Guest post by Austin Cline.
The past two decades have brought disruptive technological change and radically reshaped B2B marketing practices.
Traditional B2B marketing strategies relied heavily on direct and outbound methods. Cold calls, trade shows, direct mail, and print ads were the primary forms of marketing. Getting your message in front of the right prospects was often difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.
The spread of social media and blogging, radically faster Internet speeds, online video, the rise of influencers, and reliance on mobile devices continues to change the way companies market their products and services.
The expanded range of marketing platforms and pace of change require B2B companies to continually re-examine their strategies.
While cold calling and print media remain useful, and live event marketing remains effective at every stage of the sales funnel, digital channels have surpassed traditional methods in terms of importance, reach, and budget allocation.
Here are 10 B2B digital marketing strategies to help maintain a competitive edge.
1. Use Market Research to Understand Your Audience
Successful B2B marketing strategies start with research.
B2B companies typically target niche markets with specific needs, compared to the broader approach often used for B2C marketing. Narrowing the aim of your marketing efforts requires focused research.
Marketing is viewed less as promotion and more as providing helpful guidance when you understand the needs and interests of your target buyer. Without research, marketers have less data for helping the sales team address the main points of potential customers.
Research should inform every strategy and marketing decision. You may discover your intended audience prefers one social media platform over another. You’ll identify the top influencers. You may also uncover useful details for tailoring sales copy and content to the interests of your target audience.
Resources and data commonly used for this initial research include:
- Industry reports
- Market size analysis
- Buyer background research
- Online communities
- Competitor analysis
Research Your Market
Searching for market reports for your industry is a good starting point. Reports help provide a clearer picture of potential market opportunities and the overall state of the industry.
You can use search operators to find information about specific market segments on targeted websites. For example, Forbes often covers financial technology and software (fintech), so if that’s your target market, you may want to do a search like this:
site:forbes.com fintech software
Additional market size analysis gives you a realistic idea of the potential scope of your marketing efforts. Your analysis may uncover higher or lower demand compared to your initial expectations.
Analyze Your Buyers
Research the background of your typical buyers, such as their job titles, income, and interests. These details help build a buyer persona, allowing marketers to fine-tune the delivery of content. A B2B buyer persona should include at a minimum:
- Job title or role
- Typical company size and industry
- Key concerns /pain points
- Geography / region
- Technographics (What other software or technologies are likely to be using?)
Using personas enable you to optimize your content development and may improve email marketing open rates, increase the effectiveness of landing pages, and provide many additional marketing benefits.
Define Your Value
Based on your market and target buyer, compare your value proposition to your competition. Analyze what they have to offer compared to what you have to offer that matters to this buyer.
Using the research and competitor analysis, define the unique value proposition of your product. This will guide your marketing efforts, starting with developing new content for and possibly even redesigning your B2B website.
2. Upgrade to a High-Performance B2B Website
Your website is the core of your B2B marketing strategy. How long has it been since you’ve done a redesign? Is the look still fresh, or getting a bit dated? Most importantly, does it help the buyer(s) you identified above to want to do business with you?
The average age of B2B buyers has decreased. About half of all B2B decision-makers are now Millennials.
Instead of phone calls with sales reps, they prefer to conduct their own research online.
Millennials are tech-savvy and more critical than other generations of a poorly built or outdated website. Without a clear message, contact information, simple forms, and easy navigation, potential buyers leave websites.
A few of the key components to a quality B2B website include:
- Fast-loading web pages
- Mobile-friendly designs
- Access to resources
- Intuitive navigation
- Professional appearance
- Clear calls to action (CTAs)
At a minimum, people want to visit websites that load quickly and properly on their devices, whether they are browsing from a desktop computer or smartphone.
Retail statistics show that 47% of online shoppers expect a web page to load within two seconds. B2B buyers are often more pressed for time than the average consumer, making page speed even more essential for B2B marketing.
Educate Your Buyers
Today’s B2B buyers conduct more research on their own and expect websites to provide them with the information they want. According to Gartner, members of B2B buying teams spend nearly half of their time doing independent research, and:
“When B2B buyers are considering a purchase‚ they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers. When buyers are comparing multiple suppliers‚ the amount of time spent with any one sales rep may be only 5% or 6%.”
Provide buyers with a wide range of helpful resources. Include a section for white papers, case studies, and videos. Create content to address every stage of the buying process.
3. Implement the Latest SEO Techniques
Search engine optimization (SEO) starts during the development of a website. Keyword research helps content developers use the same words and phrases that prospective customers are mostly likely to use in search, and to develop optimized copy for those terms.
Most people know that SEO includes a series of different techniques intended to increase rankings on search result pages. Less known is the fact that SEO tends to provide one of the greatest ROIs compared to other marketing techniques.
According to the research, leads obtained through search engines have a 14.6% close rate. Outbound leads, such as cold calls and direct mail, only provide an average close rate of 1.7%.
SEO also offers cumulative, long-term benefits that continue to deliver a return on your initial investment. However, the SEO tactics used for B2B companies vary from common B2C SEO practices.
The main considerations for B2B SEO include:
- Optimizing for multiple queries
- Performing on-page optimization for all important elements
- Relying on low-volume keyword phrases
- Converting organic search traffic
Optimize Content for Multiple Stakeholders
B2C purchases typically involve one person while B2B decisions may involve half a dozen (or more) individuals – each performing their own research.
On average, seven people are involved in most B2B sales. Each person uses his or her own approach for researching solutions to their problems, requiring B2B marketers to target multiple search queries.
Optimize pages to target the different people involved in the buying decisions. For example, you may need pages optimized for addressing tactical questions, financial concerns, and technical specifications, as well as pages optimized for answering high-level questions from managers or executives.
Group Multiple Low-Volume Keywords
Along with optimizing for multiple search queries, B2B websites tend to focus on low-volume keywords. The typical B2B product or service targets a niche market, resulting in fewer related searches. For example, there are far more monthly internet searches for “women’s shoes” than “medical diagnostic tools.”
When working with low-volume keywords, it helps to group multiple relevant keywords into the same piece of content. Instead of focusing on one keyword that brings in a few dozen organic visitors each month, group several closely related keyword phrases to increase traffic.
Maintain Efforts Long Term
While SEO remains an important part of B2B marketing, it typically delivers lower conversion rates than B2C SEO. This is due to the longer sales cycles, complexity, higher costs, and multiple decision makers involved in B2B sales.
Most B2B buyers don’t make purchases on their first visits. Capture leads through subscriptions or asset downloads, then use marketing automation to continue nurturing leads throughout the sales cycle.
4. Fine-Tune Your Content Marketing
From top-of-the-funnel lead generation through the final stages of the buying process, B2B marketers use content in a variety of formats:
- Blog posts
- White papers
- Case studies
- Press releases
- Email newsletters
Content marketing is ubiquitous; 91% of marketers use informative content to educate leads throughout the buying journey.
Blog posts and white papers are two of the most used formats. Blogs are at the core of most B2B content marketing strategies, they help with SEO, and provide a platform for educating stakeholders. White papers are more in depth, allowing B2B decision makers to delve deeper into the technical aspects of a product or service.
As with most B2B marketing approaches, content marketing continues to evolve. Techniques and distribution channels that worked a decade ago may not provide the same results today.
Video Marketing Leaves a Lasting Impression
B2B content marketers are ramping up their use of online video as they explore the different types of video that support the full sales funnel. Video marketing has exploded over the past decade, with video projected to account for 82% of all IP traffic (both business and consumer) by 2022, up from 75% in 2017.
Videos allow people to digest information quickly and retain more compared to reading a blog post or email. High-level decision makers are also pressed for time. Providing videos gives them something they can easily view during their busy schedules.
5. Stay Current with Evolving Social Media Marketing Trends
Many B2B marketers still consider social media marketing primarily a strategy for B2C companies, with the exception of LinkedIn and, to a lesser extent, Twitter. However, the demographics of typical B2B buyers is changing.
As noted above, more B2B decision makers are Millennials, who came of age during the rise of social media. This group is more reliant on social media to find answers to their problems.
A recent social buying study found that 75% of B2B buyers and 84% of C-suite executives use social media to support their buying decision.
While social media marketing may not the most effective B2B inbound marketing technique for lead generation, it is a strong tool for building brand awareness and sales lead nurturing.
Effective social media campaigns use the following types of posts to attract more interest:
- Industry news
- How-to posts
- Blog posts
- Webinar promotions
- Live event promotions
- Case studies
Focus on Two or Three Social Networks
Avoid spreading your efforts too thinly by trying to reach your target audience using every available social network. This eats up time and resources without necessarily providing better results.
Instead of broadening the scope of your social media marketing, focus on the platforms that your audience uses. Researching your buyers (step 1, above) will help you determine which social networks your target buyers are most likely to use. For most B2B companies, potential customers use the following:
Instagram is highly visual, allowing users to share photos and videos. It is less effective for the distribution of content. However, Instagram is an effective channel in the events industry and some other niche business markets.
LinkedIn remains the most popular platform for B2B marketers, with 95% of B2B companies using the network. It is useful for interacting with leads and existing customers.
Facebook is quickly becoming the second-most popular B2B social network. Many B2B companies use Facebook to supplement customer service and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. But given its focus on “friends and family,” Facebook isn’t the right environment for many B2B campaigns.
Twitter is most useful for brand awareness campaigns. Effective tweets may lead to opportunities with potential customers or partners. Twitter is also one of the most effective channels for influencer marketing.
Other social networks can be useful for reaching specific niche audiences, such as Reddit for connecting with IT buyers. Quora can also be helpful for positioning your brand as smart and engaging.
6. Take Advantage of New PPC Search and Display Advertising Capabilities
The B2B digital marketing strategies above focus on awareness and organic lead generation. Paid advertising can help generate qualified leads, and the targeting (among other aspects) has improved greatly across platforms over the past few years.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is among the most effective tactics for driving traffic to your B2B landing pages. Google PPC ads, of course, let you deliver ads through Google’s search network and/or its display network. Investigate emerging opportunities like Google’s discovery ads as well.
Search Network PPC Ads
Most B2B purchase decisions now begin with online research. When people perform search queries, the first several results are usually PPC ads.
And while organic ranking is important, forty-one percent of search traffic goes to the top three ads that appear on the search results pages.
PPC ads allow you to capture more leads during the initial research stage of the buying process. Using the right keywords and ad copy to match the user’s intent increases the quality of these leads.
Understanding your buyer becomes more important with PPC ad campaigns compared to other forms of B2B digital marketing. Performing user research helps marketers uncover keywords to increase the relevancy of their ads, ad copy, and landing pages.
PPC advertising also gives you more control over spending and easily measurable results. You instantly know how many clicks you received, how much you spent each day, and the overall ROI for your efforts.
With display advertising, your ads appear on the websites that participate in Google AdSense.
As with video marketing, display ads are often more effective than text ads at delivering memorable messages. Visual advertisements make a stronger connection and people tend to remember the image or video ads displayed.
Even when users do not consciously view the ad, they subconsciously make a mental note of the display. Because the ads make an impression but you pay only for clicks, display advertising can be a highly effective yet affordable tactic for increasing brand awareness.
7. Use Remarketing to Bring Visitors Back
Since B2B visitors rarely make a purchase on their initial visit (due to the cost and complexity of most B2B products and services), the primary goal of PPC ads and other inbound B2B marketing strategies is to capture visitor contact information.
Only about 2% of visitors convert during their initial website visit. Remarketing provides a solution for targeting the other 98%.
Remarketing is the practice of delivering ads to internet users who have visited your site. After a visitor leaves your site, your ads “follow” them around on websites that display ads from the PPC network you use.
But be careful: while properly designed remarketing campaigns can be highly effective, improperly designed programs can be perceived as creepy and do your brand more damage than good. If visitors continue to see the same ad on every site they visit, they get tired of seeing it, causing annoyance, driving down conversion rates, and limiting your remarketing ROI..
There are several techniques for increasing the effectiveness of remarketing. To identify users with higher intent to purchase, use Google Analytics to segment visitors.
Segment visitors that stay on a landing page for more than one minute. This eliminates visitors that quickly left the site without completing an action. Those who stayed on the site longer are more likely to show an interest in your product or service.
When using a remarketing campaign, use frequency capping. Google Ads offer frequency reports to show when the cost per acquisition (CPA) begins to increase.
B2B marketers often use remarketing at the top level of the sales funnel, attracting visitors during the awareness and research stages. However, creating remarketing lists for each stage of the funnel helps keep leads moving through the buying journey.
8. Personalize Your Marketing Automation
While marketing automation has been around for years, newer automation tools provide B2B marketers with more sophisticated personalization and customer service functionality.
Two of the latest marketing automation developments include machine learning and chatbots.
Machine learning platforms analyze the behavior of visitors or customers to help make predictions. For example, a machine learning program may review the content that a visitor viewed to provide recommendations for additional content.
Machine-learning algorithms often rely on a variety of data. In addition to onsite behavior, the software may look at user attributes, social media chatter, and past purchases or interactions. The recommendations of the software boost visitor engagement, helping to generate more qualified leads.
Chatbots Direct Visitors
Chatbots can also help with engagement. In recent years, chatbots have become increasingly sophisticated. They can direct visitors to the information they need without having to interact with a real customer service representative.
Unfortunately, machine learning software and chatbots remain costly solutions. While more B2B marketers are expected to adopt these solutions, it may take several years for increased interest and competition to drive prices down.
Currently, the best automation applications include tools for automating sales funnels. Marketers can use an automation platform or customer relationship management (CRM) solution to automate the delivery of email content such as:
- Follow-up emails
- Monthly newsletters
- Webinar notifications
- New product promotions
With the top CRM products, you can automate almost every stage of your sales funnel.
However, as with remarketing, use automation carefully; poorly designed automation (e.g., sending the wrong product message to a prospect, or sending an “introductory” email to a prospect who has already engaged with you) makes your company look incompetent and can eliminate your brand from consideration.
9. Adopt Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
Like marketing automation, account-based marketing (ABM) provides a personalized approach—though it’s focused on reaching out to targeted prospects rather than responding to those who have already engaged with your brand. It increases the efficiency of your marketing efforts by focusing on accounts most likely to become profitable, long-term customers.
ABM is also called key account marketing, used to target specific accounts instead of a specific target audience. The concept is not new, but advancements in marketing technology have made it an popular approach for B2B marketing.
Basically, ABM involves marketing to a small, select group of companies and their individual decision makers one-on-one, using personalized content. It is a lead-nurturing strategy used to establish trust and effectively engage potential customers.
Sales leads tend to appreciate the personalized approach. It makes them feel as if you are focusing on them as individuals (because you are). Additional benefits of ABM include:
- Easily defined ROI
- Sales and marketing alignment
- Faster sales cycle
When you focus on one account, it becomes easier to track metrics, including ROI. You also receive valuable insight early on during the buyer’s journey. With every step, you can analyze what works and what does not.
ABM allows sales and marketing teams to become more aligned, as they work closely to deliver solutions to each specific account. This alignment provides advantages outside of account-based marketing.
Aligning sales and marketing tends to result in more qualified leads. B2B companies with aligned sales and marketing teams experience 24% faster three-year revenue growth.
The combination of aligned departments and personalized marketing also moves the sales process along faster. Quickly delivering content and resources to sales leads and anticipating their needs tends to speed things up.
10. Review Analytics Data and Optimize Strategies
After implementing these B2B digital marketing strategies, marketers need to continue analyzing and optimizing.
Use analytical tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, social media monitoring tools, and PPC/SEO tracking software to track website visits, conversions, sales and leads from all marketing efforts.
Keep track of which efforts deliver the greatest ROI along with performance metrics for all programs. This research enables B2B marketers to optimize budget allocations as well as identify ways to improve under-performing tactics.
Reviewing the data also offers insight that you can use for future marketing campaigns. When marketers review user behavior, they become better at understanding what users are looking for.
A/B split testing provides a solution for optimizing strategies. Adopt A/B testing for emails, websites, and PPC ads. Create two versions of every piece of content or advertisement to determine which version converts more users.
Continue to adapt your existing strategies and implement new ones to find what works best for your target audience.
B2B marketing continually evolves, especially with the release of new technologies. To remain competitive, pay attention to new developments like those above and emerging marketing technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR).
Austin Cline is the Founder and CEO of ASUN Digital, a B2B marketing agency based in Atlanta, GA.