Let’s be honest, the fundamentals of marketing rarely change year over year, but they do slightly evolve. With the new year, it is always important to review the foundation of your marketing strategy, your fundamentals, to ensure anything you build upon it is based on solid ground.
Given that our consulting at Maven Collective Marketing primarily deals with B2B (business-to-business) software/service organizations, we will be focused on addressing the online marketing fundamentals of B2B online marketing in this article.
WHO is Your B2B Audience?
To create any meaningful message or content that resonates with your audience you must understand who is your audience. Not just in a general sense, such as: “the people or companies that want to by my software or software services”. But, who are they really? What do they care about?
It is important that you know, understand and communicate with your end customer on a regular basis to be able to clearly communicate how your product/service can solve their particular problem(s) or address their unique needs. Remember, even when you are marketing and selling business-to-business everyone wants to feel special and understood.
Blanket statements like, “We know your business. We understand your needs.”, don’t resonant with your target audience. Here is an example of messaging that connects with a particular targeted audience that shows this company truly understands their customer:
“Deliver on your special mandate to regulate, enforce, and/or license a profession or trade. As a regulatory body, you face demands every day from your membership, applicants, and other stakeholders to manage application processing, certifications, examinations, quality assurance, and investigations/discipline. Since 1991 we’ve helped regulatory bodies and thousands of non-profits improve operational efficiency and meet these unique and demanding needs.”
This passage was taken from ASI’s Regulatory Bodies webpage, which speaks directly to government or professional regulatory bodies and regulated not-for-profits, clearly articulating ASI’s experience, knowledge and insights from working with this customer segment for over 25 years.
What if you haven’t worked with a particular customer segment for 25 years? There are other exercises you can conduct to get to know your target audience better, which will enable you to speak to them, and with them, more effectively.
Here are a few persona resources/exercises you can use to build out WHO your target audience is and WHAT they care about:
- How to Build a Buyer Persona for Better Marketing
- Questions to Ask When Developing Buyer Personas
- Guide to Creating Your Buyer Personas
WHAT Problems are You Solving?
The next question you have to answer is what problems are your target audience/target personas trying to solve? You should be learning about the concerns, problems and issues your target audience is facing when developing your buyer personas, but let’s take this one step further.
What exact problems are your target audience trying to resolve and what are they searching for online to do this? Many of us get tunnel vision assuming that our customers think like us, talk like us and understand all the nuisances of the technology we sell or service like we do. Companies in high tech are notoriously guilty of making this assumption and we lose out on business regularly because of this blind spot.
To try to remove those blinders there are some subjective and objective activities you should undertake:
- Ask Your Network: Does anyone outside of your technology industry speak your lingo? Do they know what CRM, ERP, MPS and OPS are?
- Do Your Research: What are the search terms being typed into Google/Bing/Yahoo/etc. (a.k.a. keyword research)? Are you understanding the purpose and intent behind these searches?
- Talk to Your Customers: Ask your customers – what problems are they facing or trying to solve? How have you helped them solve those problem(s) in their own words (not yours)?
Once you understand the problems your customers and potential customers are facing and are trying to solve (in your customers’ words), you can address these problems in your messaging/marketing to effectively communicate with your target audience and attract new customers.
WHY Are You Different?
In 2017, we have to admit that B2B software and services are a commodity, especially in the eyes of your prospective customers. You must differentiate your business and product/offerings to stand out in this saturated marketplace.
To do this you must have a strong value proposition that bleeds through every part of your customer experience. Few companies have done this well, but here are a couple of “gold stars” for businesses that have been able to clearly define their value proposition or differentiation strategy to successfully attract new customers:
Each of these companies have brilliantly differentiated their product/service in deeply saturated markets. These examples showcase the brand power behind a strong differentiation strategy that oozes through every interaction you have with these companies.
Your value proposition and brand differentiation isn’t solely owned by your marketing department. It should be embodied by each and every employee that represents your brand so your customer is bombarded by the differences they will experience and benefits they will receive working with your company.
HOW Do You Create Value?
Once you have defined how you are different from your competition, you must also define how this difference helps you create value for your end customer. Avoid touting the same features, functionality and product descriptions as each of your competitors.
The creation of value is a separate undertaking that must be established in your prospective customers’ minds before you can make the sale. This is critically important in an intangible market, such as software and software services where your customer doesn’t physically walk away with anything upon payment.
In this environment, value must be delivered throughout the buying cycle to your customers so that they feel comfortable that they will receive the value they expect upon signing their first check for your software/services.
In the B2B software and services market this is effectively created throughout the buying cycle by providing helpful advice that can help the customer along their buyer journey or showcase the value they receive upon becoming a customer. B2B software and B2B services companies do this through offering:
- “Try Before You Buy”: free product demonstrations, trials, guided tours, etc.
- Knowledge Sharing Resources: free whitepapers, eBooks, webinars, etc.
- Decision-Making Tools: free ROI calculators, assessments, etc.
Where Are All Your Leads?
Request a Lead Generation Website Audit to learn where and how to convert more prospects on your website to drive more business with call-to-action analyses, conversion path dissections/reformulations, call-to-action pairing and much more!
WHEN Do You Ask for Business?
Last, when are you actually asking for these prospective customers to become actual customers? Sadly, this is often the question that many B2B companies overlook. These companies assume that if their product/service helps solve a customer’s problem, the customer will quickly discovery their solution and contact them to purchase. It is that easy right?
Wrong. Do you think that is how Apple has created overwhelming demand for their products, waiting for their customer to realize their need for the iPhone, iPod, Apple Watch, etc.?
Steve Jobs famously said: “A lot of times, customers don’t know what they want until you show them.”
Well, that strategy has certainly worked for Apple.
In a past life, I was a Financial Advisor (sometimes we take a side road to get back on the highway). I walked door-to-door asking people about their experience with investing, financial advisors, planning for retirement, etc.
In some ways the financial industry isn’t that different from the software industry. Not many people understand it, but people know they need it. There are too many acronyms and most of the work is done without the client/customer seeing or even understanding the instruments and tools used.
What I learned from this experience is, although many of the people I spoke with had wanted to plan for their retirement they just didn’t know where to start. Also, those that were currently working with a Financial Advisor also felt a bit left in the dark as to what was actually happening with their accounts and investments, another common thread to software service providers.
I was the only one going door-to-door asking about their experience, their interests and if they wanted a second opinion on their current investments and retirement plan.
This worked well for me to build my business because:
- 1. I showed a genuine interest in my clients;
- 2. I addressed a need they may not have been aware of but knew they needed;
- 3.I asked for their business through offering a complimentary service.
Without asking if these potential clients wanted a second opinion, I’d be waiting around for clients to remember me when they came up with their own reason to need my services (e.g. an inheritance), whenever that may be. My experience in the financial industry taught me the critical importance of asking for business, not waiting for it. This lesson is just as important to the B2B software/services industry.
2017 B2B Marketing Fundamentals
The year 2017 is sure to be another banner year in digital marketing, with a plethora of Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird changes made to Google’s elusive search engine algorithm. Not to mention the number of updates to be made to the numerous social media platforms, online advertising mediums, etc. What will be the Snapchat of 2017?
I love the ever-evolving world of online marketing and its consistency to keep us improving content and context to make information and solutions more readily available to the end customer. Having said that, I also greatly enjoy the pure fundamentals B2B marketing in their simplicity to remain the foundation in which you can build and grow your online marketing practices year after year.
To overlook totality of your B2B marketing fundamentals is to embody the burden of Sisyphus. Take the time to get your critical WHO, WHAT, HOW, WHY and WHEN strategically defined at the start of 2017 to start your year with a solid foundation to build upon.
A graduate of the Management of Technology MBA program from Simon Fraser University (SFU) and a former Board of Director for the SFU Alumni board, Erica finds balance through academic challenges as well.
As a self-diagnosed digital marketing junky, she spends most of her days studying search engine algorithm updates, A/B testing her own confirmation biases and building digital marketing strategies for various B2B clients.
When unplugged from the Digital World, Erica spends her time brewing beer, ultramarathon running and exploring the vast north of the 49th parallel with her husband, kids and vizsla.