Selling marketing to the B2B companies is remarkably similar to selling B2C. Sales representatives still ask the same basic questions - who is your target customer, what marketing is working now, what is not working, etc.
But in many ways B2B is a much different game with different challenges. These learnings are taken from case studies supplied by Federate Interactive's VP of Sales, Shannon Allen.
First, as an overview, here are a few of the most notable differences switching from B2C to B2B sales of marketing:
a. Markets are national, yet super-targeted.
Even though companies sell nationally, B2B customers may be a very narrow group such as distributors, retailers or another B2B segment of a segment. Some brands market around distributors to raise preference with end-user customers, which may still require super-targeting platforms and skills.
How can a company efficiently reach pontoon boat buyers, HVAC contractors or people who paint with, say, encaustics?
Manufacturers or B2B distributors may be adept at direct mail but digital is new and challenging. Requests for new ways to hyper-target are buying signals.
b. Complex sets of customer relationships.
While customers are super-targeted, they are often layered and complex. Brands may, for example, sell to one group (distributors or retailers) but market to end users (consumers or retailers) around the middle man, develop leads for the middle man, or try to entice retailers to sell more of their product versus competing ones.
So marketing programs may be separate for each group, integrated with an overall message, or a combination of the above.
A needs analysis is not a cursory set of questions, but a deep dive into new territory. The ability to design and serve different messages to different customers is a key benefit of digital.
c. The buying cycle is longer; but ROI is higher.
Typically, B2B customers are making analytical buys rather than emotional buys. To complete a sale may take a variety of touch points, at trade shows, email and direct mail, telemarketing leads, and so on.
Since buys are high ROI, however, a set of 500 clicks, given the right group may represent millions of dollars in potential business.
Given these three common factors, here are some successful tactics from Federated Interactive's case studies selling B2B.
1. Prospecting: Look for B2B companies that have national headquarters in the area.
Local media have the natural advantage of proximity, as they are able to call on these accounts in person more often than competing niche marketers.
Look for manufacturers and business service providers such as trucking companies. Top 100 lists of private companies are often the first place media local, but sometimes lower profile companies are easier to reach and need the most help. Media have found accounts in large industrial parks and driving through rural areas with industrial facilities.
A key tactic from SpeakEasy, an agency that specializes in content, social and promotions, is to check the recruitment ads for substantial companies based in their area who are hiring a marketing director. They follow-up and pitch the agency's team as an alternative.
2. Identify all customer groups and how they relate.
Since B2b customers are by nature multi-layered, it's important to understand each group, how they buy and are marketed to currently, and what are the company's priorities.
There can be layers of customers: Distributors, retailers, contractors, and end users (consumers who buy, say, an appliance sold by a manufacture to a retailer through a distributor), to name just a few. Which ones are posing a challenge?
3. Know competitors strengths and weaknesses.
B2B companies may have only one big competitor, three or a hundred, but typically B2B are focused on rankings within their industry and often sell competitively against people they know.
Knowing the competitive landscape is critical when recommending some of the targeting options below.
4. Core product: SEM.
SEM is considered "gateway drug" for the majority of B2B accounts, according to Shannon Allen, VP of sales at Federated Interactive, which targets B2B accounts.
The bulk of the buy is paid back to Google but SEM leads to additional opportunities. Best practice is to have at least one person on the team that is Google certified and able to talk knowledgeably about search strategies.
Federated also has two buyers using Matchcraft for SEM buys. When a potential client's marketing staff is stretched too thin to learn AdWords best practices, Federated's team is ready to jump in and take over the buy, improving both clicks and conversions - and adding on other programs.
Look for this opportunity by checking the basics around the clients' AdWords campaigns:
• Is the company consistently found on page one, and positioned well relative to competitors?
• Do text ads have a call to action?
• Do text ads link to a relevant landing page, such as a product page, rather then the home page of the client site?
• Do landing pages have email capture to drive up the value of leads?
5. Core product: Retargeting.
Because of super-targeted B2B markets, retargeting is often ideal to supplement search or to project a new message to a select group.
The team at Federated uses Simpli.fi, which is an Editor's pick at LocalMediaInsider and considered a "must have" for selling B2B.
Simpli-fi is an undistributed ad network, which means ads are served on the fly, based on real time key word use and retargeting.
There are four potential customer lists for potential retargeting:
• Ask the company for a list of competitors and competitors' products. These are key words that can be targeted and retargeted on the web.
• Create a list of key words to identify searches that may be found contextually in the search behaviors of desired audiences.
• Obtain a file of customer email, phone and addresses. These can also be retargeted with ads, via a reverse find online, almost like sending a post card.
• Clients website, relevant landing pages, and other digital platforms.
The team at Federated Interactive retargets 5 times, a trade off between needing enough impressions without "becoming obnoxious."
Ad messages are often changed to address stages of the buying cycle. Ads targeting people reading text online in "research" phase, may be different from ads retargeting people who have already been to the client site - and thus need a more direct call to action.
6. Core product: Social media and promotions.
Some - but not all - B2B brands are higher profile and market to end users who are consumers.
This is where social media shines as a way to communicate with end consumers, driving leads to retailers. Some tips for social content creation include:
• Intersperse some "Find a location messaging" with lead capture to help build leads
• Solicit images of customers using products and services
• Link to favorable press mentions
• Remind users of trade show appearances
• Include aspirational messages that express the "voice" of the brand
• Include seasonal tips that customers can use
• Intersperse offers available at all locations
• Host contests for capturing end user leads
• Promote store openings
• Develop related content useful to end user (seasonal, environmental, etc... tips) hosted on the client site or in native ads
If your B2B customer needs to market directly to business accounts and is in a core LinkedIn category - such as Information and Technology, Marketing and Advertising, Finance, Health Services, and Professional Services - using LinkedIn is another alternative. In this case there are a couple of key differences in the content and lead generation approach:
a. Posting alone does very little to distribute a message plan to rely heavily on either ads or sponsored updates. We prefer sponsored updates because they perform much, much better. However, sponsored updates do not allow direct lead collection, which ads do. Plan to follow-up on "likes" of each article, with soft replies - to connect, to reach out if they have any interest in x, etc.
b. Permissions are more difficult. The person who places a sponsored update needs to have the same company name and email on their profile - you cannot simply add an administrator. Keep a one sheet on this. see "How to create LinkedIn Sponsored Updates" for a blow by blow.
7. Prepare to solve the problem at hand to gain a foothold.
While most local media companies are setting minimums on SEM buys and targeted buys, it helps to break the rules a little to "pull the thorn out of the lion's paw."
Federated Interactive, for example, charged just $350 to help an HVAC company complete a video for its website and leveraged the relationship for a meeting with the top marketing director. The result was a campaign buy.
Here are a few of the "needs" from regional and national B2B campaigns we've looked at:
• Launching a product so new, the end user is not searching for it online
• SEM is not converting as well as it could
• Distributors or retailers need more direct leads (appointments or recontactable phone numbers/emails)
• Bad reviews on YouTube need to be addressed with a new strategy
• End users - consumers - need to develop a relationship/preference for the brand
• Distributors and retailers need incentive to sell this product, instead of another one
• Work on a sales video that is taking up too much time
• Promotions to develop email and fan lists
• Ways to deliver messaging effectively around small geo-areas for stores in multiple cities
8. Show ROI.
Showing ROI is a core competency. Best practice is to work through the value of a sale, and conversion ratios at the outset. Create measurable targets that the client agrees constitute success. Typically, B2B businesses know they need to invest in a longer marketing cycle, but at some point they will always back out their ROI and compare it to the cost of, say, hiring another rep, doing nothing, or less expensive options. Have the conversation in advance, and refer back to it as the campaign continues. Be sure to reinforce the concept of a longer sale cycle and how efficient this kind of marketing is in speeding up the process.
While there are no two B2B companies alike, it helps to have competitive tools, platforms and the right skills in place before calling on B2B accounts. To pull a better rabbit out of the hat, in other words, it helps to put the rabbit in the hat.
A few top tools used at Federated Media and mentioned in this report include Matchcraft for SEM and Simpli.fi for targeted ad networks. Speakeasy uses a tool called polygraphmedia.com to provide a competitive analysis of social for the sales call plan that sells social, content marketing, and/or promotions. Google AdWords certification programs from LocalMediaAssociation is another valuable training resource to keep teams "up-to-speed."
Finally, don't forget to track your case studies, even for anecdotal evidence of success. Show new B2B clients what you have accomplished for others with a similar challenge.
Many thanks to Shannon Allen, VP Sales Federated Interactive, for sharing her teams successes with us.
Shannon Allen, VP of Sales, Federated Interactive
Find technologies used in this story in the directory, MediaExecsTech.com.
The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and MediaExecsTech, developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine, to showcases perspectives from around the world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.