So your cousin has had a lot of success marketing his plumbing business on Facebook. Should you follow suit and invest in some Facebook marketing too?

There’s so much advice out there on marketing nobody can take it all in. To make matters worse, most of it is based around consumer and mass marketing. But the fact is, if you’re in business-to-business and trying to reach a specific niche, then a lot of this advice doesn’t apply. The key is understanding what does still work, and throwing out the rest.

Firstly, a quick definition, we are talking about business-to-business (B2B) marketing – marketing where you are selling to other businesses (including government organisations) rather than individuals.

1. Different demographics

When marketers are targeting the consumer market, they often base their campaigns on traditional demographics like age, gender and income level – and Facebook is excellent at targeting based on this.

But B2B demographics are very different. Usually you will know what type of company you are targeting, what sectors, what job roles. Often it can be even more niche and you’ll know the specific companies, and even individuals that you need to reach.

A scattergun approach simply won’t work and can waste a lot of resources. B2B marketing should be done through platforms where you can directly target these people. This could include meeting them directly at industry events, targeted campaigns through LinkedIn, where you can segment on appropriate demographics, sending newsletters to existing clients or lists you build yourself, advertising in industry journals that the right people actually read, and custom lead generation campaigns.

2. Long lead times

Many consumer purchases are made once and straight away, possibly in a physical shop or increasingly online. This is where Google Ads and other targeted digital marketing works well, you can drive someone straight to your site, see whether they buy or not, and measure your conversion rates, cost per click and know if this type of ad is worth it.

But many B2B deals involve a tender process, or protracted negotiations for high value deals – it’s not a click and forget scenario. As a result, it’s important to set the pace of your marketing to match the length of your sales cycle. This means that it’s ok to drive traffic to your site if that’s what you want to do, but if they’re not ready to buy that day, you should still have options for them to engage with you, such as a newsletter to sign up for or an eBook download or webinar registration for which they provide their details.

Effective B2B marketing needs to use different content and platforms to reach people at all stages of the sales cycle. This might include;

  • Generating initial awareness and trust in your brand: this is where you need to leverage existing audiences, get involved in industry associations, sponsor industry events, have a profile in respected trade journals in print and online.
  • Educating the market: If your solution is new and innovative, you may need to invest more in changing hearts and minds and creating demand. This can be done through useful content, technical papers, Ebooks and webinars, which can sit on your own site and be promoted through various industry channels.
  • Pre-purchase research: These days, people are likely to do most of their research online before they even reach out to you. It’s vital your website includes answers to their most likely questions, as well as the opportunity to opt-in for more information when they’re ready.
  • Lead capture and nurture: At some point you want to start getting these buyers into your pipeline. Here you need to ensure they can get in touch easily via your website, or if you want to generate more leads, you can work with an external supplier. At this point, many companies will have a sales team that gets in touch and hopefully closes that sale. But even opt-in leads aren’t always ready to buy, and this is where a lead nurture campaign, such as an ongoing series of emails sharing useful content, helps keep you top of mind until they are ready to buy. Maintaining a visible presence in other newsletters, websites, magazines and events that your industry engages with is also a great way to to keep visible with lukewarm leads.
  • Closing: The closing process is often a lot more complex than your customer just clicking ‘purchase’ online or walking into a shop and taking your product off the shelf. Often there are contracts to be signed, detailed documentation and compliance, and an ongoing process. Even at this stage it’s important to have the right resources and materials to guide the customer through the process.

BONUS TIP:  At each stage of the sales process, your materials should help either nudge the customer along the funnel to the next step, or loop back to an earlier stage if they’re not ready yet.

3. Dealing with multiple decision makers 

When a consumer makes a purchase, they decide and that’s it. For larger purchases they might need to get their partner involved as well. In B2B, there’s often a whole chain of people who are involved in some way in the decision making process.

So it’s important that your marketing reaches them and addresses their different concerns.

If you are dealing with a large organisation such as a utility, there may be more hands-on employees that use the product and recommend it, senior management that have ultimate sign off, or even external stakeholders like engineering consultants who make recommendations. 

Good marketing needs to reach all of these people with different variations of your message that are adapted but of course consistent. Hands-on employees will be more interested in details around functionality and usability, engineers may need more technical detail, senior management will be interested in the financial impacts and bigger picture benefits.

4. Personal relationships

Lots of consumer businesses rely on personal relationships too, your local cafe or tradie for example, but most consumer marketing is more based around the impersonal, mass market nature where someone makes a purchase and moves on, the ongoing message is more based around identifying with the brand than any individuals at the company.

In B2B, it’s often necessary to have ongoing, long-term relationships with the individuals at the companies you sell to. Not just that, these people move around over time and it’s not uncommon for the people you know to pop up at a new company, or even cross the boundaries between working for suppliers and customers.

This means that consistency and reputation are key. This matters in all marketing, but with consumers this is tied more to the product, in B2B it’s as much about your personal integrity and reputation as anything else. People buy from people and they need to know they’re working with people who know what they’re talking about and do what they say.

Of course the best way to deliver on this is by living these values. But the perception can be further enhanced with the right marketing and communications. In B2B there’s often great scope to build up the profile of your key staff as experts or thought leaders, the more they get quoted on a topic, speak at a conference or be seen in trade media or on social media the more that trust will be reinforced.

Keep the best, throw out the rest

Consumer marketing tends to lead the way and be more experimental, so there’s lots that B2B marketers can gain from studying mainstream trends. But it’s important to be aware of the differences, and not get caught up in trying to do something not suited to your industry. By working with agencies and channels that specialise in B2B marketing you can avoid many of these pitfalls.