B2B marketing strategy guide with tips, trends and perspectives
The challenge of B2B marketing is becoming increasingly complex - a marketing strategy helps to classify and sort actions, target groups and channels. But how do you create a marketing communications strategy in B2B?
2020-21 was a truly tumultuous year. Not just for B2B marketing, but for almost all sectors. With this guide, we want to share tips, ideas and opportunities for your B2B marketing strategy. Among many trends, the crisis year forced many companies to rethink their marketing strategy. Trade fairs and events were canceled and live communication increasingly had to be replaced by digital and hybrid events. In addition, it is still unclear how things will continue. Therefore, alternatives had to be created. Implementing an online marketing strategy and creating new communication channels is more important than ever. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know to successfully master the coming years with a sound B2B marketing strategy.
Consequently, a marketing strategy is a plan that describes all the actions and behaviors that are used to achieve marketing goals. It is not about the specific individual actions, but about the fundamental rules, processes and guidelines by which they are structured.
A holistic marketing strategy in the B2B sector is always based on the needs of the intended target group and the agreed marketing and corporate objectives. Strategic marketing planning determines which measures are suitable for the target group and for achieving the goals.
Why do you need a B2B marketing strategy?
A marketing strategy governs communication and presents the mass of complex marketing activities in a simplified way. It helps you keep the goal of marketing in mind and align it with the needs of your target audience.
Most companies in the B2B sector struggle daily with hard-to-reach target groups and complex products. On top of that, digitalization, fast-paced and interconnectedness have changed the buying process tremendously. The battle for customers' attention has not only become more difficult, but also more expensive. In order not to waste your precious marketing resources and time, it is important to pursue a marketing strategy tailored to your needs.
The 4 steps to a marketing strategy
The challenge of defining a marketing strategy in B2B companies:
Yes, the buying process in B2B has always been complex. But buying centers are getting bigger - meaning more decision makers in the company are involved in the buying process and exercising their say and decision-making power. For B2B marketing, this means that measures have to be established and targeted for many different people.
An example that poses challenges for marketing strategy:
As a manufacturer of milling machines, the production manager is no longer the only decision maker; thanks to digitalization, you also have to convince IT stakeholders and management. When B2B, industrial or IT companies are struggling with such complex purchasing processes and the individual marketing measures overlap and become increasingly confusing, a strategic marketing orientation helps. You can learn more about this in the following tips.
If you want to build and implement a functioning B2B marketing strategy, then you need to say goodbye to actionism. This can be difficult at times, but it needs to be followed through consistently by the entire company and most importantly, the decision makers.
"A B2B marketing strategy needs the commitment of the entire company"
The first step in defining and establishing a B2B marketing strategy is to set your goals. The goals should not be decided on a gut feeling, but based on statistically provable facts and figures.
To determine these, it pays to compare the actual and target state. Compare different KPIs such as leads, sales, market share, awareness, customer satisfaction and growth. Where are you currently and where do you want to be? From this, then derive various marketing goals that need to be achieved in order to realize the target state. However, so that you do not set yourself unrealistic goals and want to achieve a target state that is not achievable, a market and competitor analysis is worthwhile in advance.
Analyze markets and factors
You should align your strategy with these realistic goals. In plain language, this means that you define rules, framework conditions, processes and also the measures that need to be carried out by marketing in order to achieve the target state. Do not only pay attention to your company and your target group, but also include external factors. For example, the following influences and factors are relevant for your marketing strategy:
Competition: which companies offer similar or the same products and services? Analyze these companies to see exactly where your strengths and weaknesses compare and what you should build on.
Market: what about your target market? Is there even a market for your product? What is the economic situation like for your target market? These are all factors you can find out with a market analysis. They should definitely be factored into your goal and budget planning, and therefore your marketing communication strategy.
Economic / political developments: Depending on the market and product, these can be very relevant to your marketing efforts and marketing planning. Companies targeting automotive suppliers, for example, should focus on current economic developments. If you serve target markets in other countries, you should also keep an eye on the political effects and changes there.
Especially in the current situation, it is important to include these factors in your marketing strategy. The changed circumstances such as trade fair cancelations, travel restrictions and the lack of live events affect your communication options.
Also, pay attention to how your target audience's industry is doing. Has it been hit hard by the pandemic? How have budgets changed and how are companies doing economically? All this is important to find the right approach and also the right offers for your potential customers.
Define your target audience
People never tire of saying that no marketing strategy in the world is useful if it is not based on the needs and wants of the customers. Therefore, make sure you define your target audience and create buyer personas for the key decision makers in the company.
Only when you align your goals, external influences and analyze, your target group you can create a B2B marketing strategy that can really work.
Only holistically will you be able to develop a marketing strategy whose goals are realistic and whose measures are actually effective.
The right actions on the right channels
An important factor in your B2B marketing strategy are the actions you take to achieve your goals. Factors can only be explored if you know your target group and their information behavior. Do your potential customers use social networks like LinkedIn a lot? Or do the decision makers rather inform themselves in the trade media?
At this stage, it is also important to set up a broad range of measures to reach your ideal customers. For example, do not focus exclusively on search engine optimization, but also consider other communication activities such as social media, SEA or specialist portals. You should also keep in mind that the target groups and also the decision-makers in B2B and industrial companies are slowly but surely changing. This means that a younger target group is moving into the decisive positions. So you have to adapt your communication and marketing activities as well as the corresponding channels more and more.
Marketing strategy: channels and actions
Be aware that a consistent online marketing strategy will have an impact on all your marketing actions. This is because a holistic marketing strategy is the sum of all individual strategies. This includes:
Content marketing strategy in B2B
Content marketing is still one of the most important trends and often leads to success in B2B, especially through inbound measures. You can find all the basic information on content marketing clicking this link.
Lead generation in B2B
According to a Hubspot study, lead generation is the biggest challenge for 63% of B2B marketers. This makes it all the more important to establish a suitable lead generation strategy and holistic lead management within the company. The tools used for lead generation are particularly important. So also on the appropriate further development and evaluation of the generated leads (lead qualification and lead scoring).
Brand building and reach
A strong brand is also of great importance in the B2B sector. With the right marketing strategy, you can support the positioning and awareness of your company brand. Since branding activities are part of a marketing strategy, manage to coordinate your branding with all other marketing measures.
Social Media Marketing
According to our B2B marketing study, most users are not excited about B2B company content on social platforms. Yet social media marketing has become indispensable in B2B as well, because the young target group uses exactly these channels to gather information. Business networks such as LinkedIn are particularly valuable for B2B companies. However, to successfully use social media marketing in B2B, you need a social media strategy that is precisely tailored to your business goals and your target group. This is also part of your marketing strategy. If you create harmony here, your social media presence will not only benefit from a unified strategy, but will also contribute to other marketing goals.
Search engine optimization
The same applies to search engine optimization (SEO). A proper SEO strategy will bring relevant traffic to your business website. If you appear frequently on Google for important search terms, this also contributes to your branding. However, you will only be found if you provide content with added value - this again needs to be defined in your content strategy. SEO is also important for lead generation, because only those who bring traffic to the company website can convert it into leads.
Trade fairs and events - now also digital
Since live communication has been completely lost at times and will continue to be difficult in the near future, organizers now have to rethink. How can you replace an important trade fair? And how can an event or congress be held digitally without neglecting the important area of exchange and networking? The last few months have shown that this is certainly possible. Events have evolved from pure live events to hybrid events that can be attended not only in person but also online. Tools such as Zoom or Teams allow people to exchange ideas with each other. And webinars are also experiencing an enormous upswing: they can convey expert knowledge and facilitate exchange at the same time. Even though nothing will completely replace live communication and the live trade fair absence have hit the B2B industry particularly hard, there are alternatives that you should include in your B2B marketing strategy in the future.
Advertising - SEA, paid social media ads and trade media advertising
It's not just organic (unpaid) outreach that is important to your marketing strategy. You often need to put marketing budget into reaching your target audience through advertising. Especially marketing efforts such as SEO or social media marketing often take time to achieve the desired results. In addition, the competition is increasingly in the fast lane, even in the B2B sector. So also consider which channels are worthwhile for advertising. For example, use lead generation via social media or search engine advertising (SEA) to quickly generate traffic and leads.
A measurable B2B marketing strategy
Don't rely on your gut feeling or directives from superiors to determine the effectiveness of your marketing strategy, rely on facts, figures and data. The measurability of marketing has increased immensely thanks to modern systems.
And even if you don't have the latest content management system or the best marketing automation software in place, you can still measure data. It could be conversion rates, clicks in emails, or your rankings. The important thing is that you classify the respective key performance indicators (KPIs) correctly.
For example, a conversion rate on your landing page is more indicative of success than pure traffic. Use your data correctly and make strategic marketing decisions based on your findings.
Tips for your marketing strategy to convince your buying center.
1. Identify your relevant buyers and decision makers:
In the past, B2B companies usually had only one, maybe two, contacts in their respective companies. They were then used to negotiate the terms of the contract and finalize the purchase. This issue has already changed a lot and will do so even more in the future. This is because digitalization and the shifting of responsibilities and structures in many companies are ensuring that more and more people are involved in purchasing decisions.
Investment decisions are a team effort. In the buying center, there are many different people involved in purchasing decisions. All age groups are represented - however, there are recognizable focal points in the age structure along the individual decision phases.
What this means for you is that you need to deliver marketing activities that convince not just one person, but several. However, since people can differ in their preferences and habits, this is often not enough. Rather, you need to create content, informational materials, mailings, landing pages, product sheets, and the like with a focus on many different people.
After all, a IT manager certainly expects different product information from software than a general manager. And a younger employee researching investments is likely to be better reached through appropriate social media channels. To meet their needs and wants, you must first identify your buying center. Find out who is involved in budget decisions for your product and classify them according to their behavior. Talking to customers themselves is a good way to do this, as is talking to sales. Use networks such as LinkedIn to exchange ideas or arrange them at face-to-face events such as seminars, congresses and conferences. Do marketing for your relevant buyer groups, not for yourself.
2. Use targeted actions:
This point is especially important in content marketing and lead generation in B2B. It's essential that you align your marketing efforts in these areas with your customers' customer journey. After all, not all content is suitable for every buying stage. Here, it is extremely important to define a content marketing strategy in addition to your general marketing strategy. For example, if a potential buyer is initially researching the topic in order to identify their own problem, a relatively neutral article on the topic in question is an appropriate piece of content. However, it is still a long way from a case study describing the use of the product in question.
What this means for you is that you need to figure out what stage of the customer journey your customer is in and then provide them with the appropriate content. This is how you slowly build up your prospects - preferably starting at the awareness stage - while positioning yourself as an expert. This way, you'll be remembered as a provider. All about marketing funnels and the right content at the right time. Each phase offers potential, don't make the mistake of just going for the quick buck.
3. Be customer centric
Customer centricity or customer centricity is not a buzzword, it is a strategy that every business should adopt. The basic principle: your customer is at the center of everything you do. So you must always ask yourself how each action affects your customers, what they get out of it, and how you can use it to meet their needs and solve problems.
Because today, every buyer can choose their solution from numerous companies. It's no longer enough to just have a good product, because your (potential) customer wants to have a positive experience when they buy. You can only achieve that if you know your customers. Defining your target audience, or even better, defining your buyer persona(s), is a basic requirement for customer centricity and thus keeping your buyers happy. All about customer centricity in B2B. The most basic mistake made in marketing is to focus on your company instead of focusing on the customer.
4. Take off the corporate glasses
In many companies, the prevailing notion is that the market and potential customers need them. The harsh truth: every product is interchangeable. As mentioned earlier, in B2B, it's not just the product that determines whether a customer buys, doesn't buy, or repurchases, but the experience they have with your company. If you always approach issues and strategies from the inside out, you'll have a harder time keeping customers' needs and wants in mind. Critically examine your strategy, actions and positioning and above all ask yourself: does my view of things make sense to my customer? Humility is one of the words that comes to mind more and more often.
And yes, sometimes it's very hard to take off your corporate glasses and disregard internal structures and guidelines, but it's worth it. Because a customer understood is a loyal customer. And your buyer is usually not sympathetic to a customer service department that can't act because it lacks data. He's also probably not happy about countless emails that don't match up because marketing and sales aren't communicating properly.
And he may not understand product categories either, even if they make sense from an internal point of view. Take off your corporate glasses and don't force your point of view on buyers. That can work wonders.
5. Do more branding than product marketing
Many classic industrial companies are changing from suppliers of individual components or specialized technologies to all-in-one problem solvers. Hardware products are supplemented by software solutions, related business areas are developed, and machine equipment is expanded with cloud-based services. This change offers the opportunity to implement sustainable branding in the B2B marketing strategy.
In most B2B companies, the brand currently “emerges” primarily in sales work. However, since salespeople proceed very individually, holistic brand positioning shouldn't weigh on their shoulders alone. So if you work for a company whose business area is changing, the opportunity for targeted branding is good.
But apart from opening up new business areas, strong brands are in principle also strong sales arguments - also in the B2B area. Brands have been proven to contribute to increasing sales and profits, increasing cross-selling potential and avoiding price wars.
Many customers are therefore prepared to accept a significantly higher price for strong brands than for comparatively weak brands. " That means: A creative image campaign can sometimes bring you more than many small product campaigns. Your brand is the character of your company
6. Visualization of the marketing activities
While we're on the subject of design: The days of presenting content on a bland, blank sheet of paper are long gone. Even in industrial and technical marketing, the focus of the target audience is on the visual design of the content, because the argument that technical audiences don't want visuals is simply not true.
In B2B marketing, there is still some iconophobia, especially in industrial marketing. Product images are often used, but engaging visualizations of topics, ideas, context, numbers, dates and facts are rarely seen. And here are a few arguments why it is worthwhile to place more emphasis on visualization in B2B marketing:
On a website, you have a maximum of ten seconds to engage a visitor. Measure how long it takes you to read that sentence yourself. Images, on the other hand, are captured in fractions of a second - your chance to draw the visitor deeper into the subject matter
As described above, trade magazines are full of product images. Then, in addition, there are ads with product images. And the user is supposed to remember in this jungle that your brand makes great brushes? He most likely will only do that if you present him with something more interesting than putting the 25th brush of the issue on your ad. It's the small, interesting moments that stick in the mind
There's always at least one management decision maker in the buying center who doesn't understand your technical schematics. Make this audience happy with infographics that relate business management to technology. For example, one study showed that the use of graphics increases the comprehension rate from 70 to 95 percent
Visuals are particularly important on social media, with one study showing that images can increase a post's retweet rate by 35 percent (videos by 28 percent). Similarly, on Facebook, illustrated posts are 104 percent more likely to be clicked and receive 53 percent more likes.
That being said: Since few providers use profiled visuals, there's a lot of potential for differentiation lurking here - which in turn benefits your brand. So kill two birds with one stone in your B2B marketing strategy.
Conclusion B2B marketing strategy: Are you planning for the long term at all?
Various studies on B2B marketing in industries show that more than half of B2B marketers say they don't work strategically, but rather support sales. Use your marketing efforts strategically - this is especially true for online marketing and make your goals and results measurable. B2B marketing departments are not just sales supporters.
It's no longer about designing the prettiest flyer or polishing up the sales presentation. We can do so much more. We marketers can be trailblazers and we need to be. We can show that we understand the customer and create content that fits their exact needs. Through data and technical capabilities, we have the opportunity to guide and support them from their first contact with our company to their purchase.
In this way, we make a significant contribution to the revenue that sales ultimately bags. In these times, B2B companies need good marketing. They need it to generate leads, to increase reach, to promote brands and products, and to sell. With a targeted B2B marketing strategy designed specifically for your goals and audience, you can do just that.