Small business owners are always looking for ways to grow their business.
One way to increase sales and generate more leads is to strengthen marketing strategy.
“When B2B companies are small, they may not think much about marketing at all,” warned Bill Dwyer, a volunteer mentor with SCORE Vancouver, which offers mentoring services to startup business owners. “They do old fashioned things like cold calling, and until companies get bigger, they rarely do much in terms of real marketing.”
Companies with business clients and those with consumer clients often share the same goal of attracting, acquiring and retaining customers. However, small businesses that fit into the business-to-business (B2B) category often don’t understand the differences between B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing, which is crucial to developing and executing a successful marketing strategy.
Create a content marketing strategy around the buying cycle
The biggest difference between B2B and B2C marketing is the length of the buying cycle, said Joe Vernon, a content strategist at Gravitate, a Vancouver-based digital agency specializing in B2B marketing.
“With a B2B company, you want the [potential customer] to understand the benefits and value [of the product or service] because there tends to be a higher involvement and higher level of knowledge on the topic,” said Vernon. “B2C companies have a shorter buying process and appeal to customers’ emotions more.”
The content strategy for a B2B marketing plan revolves heavily around the customer consideration phase, while most B2C marketing relies primarily around on impulse buying.
Target the ‘super user’
Because the B2B customer lifecycle – made up of the awareness, consideration and decision phase – can take weeks or months to complete, B2B companies should focus on creating relationships with the key decision makers of the potential customer’s company.
The key decision makers, sometimes referred to the “super users,” are the people buying the product or service. Usually, multiple people contribute to the buying decision in a B2B transaction because the product or service is high-dollar.
To develop these B2B relationships between key decision makers, a company’s internal marketing department or outsourced marketing agency should create content for each stage of the buying process.
“Most people put all of the focus of marketing on the beginning and on the attraction, but we need to understand [marketing] is a relationship,” said Ronnie Noize, owner of Vancouver-based DIY marketing. “How do we meet, fall in love, get married, and then stay happily married? That’s how I look at [marketing].”
Create content to build trust
The first step to building a customer relationship is to create trust with awareness content, which may include a blog post or infographic offered through a company’s website.
When writing a blog post, for example, companies should be careful not to oversell or directly promote their brand, Vernon said. People are more likely to share and link to content with colleagues or friends if content is unbiased. In turn, this type of content can actually help a company’s web traffic performance, he explains.
Different stages of the buying cycle require different types of content. Most B2B decision makers remain in a “high involvement think” stage for a long period of time before buying a product.
“You would want to have more facts, figures, statistics and thought-leadership content in the ‘high involvement think’ stage than you would in the ‘low involvement think’ stage where you would want more photos, reviews and pricing information,” said Vernon.
CRM management software can help generate new leads
When a customer moves past the awareness stage, he or she is likely to look for new content from the same company he or she has read an educational blog post from. That’s where client relationship management (CRM) software comes in.
Automated platforms like Hubspot or Marketo can help with lead generation. Customers can exchange valuable contact information for content via a lead capture form on a company’s website.
When a company gives away a piece of content for free, a potential customer answers one or two qualifying questions to determine if the person is worth nurturing or contacting in the future.
“Then [a company] can nurture the lead through an email campaign or through targeted Adwords to help them keep coming back to your website,” said Vernon. “And eventually, a sales person may contact them and have a conversation.”
Also, companies should constantly perform A/B tests to see which content resonates the most and generates the most leads.
Put relationships first and ‘make good’ if you mess up
Once a company acquires a new customer or client, it’s important to nurture the relationship in order to keep it going.
“If somebody ruins a relationship between a company, it’s generally because of a disappointed expectation or a violation of trust,” said Noize.
If a company hires a caterer to provide lunch for a meeting and fails to show up on time, the business relationship between the client and the caterer has been damaged, explained Noize.
“Imagine if something like that happens on a really grand scale, and it happens to be something that is essential in the manufacturing of some important product and that delivery deadline is delayed,” said Noize. “That kind of thing happens all of the time, so the repair is to make it right.”
Chipotle is a recent example of a company that damaged customer relationships and has tried to “make good.” After investigating food contamination-related problems, the restaurant chain sanitized all of their restaurants and offered free food in hopes to win back customers.
A B2B business can also offer free services to try to repair a damaged relationship.
A consultant who misses a client appointment because of a scheduling error may offer to reschedule the appointment at no cost, and even offer an additional meeting for free, said Noize.
“The way things get made right will vary from situation to situation and business to business,” said Noize. “But things always need to be made right.”