Prepared for U.S. Postal Service®
By SIS International Research, Inc.
There is a misconception in the B2B space. Many marketers and sales professionals assume B2B transactions to be impersonal and based on strictly rational decision-making.
However, experts like McKinsey & Co. and B2BMarketing.net recommend that B2B companies give just as much attention and care to their clients as B2C companies would their individual customers.
A customer-centric mindset is a given in B2C. Now with customer expectations and standards rising fast, it has become critical for companies in the B2B space to improve their customer experience as well.
Yet over two-thirds of customers are ready to take their business elsewhere.
Chalk it up to complacency or lack of awareness, the result is that most B2B companies could be at risk of losing a share of their customer base because of the subpar customer experience that they are providing.
Among B2B companies, those who are leaders in customer experience have higher margins.
In fact, companies who take significant steps to improve their customer experience can see:
arrow_right_altIncreases in client and employee satisfaction
arrow_right_alt10%–20% decreases in cost-to-serve
arrow_right_alt10%–15% increases in revenue
Effective B2B marketing today must include a robust digital strategy. Research by B2B marketing agency Omobono shows that digital is a key factor in the increasing pressure for marketers to “consumerize” the experience for customers.
Across the board, buyers are applying their B2C expectations to their B2B purchases. Digital marketing may help B2B companies meet new demands.
We surveyed and interviewed marketing professionals at B2B companies across a variety of industries. Read on to hear what they said and learn more about current trends in B2B and best practices that your company can begin implementing today.
Tap Into the Top B2B Marketing Trends
Discover the trends transforming marketers’ campaigns, from hyper-targeted personalization to new forms of media and technology.
Account-based marketing (ABM) is one of the biggest trends in B2B marketing today. It is the practice of concentrating marketing resources on a specifically defined set of target accounts in order to launch personalized campaigns designed to resonate with these special accounts.
Nearly 100% of marketers using this strategy report it has a higher ROI than other initiatives.
While most of the marketers we interviewed reported having an ABM program, some of them said their companies were doing a poor job of being more customer-centric or initiating ABM programs. ABM is one way that respondents in our study said that their business was becoming more like a traditional B2C business.
The benefits of ABM are widespread. Successfully implementing an ABM strategy can lead to more tightly aligned sales and marketing teams, more efficient usage of marketing dollars with more measurable impact, and a better customer experience.
ABM campaigns can be hyper-personalized, targeting a specific decision-maker or group of decision-makers at a specific company. Be sure to do extensive research on your prospects’ respective pain points and take care to develop consistent storytelling across all platforms that addresses these issues.
Align sales and marketing teams for better results
For ABM to work, sales and marketing teams must be aligned and working together seamlessly. While it takes time to break down silos, successful ABM drives alignment with time.
Be patient and let ABM work
Taking a more ABM focused approach may be intimidating, particularly for sales teams who may see their lead volume decrease. Remember that 91% of marketers using ABM reported an increase in deal size, along with high conversion rates and increased revenue.
Nailing Content on Social Media
Social media—and your digital content—should show your customers that you understand their needs. Customers need to know you understand the unique challenges of their business and that you can solve those problems.
However, this doesn’t just mean showcasing your company’s products. B2B companies utilizing social media effectively post content that is relevant to their audience but may not be directly relevant to their business.
For example, a company selling computer hardware to healthcare companies regularly posts about the role of virtual reality and artificial intelligence technology in health and wellness. Providing content that is relevant to your customer base may help boost awareness of your brand as customers share that content with others.
Recognize the value of “soft measures.”
Driving sales is important, but just measuring marketing efforts by how many leads they generate doesn’t capture their full value. This is especially true for social media.
Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn® professional networking services can be much more effective at improving “soft measures,” or KPIs that are less quantifiable. For example, social media may be much more effective at improving brand awareness and the strength of customer relationships.
Brand your leadership.
Social media can also be an excellent channel to promote the executives at your company, both their strengths and skillsets. To help boost trust with potential customers, have executives post on LinkedIn about trends and their areas of expertise.
Content marketing goes hand in hand with social media efforts. According to marketing education and publishing company Smart Insights®, businesses should ideally create three types of content aimed at customers at different points on their sales journey which they can promote through social media channels.
The first type is aimed at a casually interested audience. They may have a passing interest in the subject matter or just have limited time to consume the content. These pieces should be light, pique interest and curiosity, and be entertaining. After consuming this content, the audience may want to take a deeper dive.
The second type of content is aimed at a more curious audience. This audience typically wants content directly relevant to their current needs.
This content should still have an entertainment factor, but marketers need to balance the entertaining with the informative. Consumers of this type of content should come away with some bit of information that they didn’t have before.
The third type of content is aimed at a committed audience. To these consumers, the content should be highly relevant, as they have the time and desire to consume it. The main goal of this level of content is to educate the consumer in greater detail.
This audience may be the most willing to share their contact information, to become a lead, for access to this content.
Content marketing was a key area of focus for many of the marketers that were interviewed. Over 80% of our respondents reported using content marketing as part of their overall marketing plan.
Additionally, nearly half of our respondents reported plans to increase or improve their content marketing efforts in the near future.
Leverage different content for different stages of the customer journey
Customers at different stages of the sales journey desire different types of content. Consider investing in a broader content marketing program that allows your company to hit key parts of the marketing funnel.
Make content snackable
One respondent we interviewed spoke of an increased demand for content that is brief and to the point. Customer attention spans are short, and their time is very valuable to them. There’s a place for deep-dive white papers, but be sure to incorporate quick hits like infographics that can be digested in seconds.
Interactive content helps marketers capture their audience’s attention. It turns marketing from a passive process of consumption into a dynamic conversation and creates a dialogue between marketer and buyer.
Plus, it can generate a wealth of actionable data. For example, by incorporating quizzes on their websites, companies can gather the information they need to progressively build customer profiles.
An added benefit: Consumers are significantly more likely to share interactive content.
It’s shared more than twice as often as static content:
Interactive content can take many forms, of course. According to research by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), contests, games, quizzes and assessments are all most effective in the early stages of the customer journey. Calculators and interactive white papers are most effective in the middle stages.
Finally, configurators are most effective in the later stages of the customer journey. The further down the sales funnel the customers are, the more product-specific the content should be.
53% of B2B content marketers were using interactive marketing in 2016. A full 79% of marketers agree that it can also significantly help to drive repeat visits to the company website.
CMI found that the most common methods for measuring the success of interactive campaigns were website traffic and increased conversion rates. It also makes sense to measure effectiveness through signs of engagement such as time on site and pages per visit.
Stick out the learning curve
Adopting any new medium can be a huge challenge, and it’s easy to get discouraged. However, it’s clear with interactive media that results come from experience. Those who’ve used it the longest have been shown to use it the most.
Measure success by engagement
Many marketers fall victim to measuring their efforts incorrectly. If you decide to create interactive content, measure its success by its strength—engagement— and track metrics like comments, click-through rates and time on site.
Give credit where it’s due through proper attribution
Again with remarketing, the wrong attribution model may overly inflate or unfairly hide your success. First-touch models completely ignore the work done by remarketing campaigns. W-shaped models may be more effective in this case.
Make sure it’s relevant
Remarketing is a powerful tool, but the advertisements and deals you offer through it need to correlate to the interests of the target customer. Consider showing potential customers ads for complimentary offerings, or offer up a deal on the product they’ve been researching to help close a sale.
Conventional wisdom In B2B is that it typically takes six to eight points of contact to generate a viable lead. More and more, some of these points of contact are coming in the form of “micro-moments.”
Everyone is constantly bombarded with content in the digital age. We spend nearly five hours a day on our smartphones alone. The old model of advertising and marketing needs to shift in order to remain effective.
Micro moments are all of the brief, intentional moments throughout a consumer’s journey that inform their decision-making and shape their preferences.
They are the moments when we turn to our phones to act on an impulse to learn, do, watch, or buy something. Increasingly, these make up the majority of meaningful moments of engagement between consumers and brands.
Capturing the potential in these moments and converting them into sales is critical for success in today’s digital age.
Leveraging mobile for marketing is a foregone conclusion in B2C, but many in B2B sales and marketing have been slow to adopt mobile, citing low conversion rates and lack of research supporting investing in those efforts.
However, the research is clear: Companies that aren’t engaging their customers on mobile are at a serious disadvantage to their competitors who are and are at risk of losing both potential sales and overall market share.
Remember that B2B buyers are mobile
The B2B buyer’s research process has become much more fragmented. Ensuring your site and ads are mobile-friendly may help your company target your potential customers in the space that they frequent most.
Maintain a consistent voice
With so many platforms and so many potential interactions, it’s important to have consistency. Make sure that your brand voice is the same across all channels. No matter how and where your customers interact with your business, their experience should be the same.
Today’s digital technology allows for improvements to direct mail. The average person is exposed to brand images or messaging 4,000 to 10,000 times a day, with hundreds of those exposures being intentional paid advertisements.
Less than 100 of those exposures even make it past the brain’s attention filters. Fewer still are actually remembered or engaged with.
Marketers should consider utilizing multiple channels to cut through the noise and be heard. With new technologies such as automation and augmented reality, the stalwart strategy of direct mail is gaining new life.
Automate Your Efforts
Advances in data and computing have led to the ability to fully automate your direct mail campaigns while maintaining the level of complexity and personalization necessary to keep them effective and relevant.
Companies have two valid options: build their own systems or outsource their direct mail automation to a firm that offers those services.
With modern automation and tracking software, companies can now track their efforts with laser specificity and adapt immediately to whatever the data tell them.
An automated system can even make your direct mail efforts even more personalized. For example, a business might program its direct mail system to send mailings out to specific individuals at a particular time dictated by their interactions on a company website.
Augmented reality technology turns an ordinary piece of mail into an interactive digital experience. It has been in the spotlight thanks to the viral success of mobile video games that utilize the technology.
Marketers are starting to use augmented reality with success in B2C. Some brands have become known more for their augmented reality marketing than for their product itself.
B2B companies utilizing direct mail could incorporate augmented reality elements into their mailings to potentially drive buyers to their mobile app or website. Getting buyers into their digital ecosystem where they can easily make purchases is key for driving sales.
The Benefit of Data Collection
It’s imperative to connect direct mail efforts to your digital presence. Automation, tracking and data-collection systems combine to allow for individualized and targeted marketing.
For example, if a buyer clicks a digital ad that takes him to company A’s website. He already uses company B, but the ad is engaging, and he decides to do his due diligence and look at the other options in the market.
On company A’s website, he is prompted to input his email address and contact information to receive a discount code, which he does. He is sent an email. A few days later, if he hasn’t engaged with the company further, the system automatically sends him direct mail materials, which have an augmented reality element.
Intrigued, he downloads the company’s app in order to experience the augmented reality. A few days later, a follow-up email is automatically sent. A few days after that, he decides to place an order.
Now, he’s connected with company A’s brand extensively, they're at the forefront of his mind and their app is conveniently already downloaded to his phone.
If this occurs, company A gets the sale.
Develop a robust digital presence
Augmented reality gives companies the chance to really make a lasting impression. However, without a robust website or mobile app on the digital end, direct mail efforts incorporating this technology are likely to fall flat.
Gather data and utilize automation
What used to take a monumental effort of manual tracking can now be completely automated to give you real-time data. Now companies can easily learn what segments of a direct mail campaign are working best. If you are using data analytics, consider leveraging that data to adapt campaigns and boost effectivity.
Today’s marketers are all competing with each other for a slice of ever-diminishing consumer attention. To succeed, B2B marketers need to take a cue from their B2C counterparts and consider developing a multipronged approach to marketing, including social media, direct mail, SEO and content marketing.
With consumer expectations becoming more and more demanding, companies that take a customer-centric approach will meet those expectations and set themselves up for success.
- Nicholas Maechler, Snajeev Sahni and Martine van Oostrum, “Improving the business-to-business customer experience,” McKinsey and Company, 2016.
- Anthony Boitbol, “How can B2B marketers be more customer centric?” B2B Marketing, 2017.
- “What Works Where 2018: Marketing’s Age of Illumination,” Omobono, 2018.
- Ivan Kreimer, “17 ABM Statistics that will make you rethink your 2018/2019 strategy,” RollWorks, 2018.
- “What is Account-Based Marketing?” Marketo, 2018.
- “Blueprint to Account-Based Marketing: A B2B Marketer’s Guide to Getting Started with ABM.” Terminus, 2018.
- Kate Maddox, “Best Practices: How To Succeed With Account-Based Marketing In B-to-B,” Adage, 2015.
- Dominique Jackson. “How to Create a B2B Social Media Strategy (Without Being Boring).” SproutSocial, 2018.
- Dave Chaffey, “Using social media marketing in B2B markets?” Smart Insights, 2018.
- Tim Walters and Robert Rose, “Deliver Peak Experiences With Interactive Content,” Content Marketing Institute, 2016.
- “Reimagine remarketing,” Adobe, 2018.
- Dave Rigotti, “5 Smart Ways to Use Retargeting to Drive Leads In B2B Marketing,” Bizible, 2015.
- “Reimagine remarketing,” Adobe, 2018.
- Robbie Richards, “Understanding Marketing Attribution Models: A Simple Guide for Marketing Directors,” SnapApp, 2018.
- Andrew Nguyen, “5 Tips for Cracking B2B Attribution in 2015,” Bizible, 2014.
- Jason Spero, “How mobile is reshaping the B2B landscape for growth,” Think with Google, 2017.
- Sridhar Ramaswamy, “How Micro-moments Are Changing the Rules,” Think with Google, 2015.
- Robert Archacki, Kate Protextor, Gaby Barrios and Nicolas De Bellefonds, “Mobile Marketing and the New B2B Buyer,” Boston Consulting Group, 2017.
- Ron Marshall, “How Many Ads Do You See in One Day?” Red Crow Marketing, 2015.