When most people think of marketing, they think of Nike’s killer 30s TV commercials, big billboards for major car brands, and funny tweets by Burger King. Yet most advertising isn’t nearly that (visually) exciting. In 2019, the global B2B eCommerce market was over 6 times the size of its B2C counterpart. The pandemic has likely helped to close that gap, but the difference is still very significant.
A lot of advertising communication happens between businesses, and it’s quite a different ball game than when communicating to everyday consumers. The biggest difference between the two is that one is usually a much longer-term project than the other.
There are relatively very few ‘impulse’ purchases in the B2B world. Patience and strategy are the name of the game.
In this article we’re going to discuss the basics of B2B marketing and how to set yourself up for success when trying to generate leads & sales. Let’s start with the fundamental tools you’ll need to get started.
What are the Essential B2B Marketing tools?
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Before getting your feet wet, you’ll need to identify what your targets are. You won’t know if your marketing efforts are succeeding if you’re not measuring the right numbers. So, first figure out what would be the ideal outcome of your marketing.
Is it a contact-form submission? A purchase on your SaaS eCommerce site? Somebody clicking on the Call Now button on your Facebook page?
One thing we always advise our clients is to try and ignore the vanity metrics, or metrics that can be increased simply by increasing the budget. Getting a high amount of impressions or clicks on a PPC campaign usually just depends on how much money you’re putting in. Instead, look at the Click-Through Rate, for example, as a measure of how effective your PPC ads are.
In most B2B settings, the main metric is cost per lead. How much you’re spending to generate a single lead. You could also go slightly further than that if you’re qualifying your leads and filtering out the ones with little or no value. In that situation, cost per qualified lead is your golden number. This can be easily calculated by dividing your marketing spend by the number of useful leads you’ve generated in that time span.
Throwing in your generated revenue can also give you your ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) – another metric most marketers use.
All of this said, KPIs are not just about taking a couple of main metrics and ignoring the rest. As we’ll discuss later on, there are a myriad of smaller metrics you should pay attention to depending on the sub-goal of your marketing efforts. Especially when you’re just starting to communicate with your audience.
B2B marketing is a long-term game. Expecting the leads to start flowing from the word go is a good way to disappoint yourself. So, for each piece of content or marketing effort your produce, have a metric in mind that will help you judge its effectiveness, and make sure you’re gaining knowledge about your audience based on what they react to. More on content later.
Everything we just mentioned above sounds great, but if your business’s online setup isn’t giving you these numbers, or you don’t know where to find them, you’re DOA.
Answer the following questions to make sure your technical set-up is ready to give you the numbers you need.
- Is Google Analytics (or an equivalent) installed on your site, and do you have access to it?
- Are goals & conversions (such as “Call Now” clicks and contact form submissions) set-up on Google Analytics (or an equivalent)?
- If you’re advertising on Google Ads, are conversions set-up, and is it linked to your Google Analytics account?
- Is Google Search Console set-up and linked to your Google Analytics account?
- If you’re communicating on Facebook, is your Facebook Pixel set-up correctly on your website, and recording conversions?
- Is your Google My Business account properly set-up with the right information and assets?
If you’ve answered no to any of these questions, or you’re unsure, make it priority number 1 to fix it. These technical issues are usually not too difficult to sort out, but can take time. If you begin communicating without this technical setup complete, you’ll be losing valuable information about your efforts that you won’t be able to recover later.
If you’re not sure where to start, speak to an expert.
How do you identify your B2B audience?
Thoroughly identifying exactly who your audience is has two main benefits.
- It helps you understand where you could reach them
- You can tailor your content to what they’re looking for
While business decision-makers are usually the main target, it’s quite unlikely that any B2B business will have just one target demographic. The decision-maker is influenced by a vast and complex set of factors that could encourage them to contact a business. Word of mouth remains one of the most powerful motivators. This means that if you’re a financial services business looking to target CFOs, it doesn’t mean you should limit all your communications to CFO-friendly content. That CFO likely has a wide professional network and colleagues who could influence their decisions.
So, should you create content that appeals to every individual a CFO might have in their lives? Not exactly, but thinking slightly wider than a typical CFOs interests will help broaden the scope of your communications.
Spend time figuring out where your target audience is most easily reachable, and what sort of content they would find truly valuable. Let’s start with the first bit.
Which Channels should you use for B2B Marketing?
The most common digital B2B marketing channels are:
- Social media
- PPC/Display Advertising
- Paid Search (SEM)
- SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) & Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
There are others, but these are the main ones from a digital point of view.
All of that said, choosing B2B communication channels is definitely a subjective choice. It should be based on where you feel your audience is most receptive to communication and can vary from industry to industry, from company to company.
It may still make sense in your particular case to rely on cold-calls, but studies have shown only around 2% of cold-calls actually result in an appointment. And as time goes by, the prospect of cold-calling potential clients in an age of high-quality B2B communication strategies seems more and more inappropriate.
The main B2B communication channels mentioned above can be split into two; inbound and outbound. Let’s start with the latter. Outbound communication can be simply defined as communication that happens when the receiver isn’t looking for it. They’re scrolling through their social media, browsing a news site, or watching a video on YouTube when they’re suddenly faced with an ad.
This type of advertising is extremely common, yet is essential for brands looking to build awareness around their company, product, or service. The effectiveness of this type of advertising is heavily reliant on the quality of the content. Many-a-time, brands resort to fantastical claims or clickbait to draw attention away from other content that their audience is looking at. With that said, there are versions of outbound marketing that are common, and extremely useful for B2B communication.
Before you ask, no, we’re not talking about creating a company profile on LinkedIn and posting the exact same content you post on Facebook. LinkedIn can be used for much more than that from an individual level. Having company leadership active on LinkedIn can be an excellent way to share knowledge and industry insights to everyone in their network – most likely, individuals with a sphere of influence that will include potential clients.
If said leadership has curated their LinkedIn network well, posts high-value content, and communicates genuinely, word-of-mouth can spread organically and effectively.
There are countless studies showing that word-of-mouth is likely the most effective business generator. LinkedIn is a channel that very much encourages post virality based on its engagement. If a post gets traction, it’s reach can expand exponentially, very quickly.
It’s also one of the slower mainstream social media channels. In the sense that the lifespan of a post can sometimes be several weeks long, versus the immediacy of posts on other platforms such as Facebook & Instagram. On the latter channels, even successful posts don’t last longer than a couple of days before losing relevance.
For the reasons mentioned above, LinkedIn is the best outbound form of B2B marketing when it comes to social media, but your mileage may vary based on which industry/location you’re in.
B2B PPC/Display Advertising
As we’ve mentioned, the typical B2B audience is usually a relatively small one. Standard targeting methods offered by ad platforms such as Facebook & Google Ads can provide some measure of success, but as time goes by, these methods are becoming slightly less effective due to privacy updates. This slight inaccuracy makes it difficult to justify the advertising spend required to generate decent quality traffic.
That said, however, using PPC/Display advertising for retargeting purposes can have major benefits. Once someone has shown interest in a piece of communication you’ve created, then visits your website, you likely want that person to revisit soon. That’s where retargeting comes in. It’s also the main reason your technical setup needs to be on point – without it, accurate retargeting isn’t possible.
Just make sure your communication when retargeting is tailored to those who are already aware of what you offer.
B2B Email Marketing
Another highly-effective outbound form of B2B marketing is email, but it works slightly differently to the rest. Obviously, before you start sending out emails, you need to build a list. This can be done in quite a few different ways, including the use of lead magnets, website pop-ups, or simply getting all your business cards you’ve collected over the years and inserting them into a database (not exactly recommended). Building a database of useful contacts is not easy, but it is essential, and a subject that requires its own deep-dive. In the meantime, read this to get more acquainted.
Once your list starts growing, you can start emailing. But do so with caution. Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing your email marketing content.
Provide valuable content
Don’t invade someone’s inbox with sales language from day one. You need to give your list a reason to open your second email, not just your first. Email marketing (like most other good marketing) is about building a value-based relationship over time. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and think about topics and information that they would find interesting, coming from you.
Set clear expectations in terms of frequency and content, and stick to them. If you only get in touch when you need a sales boost, you’ll start to see your open-rate plummet. Be a consistent voice in your audience’s inbox.
Email marketing is normally a relatively one-way street in terms of conversation. It doesn’t have to be. Speak like a human and invite conversation. If your content is genuine and engaging, you’ll likely have a few individuals wanting to prod the subject a little further. These individuals could be extremely valuable ambassadors for your business.
There is a lot more to email marketing than the above, but the best tip we can give you is to go ahead and get started. Create a plan and start understanding what kind of email communication works best for your business.
Paid Search (SEM) for B2B
If you’re leading a fledgling B2B company, or one that has been around for longer but has never invested much in terms of SEO, then paid search is probably the best place to start. It’s the first form of inbound marketing we’ve talked about so far. Inbound marketing refers to traffic or interest generated from those who are actively searching for something related to your business. The most obvious version of this is traffic generated through search engines.
With paid search, you target particular keywords that are relevant to your target audience and your business with text ads leading to your business’s website. Sounds simple, because it is. That said, there’s still quite a bit of nuance that goes into it. The most important aspect to keep in mind is the journey your audience goes through.
Always think about the flow that is created from the moment someone searches for a particular term. They’ve written their search term because they’re looking for something in particular, and that’s what you need to make sure to deliver. Don’t target keywords with content that is wildly different from the intent of the searcher, otherwise you’ll just get ignored.
Make sure your copy is topical, clear, and makes a promise your audience is interested in. That’s only half the battle though. You may have won a click, but the content that they see after clicking is just as important. Now you need to deliver on your promise. The landing page needs to provide exactly what they’re looking for with the right amount of detail, along with a strong CTA – either to purchase, read more, or to get in touch.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) & Content Marketing
SEO is a beast of a subject. The amount of content available on the subject is nearly limitless. That’s why we wrote a simple guide for you to figure out whether SEO would be worth a try for your business.
On average, traffic generated organically through search engines is usually one of the highest volume traffic channels for websites, along with the most valuable. Users arriving organically through a search term you’ve ranked for are high-intent individuals who’ve decided that you have what they’re looking for. Therefore their bounce-rate is low, their engagement with your website is high, and they are the most likely to convert. Building this audience is probably one of the most cost-effective, long-term ways to build business.
That said, SEO mostly begins and ends with great content. Obviously, you need to figure out what content you’re going to create for your audience, along with understanding the feasibility of ranking for certain keywords. With that said, SEO is a long-term game that requires strategy and long-term thinking. Here are the basics of what you need:
- A well-designed website with a solid technical SEO foundation
- A set of high-traffic keywords with low levels of competition
- A malleable content strategy that provides value to searchers
- Analytics that provide real learnings of what’s working
With those four beats covered, you can begin to build organic traffic that provides value to your business. We’ve written a fair share about SEO if you want to keep on learning.
How do you create the right B2B content?
That’s the golden question.
Building great B2B marketing content is a test of your understanding of what your audience finds valuable.
Think about what would attract you, as someone who is probably targeted by B2B communication on a consistent basis. We’re willing to bet that it’s not an email with a subject line in all caps screaming about a new product launch. Or an insistent social media ad, constantly throwing sales figures and percentages in your face, telling you that their offer expires in 24 hours.
Write and create content (or get someone else to do it) that provides something of value to those you want to be communicating with, and leaves out the rest. Don’t try to be something to everyone, otherwise you’ll be nothing to everyone.
Also, if you’re writing for SEO, make sure you’re not writing for SEO.