The world of B2B marketing is changing rapidly. Over the past few years, we’ve seen trends emerge that challenge many of the traditional ways we think about demand generation.
A great illustration of this movement was the latest SiriusDecisions “Demand Unit Waterfall”, released just a few months ago, which essentially redefines the definition of a B2B buyer. Rather than leads or accounts, it focuses on “demand units”, defined as “a buying group that has been organized to address a need the organization is challenged with” — in other words, the group of key influencers with buying power within a given company.
If there’s one common line between this and all the other evolutions in B2B marketing we’ve seen in recent years, it’s the evolution of a more targeted model for demand gen, which increasingly resembles consumer marketing in its emphasis on audience personalization.
This evolution received a huge boost with the adoption of account-based marketing alongside traditional lead-led approaches, and has also been propelled more recently by the explosion in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology in the B2B space, which is empowering marketers to do so much more with their customer data.
Here are 5 ways in particular that B2B marketers can continue to evolve by taking a page from the B2C handbook:
1. Audience-centric marketing
Behind the evolution of demand gen — from fishing for leads, to named accounts, to combining both (“demand units”) — is a recognition of the importance of understanding B2B audiences on a personal level. (In fact, for SiriusDecisions, identifying your Total Addressable Market sits right at the top of the funnel.)
Of course, B2B audiences are made up of leads and accounts — but that’s only part of the story.
Audience-centric marketing is the difference between defining a qualified lead or account by checking-off the standard boxes (“job title”, “industry”, “company size”, etc), to zooming in and getting to grips with more personal information — specifically, those relating to the individual leads’ relationship with their account, like responsibilities and job functions, site-level hierarchies, and capacity and propensity to buy. These are the insights that really separate between a potential customer and an unqualified lead.
This echoes the approach of contemporary B2C marketing. Effective consumer marketers don’t merely spam you with every possible item or experience they can offer; instead, they’re using the right data on you to identify which offerings, if any, would be most relevant. That data can range from your age/social demographic, where you live and work, your previous related purchases, your personal interests and even your attitudes and beliefs — all of this gleaned from a huge range of data sources spanning online cookies, intent data and other third-party structured and unstructured data (more on that later).
2. Greater Personalization
Knowing who their target audiences are enables marketers to consistently serve the right content to the right people. The advantages to both customers and vendors alike are obvious. For the former, it means a far more pleasant, less intrusive or irritating customer experience. Customers who receive relevant content are much more likely to consider buying than those served content — even on potentially useful products or services — which doesn’t speak to them.
Consumer marketers do this as a matter of course. It’s no coincidence, for example, that Amazon manages to consistently serve you with relevant ads. Their eCommerce division combines the enormous masses of data at their disposal with AI, to accurately predict what kinds of offerings will resonate with you.
For B2B marketers, greater personalization means more efficiency and greater ROI. Marketing efforts won’t be wasted on unqualified leads or accounts, and sales will similarly save time by only focusing on genuinely qualified prospects. Tailoring content more personally also means their marketing spend can go a lot further.
For example, personalized emails are can generate a sixfold increase in in transaction rates than generic email campaigns.
3. Omni-channel marketing
On a related note: personalization also opens the potential for B2B marketers to fully utilize all the channels available to them in ways that have until now been impossible.
For example, online ad campaigns are seen as notoriously ineffective in the B2B world. But that’s more a function of the two-dimensional, “traditional” B2B methodology — i.e. just target a specific group of company IP addresses and hope the right people at those accounts will see a relevant ad. Unsurprisingly, you won’t get far by simply throwing content in the general direction of your customers and hoping it lands in front of the right person.
Direct mail poses similar challenges: it’s a particularly high-cost strategy, which is only worth pursuing if you’re confident of a reasonably high response rate.
Switching to an audience-centric model helps to narrow the field significantly. Using the right individual-level data can make targeting far more effective for B2B marketers too, by ensuring the campaigns they’re investing in are reaching the right audiences.
To illustrate: a recent Facebook ad campaign we ran at Leadspace saw a 25% lift in click-through rates when we utilized AI to target a more specific, relevant audience.
4. Speak wants and needs, not product features
Every B2B marketer worth their salt knows that to reach your prospects, you need to address the problems you’re solving rather than the specific features of your product or service, no matter how impressive or sophisticated they are.
And yet, so many B2B marketers are still putting their audiences to sleep by yammering away about their product’s shiniest features. The reason for this is that it’s impossible to talk to your customers’ needs if you don’t know who they are and what their pain points are. Without that vital intelligence, the only alternative is to either talk generically or simply fall back on the product itself and hope some relatively informed prospects will respond.
Ultimately, the people who you want to sign a check will only do so in return for solutions to their own business problems. They aren’t interested in “state of the art,” “best in class,” or “advanced XYZ” — they’re looking for ways to be more effective at their jobs, save time, and avoid pressure from other departments or their managers.
Again, marketers can find that information by getting the right customer data — but it’s also just as important to listen to your customers themselves for important insights and feedback.
5. Turn customers into advocates
The most successful consumer brands know that their interaction with their customers doesn’t end with a sale. B2C marketers work hard to ensure their customers will keep coming back for more, and ideally act as advocates and encourage their friends to buy.
The idea of turning B2B customers into advocates sounds almost bizarre at first — B2B marketers aren’t selling anything fashionable, cool or viral. But so what? B2B customers aren’t looking for fashionable, cool or viral. By taking an audience-centric approach, B2B marketers can understand their customers’ most urgent pain points and then effectively solve them. Isn’t helping your customers sleep well at night knowing they’re doing their job better than ever before enough reason for them to become fans?
Bringing it all together
Many B2B marketers are starting to do at least some of these things already, perhaps without even realizing it. But as demand generation continues to evolve, the most successful marketers will be those who combine them all to provide truly audience-centric marketing campaigns which truly resonate with their target audiences.
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