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Biggest B2B Marketing Challenges

Lately we’ve been looking at the major challenges that B2B marketeers are facing in recent times. We chanced upon the table below that was reported back in early 2016 and had to chuckle at the prominence placed on a list that is pretty far removed from the everyday challenges that we see and hear on a regular basis.

  • To understand and use context in content marketing
  • Creating videos that make an impact on the video driven web
  • Marketing to a mobile first audience
  • Changing sales tactics for an audience that is already 85 per cent through the sales journey
  • Humanising marketing messages, ditching the jargon
  • Making the most of micro-moments, as people glance at the web
  • Using influencers for successful campaigns
  • Reaching people who are opting out of marketing, thanks to ad-blocking
  • Optimising email marketing after it went out of fashion in favour of social
  • Big data, everyone talks about it but no one really understands it

Taking for granted that the list and data behind it must be reliant (and not just designed by the agency that did the research and no doubt want to sell half the services mentioned!) do marketeers really lie awake at night worrying about micro-moments? Do they spend fretful weekends pouring over how human their messages are?

Maybe we’re mixing in the wrong circles but most B2B marketeers we speak to have challenges that look more like the following;

  • Generating more sustainable leads and prospects for sales to close
  • Ensuring these leads are delivered at the lowest cost to acquire possible (but still of good quality!)
  • Working on retaining these clients for as long as possible whilst not pissing them off by cross selling to them too much
  • Helping to turn these clients into loyal advocates who sell on your company’s behalf
  • Increasing market share to help deliver solid growth figures
  • Acquiring and developing top class talent or agency resource to deliver on all of the above

This list may not be as cutting edge or ‘of the moment’ as the one above but we’re pretty sure that if a B2B marketing team got this right first then they could then start to worry about some of the other superfluous points.

It falls more in line with research carried out by B2B International that can be seen on this link here . Although the business challenges match our list, the marketing challenges still take more of a communications and brand focus rather than aligning with the business challenges that can be seen in the second table below. This shows that there is a disconnection between marketing and business priorities especially about increasing sales and revenue opportunities to help grow market share.

challenges-b2binternational-100316

overall-b2binternational-100316

Which just leaves us with one piece of advice to any B2B Marketeer; be more commercially focused and align marketing with business goals.

Build a successful B2B SEO strategy

When it comes to attracting customers to your site the journey of an SEO strategy is never going to be an overnight win although it can reap plenty of rewards. Compared with its more glamorous cousin twice removed; paid digital media, which can deliver instant results, the role of SEO is more like a long drawn out courtship. Looking at three core aspects of SEO; if technical activity is the mind boggling world of alt and H tagging within your site structure, then on page content and copy is the hygiene factor and off page link building and sharing is the hero element.

Combing all three to form an ongoing technical and content SEO strategy should go some way to ensuring your site ranks well. However in an event changing environment, especially thanks to those pesky kids at Google, it’s imperative to stick at it and keep on top of the main black and white colour animal changes that Google spits out (see Panda and Penguin articles).

All brands look at this in different ways but here are a few thoughts when looking at building a decent B2B SEO strategy.

How to resource SEO
Internal or external? Investment levels vs paid digital? All questions that need to be asked when planning on how this ongoing activity will be resourced in your business. Both will depend on how large your marketing team and investment is but some things to consider when making these decisions; does an agency truly understand your business and can easily write what may sometimes be highly technical content? Likewise would internal resource be able to commit to delivering an ongoing stream of high value content and understand the technical elements of SEO enough to garner the true benefits?

Quality vs Quantity
We’ve seen examples where blogs are written on a daily basis but with no true purpose or link to helping clients in their purchase decision. Simply rehashing a load of second hand content from all corners of the internet won’t do much to improve your authority with your audience. Think about what will help them and guide them to make a decision on key investments and keep it punchy; how to guides, case studies, videos, market reports etc can all help. Go for quality over quantity every time as more useful content will strike a better chord with your audience which by the way is always who you should be writing for, not Google!

Hero vs Hygiene
Hero campaigns can steal the glory when it comes to exciting SEO work (yes of course there is such a thing!!). If a hero campaign may take time to plan, research, develop and then syndicate to get links and people sharing then hygiene content can take a much simpler format in the guise of on page content, user guides, Q&A’s etc. However considering the hit and miss nature of hero campaigns if not executed correctly and the time and resource to activate, the much simpler option is hygiene. Take for example an accountancy firm who could spend months creating the mother of all industry future gazing reports but in that time how many simple tax guides could have been created? Balancing the two is key but don’t just go for the shiny hero’s all the time.

Think just as much about conversion
As great as your site may be at SEO and delivering good volumes of traffic, remember that this means nothing unless that traffic converts into a marketing qualified lead and then ultimately a paying customer. Look at how well your SEO traffic coverts and look for ways to improve site or page conversion through distinct call to actions and prominent messaging. Trying A/B split testing to see what type of content, messages and action points work best with the traffic and the roll those out site wide.

Hopefully these give a few good pointers on a starting point for B2B SEO but remember that Google only loves you if others love you first!

The best B2B Marketing Job Opportunities in the North – Feb 2017

  1. Bupa B2B Marketing Executive, £26k (6 month FTC) Manchester
  2. Assa Abbloy Marketing Manager, Sheffield
  3. Age Partnership, B2B Marketing Manager, £28k – £32k Leeds
  4. Johnson & Johnson, EMEA Marketing Manager, Leeds
  5. Kewill, Marketing Programs Manager, Manchester
  6. Elite Telecom, Head of Marketing, Chorley
  7. BT, Performance Marketing Lead, Sheffield
  8. Aesica Pharmaceuticals, Digital Marketing Executive, Newcastle
  9. Beyond Trust, Content and Field Marketing Manager, Leeds
  10. FPE Global, Marketing Executive, Stockport

What to measure? B2B digital marketing analytics guide

Need help in proving the worth of your marketing activity or to help build a business case for more marketing investment? Various research carried out by leading experts in this space shows that anywhere from only 6% to 25% of B2B marketeers are able to measure the value of their activity and spend and it was deemed the second highest challenge faced. This is a really worrying picture, in a B2B environment that is undoubtedly sales driven where targets and resulting performance can be easily tracked (most of the time!) any marketeer faces a tough task to show value in their role without a clear idea of what impact they’re having.

This article provides a few hints and tips as to how and what to measure to prove your B2B marketing worth and Return on Investment on digital activity to try and go toe to toe with our friends in sales on all round contribution. To note it’s presumed from a digital perspective that the website is not transactional i.e. it’s not an e-commerce site that can take payment.

Measure conversion rates
Seems a simple one but if you have a decent website and are using the appropriate analytics tools then it doesn’t matter how much web traffic you drive to your site, how long people spend on each page or your bounce rate, if they don’t convert to a paying customer it means nothing. Yes they are all healthy contributors to help fuel sales leads but you can get millions of hits but if not one of those prospects converts into a qualified opportunity it means absolutely nothing.

Understand what is a conversion
Ultimately no matter what the web conversion is this should be measured in revenue generating clients which needs to be tracked through to a sale through your CRM. However on the site what gives you and sales the best chance to close leads by getting the visitor to take action and offer their hand to you? Some ideas for tracking different types of data capture or conversion stats below;

  • Call back request form – should a visitor want to learn more about your products and services then make it as easy as possible to leave contact details so they can be called back
  • Content capture – if you’ve created a really insightful piece of content provide a simple overview to entice users and then ask for their details to view the full article. Note that the content needs to be of good value for this to work otherwise nobody will ever bother and you’ll have spent a load of time and effort on something that will never see the light of day beyond your own 4 walls
  • Live chat – if people engage with this function it should lead to data capture to follow up
  • Inbound sales calls – tracking people who call your inbound sales team. More on this below
  • Email/event sign up – if you have a newsletter the minimum you should be looking for when someone visits your site is their contact details to enable nurturing of prospects to help keep front of mind. Likewise for webinars or face to face event sign up
  • Calculator results – if you offer any kind of calculation to help prospects choose a specific product or service do you allow them to email the results to themselves and if so are your sales team sent these as well (with the users permission)

Recognise the traffic source
If you have the conversion tracking sorted the next step is identifying where that successful traffic came from. Google and various other analytics packages can track the source of that traffic be it SEO, PPC, referral traffic etc. Then strike me down and call me Norbert you’ll be able to ensure the best performing traffic is given prominence in future spend and activity.

Inbound phone calls
Data capture on site if developed correctly should be pretty easy to track on site and then if there is a decent CRM system behind it where leads are logged correctly a path to converted client. Trickier to track would be phone calls if this is your main call to action on site. Using phone tracking analytics software such as Ruler Analytics allows firms to track inbound calls as well as listening to the recording of the call itself to improve sales performance. The software also allows companies to understand the types of organisations that are visiting the site as it tracks company IP addresses that can also then be followed up.

Social media
When initially building your social media profiles it can be easy to just focus on quantities of followers. However although this builds your reach it’s not giving you a good idea of how engaged this audience is and ultimately how likely they are to buy or recommend your company. Tracking engagement metrics (likes, retweets, sharing etc) and subsequent reach gives a better idea of how valuable the worth of your content is. This also greatly helps your SEO performance of onsite metrics so tracking leads to sales is still the key even in social metrics.

The above pointers are really just a starter for ten when looking at digital site traffic and analytics. Ensuring that a company has a decent CRM system to tack and follow leads through to close is imperative to ensure these marketing leads are not wasted – as well as having a decent sales team to close them of course!  Additionally using a decent marketing automation system to support the delivery of timely and valuable content throughout the buying journey would also add a huge amount of value to your marketing output.

Get a lot of this right and you’ll be well on the way to moving away from the dreaded ‘colouring in’ labels presented of marketing in many B2B companies – colouring in the colour of cold hard revenue cash is a much better tag!

Digital perceptions, how good is your B2B website?

We like a good nosey at how B2B brands are positioning themselves online and no matter what you sell; big or small, your website and supporting digital footprint are the shop window to how you’re initially seen by many customers.

Offer a crap website experience and how do you think you’ll easy convince a customer your customer service is second to non? The role of digital is playing a huge part in all buying decisions with many people touching the brand online in many ways way before a slick salesman gets anywhere near a prospect.

If your sales guys drive around in flashy BMWs and look the part then why would you make your web presence look like a godawful 1970’s Lada? We look at this like a shop window, the way that B2C retail brands invest heavily in their high street presence to attract and draw in shoppers to their stores. For B2B brands more likely to be found in the back of an industrial park in Slough than Oxford Street, a decent website is the shop window to show off your brand at the earliest convenience to potential customers, whether you sell online or not.

We’ll take a look at how B2B brands are faring and to help give a decent comparison we’ll be using a trusty formula that can be seen below in the table which you’re happy to use with your own site. There’s no deep scientific theory behind this, and without delving into a sites analytics it is very much perceptive, but it’s just a simple way to help compare and review the good, bad and ugly way B2B brands are portrayed online. They may have the best offline marketing strategy this planet has seen but quite frankly we don’t care, our reviews will be all about digital perceptions that prospects take from using a given website.

Website review formula

Aesthetics (out of 20)
Is it professionally designed? Good marks for a creative, engaging design that clearly demonstrates the offering in an engaging and informative way
Low marks for too much stock photography, people shaking hands, etc and please please please not the bubble man!
Has to be mobile responsive with a consistent view across all devices

Content (20)
Informative for the reader rather than a me, me, me aren’t we great approach to content
How clear is the messaging?
Is there a consistent tone of voice, is it easy to interpret or filled with business / technical jargon?
Backed up by testimonials from clients
Not too much content aka content blindness

UX and CTA’s (20)
How strong are the call to actions on the site?
How many different call to actions are on the site, specially the home page? This needs to be clear
How easy is it to navigate around the site?
Is there an email sign up for follow up communications?

SEO (20)
Page title structure  – should be clear to the reader in terms of what they are viewing
Relevant and unique content throughout the site that would be worthy of good link building
Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ranking for keywords, must be near page 1 as possible
Traffic score, using an online tool such as similarweb.com which gives an indication of volume of traffic, bounce rate, referral traffic and comparison with similar brands

Innovative technology (20)
Does the site have a live chat function?
Are they using innovative data capture or resourceful techniques such as online calculators etc
How much is video used across the site?

Total score out of 100

Score 80 – 100: Digital B2B Rockstar

Score 60 – 80: Digital Native

Score 40 – 60: Upgrade needed

Score sub 40: Digital is parked somewhere next to the fax machine in the business

The best B2B Marketing roles in the North – January 2017

  1. Sage, Head of Product marketing, Newcastle
  2. Console, Field Marketing Director, Manchester
  3. UK Fast, PPC & Digital Media Manager, Manchester, £22 – £32k
  4. Pure Storage, Enterprise Marketing Manager, Manchester
  5. Nycomm, Marketing & Communications Manager, Manchester, up to £35k
  6. Audio Technica, Marketing Manger EMEA, Leeds
  7. Shred-IT, Marketing & PR Director, Leeds
  8. British Business Bank, Marketing Communications & Events Manager, Sheffield (12 month contract) £30k – £35k
  9. CBRE, Graphic Designer, Leeds, 12 month maternity contract
  10. Honeywell, Campaign Manager, Rochdale

Breaking a ‘yellow pages’ style business development strategy

First an insight into what this post is about…why do so many companies employ new business development execs when they have no clear new business development strategy in place? By non strategy we mean the age old ‘here’s a yellow pages, start at A and get phoning’ mentality which is seen time and time again in many B2B companies to try and generate new sales. Many companies have sizeable sales teams, business development execs, telesales execs etc but who’s creating leads for them and actually generating business opportunities? We don’t mean of the cold variety, brought about by haranguing unsuspecting targets who are most probably not the right person in the first place. We mean buyers that are in the market to purchase, know your brand and see trust and value in what you offer, that’s where marketing can help.

Brand awareness – is the company investing long term in making those companies and individuals that may want to buy their products aware of who they are and what they sell? Having no idea what you do isn’t the best start to any new sales conversation.

Targeting
– do you actually know anything about who the individuals (not the company) that buy your product are, how they buy and what influences their decision? Research into this will help build a clear proposition to sell and give some guidance into whom they should go after and how. It’s a common misconception in B2B sales that it is the company as an entity that buys a product or service, yes the company funds the purchase but it can be one or many individuals who collectively decide to buy from you.

Messaging – are the team using a consistent message when they sell (presuming they’ve been trained on how to sell) and reaching prospects through the right mediums, be it digital or offline. Plus do they have good valuable content to issue rather than just a price list or scrappy old brochure? Plus can they actually close the business once they get the lead?

Tracking – do they have the right tools and technology to ensure a timely follow up of all opportunities over a period of time? Without a decent CRM system in place to help support this its reliance on spreadsheets and diary reminders at best to remember to follow up which is never going to be reliable or insightful into what’s working or not.

These pointers are just a starting point alongside a variety of digital and automation marketing techniques that can be added to the mix. You never know, leads may even come inbound to you rather than running a mile up the M62 to get away from you.

As an added bonus in this post a few definite things to avoid; don’t buy data – it never once works from all the times we’ve seen it used, don’t forget to keep training and developing employees and don’t drive a brick wall between the business development/sales and marketing teams as they need to work closely together and try to be one happy family!

In summary it should never be easier to break a yellow pages strategy given how thin they are these days, if they still exist, but the point is A-Z cold calling tactics get very little response at best. New business development teams need support and structure in generating opportunities to close and guess who may be best at working with them in that role?

Are predominantly B2C channels ever right for B2B?

Leads, leads, leads, leads – not a misspelling of a famous North Yorkshire football team chant but of course the main focus of any B2B marketing plan. However, would a B2B marketeer be brave enough to put forward a plan that included broadcast above the line activity? If your proposition solely focuses on B2B and you have TV media budget to spend you’re a lucky person but would you use this kind of budget for channel demand generation? What if you could power a whole channel development proposition around this medium and go from challenger to market leader in the space of 2 years?

This was exactly the position that a Head of Marketing of a large tech brand found themselves in a few years ago when faced with the proposition of declining sales, slumped in number two market position and a desire to crack a tough electrician markets with a new product range but needing new ideas.

Within 2 years the brand had moved to number one in the market, substantially increased sales of all products in its range and were listed in all major suppliers including all electrician wholesalers. So how was it done?

Lighting the creative spark
The brand was very functional in the market and not making many waves when it came to creative innovation. The global organisation in question had decent budgets when things were going well so they channelled some of that into a piece of creative genius that really made the brand stand out. However despite sizes of budgets they key learning is to invest in a proposition that truly makes you unique in the market (even if your product is pretty normal) and that can inspire those that you want to notice you; from partners, customers or internal employees.

Shouting aloud
Once they knew they had a gem of a creative proposition to hang their hat on they went for it big style in making sure all existing partners, staff and prospects heard about it. What would normally be a dull product launch in a drab hotel turned into a cacophony of sound, colour and plenty of the unexpected in a converted brewery in hipsterville. It galvanised people into joining the momentum that was now building and everyone started to believe in not only the product, but the campaign that it was going to deliver.

Eyes on target
A key aim of the campaign was to get listed in major retailers and trade partners especially electrical wholesalers. Initially the brand worked on identifying and targeting the main buyers in each company. To do this as well as having a strong commercial proposition they needed something they could buy into and see the benefits of how the product was being taken to market. There’s nothing quite as big as going on TV so even though budgets weren’t huge for this world at least, they picked the biggest slot available to launch on (everyone’s favourite Northern soap set on the cobbled streets of Manchester) and packaged up the whole offering in a smart DM piece to send to these key influencers and invited them to be a part of it.

Snowballing
Once these key influencers saw that the brand meant business they quickly wanted a piece of the action and buyers that wouldn’t take calls several months earlier were now falling over themselves to take stock. They’d used the campaign to help create demand for the product from the trade which in turn pushed demand out to the end market. Off the back of the retail campaign the electrical wholesalers followed suit with TV replaced by Radio as their means of demand generation with all partners receiving a slice of co-advertising as part of the deal.

It was one of the most commercially successful campaigns delivered by the brand and the success was replicated across other countries amongst the wider organisation. The team also had a huge amount of fun making it along the way – who would have thought; a B2B brand having fun and being commercially successful!!

P.S for a sneak look at the ad take a look here.

B2B global brand dominance fades

When it comes to brand value our high flying B2B global friends can’t seem to keep pace with those pesky B2C counterparts. Research by Millward Brown has shown that in an 11 year period B2B brands have grown in value at 65 percent compared to a staggering 215 percent for the B2C companies.

The list of the top 20 B2B brands can be seen below and is made up of large scale titans from the tech, banking and oil and gas sectors. All of which have seen plenty of ups and downs in this period and can blame plenty of global market conditions for this downturn. However it would be interesting to see how their marketing spend has changed over this period; are they having to spend more to gain fewer customers? Or have they taken the route of reducing budgets all together to counter smaller margins and profits. Additionally are they taking less risks and spending less on new product innovation.

millward-brown-b2b-brandz-b2b-north

When faced with countless new startups and challenger brands but sinking profits it’s easier to take the reduced risk and more conservative spend option but why not be brave, outspend upstart rivals, use brand dominance to your advantage and innovate like crazy. If the global juggernauts aren’t equipped for this then they need to learn from startups who fight hardest for every £ spent and gained and use the latest technology and ideas to help them do this. Larger companies need to invest in the best people equipped to look forward and not marvel at their past, and most importantly don’t become complacent.

I hear and have seen firsthand that too many large scale enterprises are too slow at change be it new technology such as web CMS systems, marketing automation software, digital advertising strategies or even reshaping team structure and output to get the best return. Mired in endless bureaucracy by committee and scared to adapt they face a strong challenge from more nimble smaller competitors.

Unilever recognised this recently with their purchase of Dollar Shave Club who were flying high on the subscription model. What B2B brands are brave enough to swallow their pride and take steps like this to ensure they can not only survive but prosper in the next 11 years?

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