One of the many characteristics of modern B2B marketing is the sheer volume of options available. Today’s marketers are faced with an ever-growing number of tactics, channels and tools to utilize — but a solid strategy and an integrated approach is necessary.
With every new “shiny new marketing toy” that rolls out, there is often a tendency to jump on board with fervor. And if we’re being honest, I think it’s because all of us deep down — from marketing to sales, and up to the C-suite — are hoping for that magic “silver bullet” that will singlehandedly give us a competitive advantage, attract more prospects and close more deals (and maybe replace the need for all other marketing efforts).
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and it’s highly unlikely that it will ever be. So because there’s no silver bullet, effective B2B marketing requires an integrated and holistic approach. Here are some thoughts on what that looks like.
A closed B2B deal is almost always the result of many different interactions, experiences and touch points with both marketing and business development throughout the buyer’s journey. In fact, according to a McKinsey Quarterly study, research shows that, “on average, a B2B customer will regularly use six different interaction channels throughout the decision journey.” It’s not about any one channel, tactic or tool; it’s about establishing a marketing strategy that leverages the best and most relevant available options, and using them to work together in concert over an extended sales cycle.
While B2B firms are starting to realize the need for an omni-channel marketing approach, there is a tendency for marketers to become too focused on the channels, and not focused enough on creating the right content for those channels. But content is crucial and should come first. The effectiveness of your website, social media, email, marketing automation, videos, blog, white papers, webinars, etc. all hinge on having the right kind of content. No matter how powerful any one channel may be, it’s only as good as the content you create for it.
“Inbound marketing” has been a major buzzword over the last few years, with some arguing that “outbound” methods are ineffective and obsolete. The truth is, while an attraction-based methodology is ideal, outbound (push) tactics are still needed to support inbound and other marketing goals. Content marketing, and the client-centric content that comes with it, relies heavily on promotion. Whether in the form of social media posts, paid amplification, PPC, display ads, retargeting, email marketing or even print advertising, marketers rely on outbound tactics to promote their content. Inbound and outbound efforts should work together to effectively attract and engage your target audience.
Speaking of inbound and outbound working together, account-based marketing (ABM) has emerged as a powerful B2B strategy for reaching and engaging specific, named targets in order to grow your sales pipeline. While demand generation focuses on targeting specific personas or client types and attracting the interest of unknown prospects, ABM is hyper-focused on targeting specific contacts at specific companies with which a firm wants to do business with or is already engaged.
While some may see ABM as a replacement or alternative for demand generation marketing, ideally ABM is a complimentary marketing strategy that runs in conjunction with other broad-based marketing initiatives aimed at raising awareness and attracting unknown prospects. The truth is, demand generation and account-based marketing both serve different, yet important marketing needs and your marketing strategy needs to integrate both.
While it’s true that we live in a digital-first, mobile-enabled world, offline marketing efforts still have a place in an integrated B2B marketing strategy. Print, for example, is still a powerful medium that marketers can leverage, but it requires a different approach than in the past. Many think of content marketing from a digital perspective, but print can actually provide a fantastic medium for longer-form content such as magazines and guides, while giving your audience something tangible to hold onto.
Similarly, another offline tactic that has a place in an integrated B2B strategy is tradeshows. Over the last several years, B2B marketers have listed in-person events as their most effective marketing tactic in CMI’s B2B content marketing research. The theme continues here: online and offline should work together in an integrated, complementary way. Business-to-business marketing is still centered on building relationships with people, and you can’t do that entirely using online means.
With the rise of content marketing over the last several years, there has been an enormous emphasis on owned media: the content (such as your website, social media profiles, blog, emails, etc.) that your business produces and owns. And this emphasis has marked a seismic shift in marketing communications, whereas historically marketers have been dependent on paid media (advertising) and earned media (public relations) to get their audience’s attention.
But as with previous points, owned media doesn’t negate the need for paid and earned media, it just requires you to change your approach. Owned media can garner you earned media, and both paid and earned media can lead people to engage with your owned media. Get the idea? As with channels, your efforts are going to be most effective when your approach is integrated.
B2B buyers have changed dramatically over the last decade — becoming increasingly self-reliant, research-oriented and sales-averse. And the buyer’s journey is starting to look a lot less like a traditional funnel and more like a French horn. It’s non-linear, differs from prospect to prospect and relies more and more on thought leadership and content marketing to inform selection decisions. So your marketing efforts should be aimed at engaging these B2B buyers before they engage you.
But while this has undoubtedly altered the role that sales and business development play in winning new business, it hasn’t made them inconsequential to the process. The rainmakers and relationship builders are still critical, marketing has just become much more critical than they’ve been in the past. Naturally, this shift necessitates alignment between sales and marketing activities. According to SiriusDecisions, B2B organizations with tightly aligned marketing and sales achieved 24% faster revenue growth and 27% faster profit growth over a three-year period. Sales needs marketing and marketing needs sales, and B2B companies need the activities of both integrated and aligned.
In today’s chaotic, digital landscape, no single tactic or channel is going to suffice. What’s needed is an integrated strategy and approach to B2B marketing communications that leverages the power and possibility of a myriad of tactics, channels and tools at marketers’ disposal.