B2B marketing to boom in 2017
by Mark Eardley. B2B is going to attract much more local spend and attention in 2017. This was clearly signalled last August, when Barclays Africa Group split its advertising account and created a dedicated B2B component. Other big-spending brands will surely follow suit. If they do, B2B is poised to become South Africa’s buzz-theme for the year.
Two cardinal rules
Whatever success these brands — and their agencies — achieve in the business marketing arena will depend on how well they jointly understand and apply B2B’s two cardinal rules.
These rules are the same today as they were, say, 60 years ago. The reason they have stood the test of time is that they are the only rules. Their hard-nosed purpose is to keep B2B marketing focused on fulfilling its sole goal: to attract and retain profitable customers.
Rule # 1: Engage everyone who influences the buying decisions that create B2B sales
In B2B markets, buying decisions may be influenced by many different people. They all need to be identified. A very short list of influencers might typically include industry analysts, specialist consultants and commentators in the media, as well as different roles within customers, such as finance, production, strategy, users and support.
Once the influencers have been identified, a multitude of channels may potentially reach them. As has always been the case, choosing channels depends on who needs to be reached. For example, influencers invited to a seminar forecasting the derived demand for aluminium will not be the same as those invited to a workshop on how to weld it.
When you engage them is also important. During the B2B buying decision cycle, different influencers have to be reached as the cycle moves from identifying needs through to selecting a solution.
Rule #2: Win every influencer’s sales-creating trust
When it comes to endorsing a business buying decision, all influencers share the same two criteria as they evaluate a proposed product or service. They need to trust their endorsement will contribute to the success of their organisation and to their personal, professional success.
Building that sales-creating trust is the cornerstone for developing every piece of so-called ‘content’. In short, that’s any form of relevant, credible information that satisfies the dual evaluating criteria of each and every influencer.
Measuring B2B success: is marketing following its cardinal rules?
There’s an easy way to test if the rules are being followed: are there direct links between marketing activity and profitable sales? The key word here is “direct”. Links must connect activity to achievement. If this can be demonstrated, then marketing passes the test. If not, the cardinal rules have been blatantly broken and marketing has failed to achieve its purpose.
Breaking rule #1 means content will not reach all the influencers. That’s often because there’s no formal process to identify them, their decision-making criteria or the significance of their opinions. Without that knowledge, marketing is left groping in the dark and is forced to resort to the unstructured, inefficient and high-cost approach of spray-pray-pay. Even if a company spends eye-watering sums to reach them all, influencers still need convincing content to support their decisions. Starving them of that content automatically breaks the rule #2. If nothing addresses their specific criteria, there’s nothing to win their sales-creating trust.
Breaking the second rule has ugly consequences. Decision-making slows to a snail’s pace and more competitors get asked for inputs. As customers battle to differentiate between competing suppliers, their decision inevitably comes down to who’s peddling the lowest price.
Strict but straightforward
B2B’s cardinal rules may be strict but at least they are straightforward. Stick to them and marketing will attract and retain profitable customers. Break them, and it won’t.
Mark Eardley advises B2B companies on how to govern their marketing to attract and retain profitable customers; several of his clients have grown to become market leaders. He is the author, together with Charlie Stewart, of Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide (Penguin Random House), which offers practical, actionable advice on how to make marketing make money. Find him on LinkedIn.
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