays, you can go down a rabbit hole with any Google search. And if they’re too busy for that, they can listen to podcasts while driving or running errands. They can participate in webinars taught by experts around the world. They can download content that may have once been difficult to find.
They Have More Options
Anyone with an internet connection can get products or services from providers from pretty much anywhere around the world. So you need to be proactive about convincing them that hey, you’re the right option for them! They will also ask a lot more questions due to the fact that they have access to so much free content, as stated above.
They Expect Quick Answers
People want answers, and they want it now. This is why part of creating an extraordinary customer experience includes providing multiple ways to get them. Think about incorporating live chat, a knowledge base, discussion forums, chat bots, and provide email answers as soon as possible. Something that’s really helpful with this is software prioritizes that routes communications to specific service reps.
B2B buyers are significantly different from the B2C variety for many reasons — and it behooves you to pay attention to each one of them in order to get a good return on your marketing investment:
1. A Longer Sales Cycle
B2B purchases usually require a much larger investment than a B2C one. Therefore, prospects are going to take a lot longer to conduct research and compare their options. This alone can take months.
The larger the cost — or the longer the commitment — the more time your leads will want to take to determine whether what you’re offering is exactly what they’re looking for. Therefore, unlike some B2C products (like an energy drink or pizza by the slice), B2B offerings are not going to be selling themselves.
2. An Education Period
Whether you’re offering software as a service (SaaS), complex hardware, or extensive services, your prospects may not be aware of all of your features — or if they even need solutions they weren’t even aware existed. Let’s take a look at Facebook. It started as a social media platform. But now it also has stories, marketplaces, business pages, targeted ads, can be integrated with customer service software, etc… If the platform weren’t as popular as it is today (and you were charging tiered pricing to use it), you would need to showcase each feature and capability to your target audience, and walk them through how each of them offers X or Y solution to their pain points).
3. More Complex Buy-In
Once prospects narrowed down their choices, it may be necessary to get buy-in from a group of people — such as a C suite team or board of directors. Or maybe they just need the green light from one person, but they have to take extra time explaining why the expenditure is necessary.
There are many avenues you can take to promote your B2B business. And it’s not a matter of picking and choosing what works for you. While depending on your buyer persona, one could be more effective than others, chances are it’ll behoove you to dip your toes in all of them.
Let’s be honest. Traditional marketing can be very obnoxious. It’s why people throw out direct mail straight into the recycling bin without even reading it. It’s why you probably skip ads on YouTube or pay a premium price for your streaming services so that you don’t have to watch commercials.
Thankfully, inbound marketing offers an organic, non-disruptive way to promote your business to people who are actively looking for what you have to offer. Think of every time you make an online search. You browse through the SERPs and click on what catches your attention the most. Do the same thing for your audience. Start a well-written blog that educates your audience on your industry. Offer short-term solutions they can implement as soon as they’re done reading. Create videos explaining concepts they’d be interested in, or start a podcast interviewing other industry experts. Just like in Field of Dreams, build it and they will come.
Email marketing is another effective way to build long-term relationships with your prospects. Just as with inbound marketing, people read these communications at a time that’s convenient to them. Even if they’re just scrolling through their inbox while waiting in line at Starbucks, their eyes are on you — especially if those subject lines are compelling enough.
Also, you don’t have to come across as a desperate salesperson pushing a purchase with every email. You can also send them educational content, discounts, inform them about announcements, product launches, industry news, and any other type of lead nurturing that’s specifically relevant to them. And if someone has fallen off the radar for a while, a reengagement email might bring them back.
Social Media Marketing
Everyone and their mother is on social media. So when you’re doing market research, remember to look into the platforms your target audience uses the most. Then post regularly to keep them engaged. This could be in the form of surveys, polls, sharing your blogs, or any other industry-related news. Then implement social media management tools so that you can monitor mentions, specific hashtags, and to route messages to your customer service desk so that no one falls through the cracks.
This doesn’t have to be a time-consuming endeavor. You can set some time aside to create an editorial calendar, then pre schedule posts, so that you don’t have to come up with creative ideas every single day.
Sometimes, a campaign requires providing more extensive or in-depth content. By the same token, your readers aren’t always going to have the time to read it in one sitting. By providing content offers — such as eBooks, white papers, reports, and research papers — that they can download and read at their leisure, you’re once again making things as convenient as possible for them. You’re also establishing yourself as an industry expert.
Another benefit is that these types of content are usually gated: You ask website visitors to provide you with their email address so that they can receive the downloadable content to their inbox. Voilá! They get something that’s useful to them, and you’re expanding your email list to include people who are interested in what you have to offer. They’re called lead magnets for a reason.
Alright. Now, let’s take a look at common B2B marketing challenges and what you can do to resolve them like a pro:
1. Aligning Sales and Marketing Teams
Sales and marketing may be separate departments, but they have to work cohesively in order for both of them to do their jobs effectively. For example, if your marketing team is focusing on ABC, but when prospects schedule a call with sales, they’re told about XYZ, everyone’s going to feel confused and like they’re wasting their time.
To solve this problem, make it a company practice that your marketing and sales team meet regularly to discuss each campaign — the goals, the strategies, and how to go about achieving them. Marketing can also get a list of frequently asked questions that sales get so that they can address them in their lead nurturing and drip campaign efforts.
2. Hiring The Right Marketing Talent
You'll want to make sure that the people you’re hiring have experience working with other businesses within your industry. This will ensure that they understand the unique challenges and opportunities that come with marketing to this type of customer. If they don’t have previous experience, it’s up to you to provide that training.
Also, you should make sure that everyone you hire is willing to be adaptable. The marketing landscape is constantly changing, so it's important to have a team that is willing to evolve along with it. This flexibility will allow them to try new things and experiment with different strategies, which can ultimately lead to more success for your business.
3. Generating Quality Leads
You can’t be a solution for everyone. That just doesn’t exist — especially within the B2B context. Thinking you’re a panacea means that you’ll end up with a long list of people calling you… none of whom have either the budget or a real need for your services.
So you need to develop your ideal buyer personas and craft ultra targeted content for each of them. You can also offer free resources, such as helpful tips in a newsletter, worksheets, templates, How To videos, etc… so that they keep coming back to you for answers to their immediate questions.
4. Keeping a Healthy Pipeline
Since not everyone who comes into contact with your business is ready to buy, it’s imperative to craft content targeted to every stage of the sales funnel: Top, middle, and bottom. Thoroughly understanding each stage will help you identify gaps in the sales process, pinpoint opportunities for optimization, and forecast your sales revenue.
So make it a point to keep your leads warm: Stay in touch with them on a regular basis with a newsletter, drip campaign emails, customer loyalty programs, and even by simply sending them congratulatory emails whenever they have something to celebrate. All of these efforts help maintain brand awareness.
Something that will be fundamental to stay organized while implementing all these practices is marketing automation. Set up workflows so that specific user behaviors (or preset scheduling) will trigger certain communications to go out at the most ideal times.
5. Sales Cycle is Too Long
As mentioned earlier, the sales cycle in B2B sales takes longer than B2C. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to speed up the process. Implementing lead nurturing best practices, as well as personalizing communications, and delighting your prospects as a regular part of conducting business will work wonders in enticing people to sign that sales contract with you.
5. Prospects Lose Interest
Due to the many components involved in B2B purchases, prospects are rarely in the position to commit to buying the first time they reach out to you. Therefore, it’s crucial to implement a follow-up process. Prospects need time to marinate in what they’ve learned about your product or service — and they’ll definitely be looking at your competition while they do that.
This is yet another compelling reason to hone in those inbound marketing skills, as well as to keep touching base with them through your lead nurturing emails. Out of sight, out of mind. But send them relevant content that’s helpful to them regardless of their stage in their buyer’s journey, and they’ll be more likely to reach out to you with an open wallet.
6. Prospects Are Dragging Their Feet
Sometimes, prospects take their sweet time making a decision. And while that’s understandable, it may also be a sign that you need to craft more compelling content to overcome their apprehensions. You can get a better sense of what these are by conducting additional market research, asking your sales team for frequently asked questions or raised concerns, and by straight out asking people who haven’t told you what the hold up is.
Even if a particular lead doesn’t become a customer, you can use these insights to develop better messaging moving forward. You’ll also want to make sure your content stands out. B2B prospects are bombarded with information all day, so you need to (a) grab their attention, and (b) offer something valuable (reread the sections on email marketing and content offers above).
In addition, take a good look at whether you’re being too pushy or salesy. Nobody likes that. Focus on building relationships. B2B prospects are more likely to engage with you if they feel like you understand their needs and concerns. Spend time getting to know them and their businesses. Find out what their pain points are and show them how you can help them solve them.
Also, don’t be afraid to follow up! B2B prospects are busy, so it’s helpful to touch base with them periodically. Send them an email or give them a call to see how they’re doing and if they have any questions about your products or services.
7. Developing Account Based Marketing
If you are exclusively focusing your efforts on a cookie-cutter approach for your marketing campaigns, you’ll attract some business, but you will eventually hit a wall.
Account based marketing (ABM), on the other hand, is all about personalization. And it starts with you first identifying the target companies you’re going to reach out to.
You can start doing this by making a list of companies that would be among your ideal customers. Then develop a content strategy to address their specific needs. You can also get your sales team to do some research as to who are the decision makers within those businesses, so that you can address your communications to them.
8. Creating Engaging Content
Write about topics that are relevant to your target audience, and find new and interesting ways to present information. Prioritize being customer-centric. This is not the time to focus on your achievements as a business owner. This is all about how their lives are about to become a lot easier, so that they can focus on doing what they do well.
Offer something of value, whether that’s information, insights, or even just a new perspective. Enable them to leave comments or questions directly on the page — whether it’s blog comments, social media posts, webinar questions, or the ability to submit their queries via email or landing page form.
9. Outdated Technology
Are you still using a flip phone? Do you have a Rolodex on your desk for work? What about dial-up internet? VHS tapes anyone? While there may be an outlier who loves to tell people about such eccentricities, most people reading this are likely using more modern items. Some may even be wondering what these wonders are (when did these kids enter the workforce?)
Within a B2B example, take a good look at what you’re offering to customers. Are you still requiring them to pick up the phone for queries? Do you offer a native payment option, or do they have to call you for that too? Are you expecting them to print out documents before they can sign them? Do they have to fax you stuff? Mail you a check? You don’t offer online scheduling? Seriously, what are you doing? These old-fashioned practices may have been acceptable a couple of years ago, but today, they’re just out of touch and obnoxious, and are causing you to lose a lot of business. And no, I don’t care that you’re so good at what you do. So’s your competition.
10. Tech Stack Not Integrated
Find me a single business who uses only one software to run their operations, and I’ll show you a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you. The reality is that whether you’re a startup or a Fortune 500 company, you have plenty of applications that facilitate how you operate: email, calendar, internal chat, live chat for customers, video conferencing, customer relationship management (CRM), content management system (CMS), payroll, etc… So it’s crucial that all of them communicate well with each other. This eliminates the need to manually enter information when you switch from app to app.
11. Outdated Website
Your website is your presentation card. It’s often people’s first impression of your business. So you want to make it appealing, intuitive, and easy to navigate. Sometimes, businesses who’ve been around for a time created a site several years ago, and they haven’t updated it since. This is a huge — yet easily solvable — mistake.
Things you want to address ASAP are: loading times. Your customers are not gonna wait around for your site to slowly pop up on their screens as if this were 1999. You also want it to have a responsive design, so that it loads well regardless of screen size (desk top, laptop, tablet, or smartphone).
You should also use heat mapping software to see how far along each page your visitors view, which pages have a high bounce rate, and have a consistent design throughout the site. Implementing these B2B design best practices will work wonders for your conversion rates.
As you can see, the road to success in B2B marketing is peppered with challenges. But as with anything else that’s ever worth it, once you start learning how to overcome them, implementing strategies that work become second nature. Trust the process. And if you’re too busy to take care of it yourself, we’d be more than happy to help you.