The majority of my marketing career has been spent working in B2B marketing. The “boring”, unsexy cousin of business to consumer marketing; B2B marketing is dull, stifling and restrictive.
Except, as I’ve discovered over the past 12 years or so I’ve been in the field, it really isn’t.
B2B Marketing is great. It’s my favourite, actually. Mostly because you can write blog titles like the above and nobody’s going to report you to the ASA or tell you off. In seriousness, B2B marketing has had a bad rap for some time. And I’m here to tell you all it’s not right.
After well over a decade wading through the B2B pool, I’ve learned quite a lot about how the quality of a business’ marketing is completely dependent on the culture of the organisation, how seriously they take themselves, and how well they genuinely understand their customer (actual and ideal – often two very different things) and what they do for them.
The dullest examples of B2B marketing I’ve seen over the years are from businesses who take themselves way too seriously, are too corporate and don’t want to overstep the line or stop copying exactly what their competitors are doing and, most depressingly, don’t understand the actual human being they’re trying to communicate with at the other end of the phone/email/ad//blog article/social media post…
As I’ve said before (and I’ll keep saying it!), B2B is just H2H (human to human!) and when it all comes down to it, we’re all just trying to do a job as well as possible and avoid the inevitable existential crisis that rears its head every few years in any given marketing career.
The best examples of B2B marketing are from people who are simply trying their damndest to explore what they’re about, how that fits with the people they want to work with/sell to/do business for, and that’s about it.
They work for businesses who understand the value of good creativity and will actually put their money into it, an investment into multimedia, a commitment to ongoing reputation building and an appreciation for the fact that really, there’s no such thing as a difference when it comes to B2B versus B2C because both are selling to regular human beings and deserve a fair crack of the whip.
But what exactly can you do if you happen to work for the former and you’re floundering in a job you hate, ghostwriting columns for your boss who spends his afternoon golfing with clients and asking “should we be doing this?” when yet another email for black hat link building services comes through, despite your endless explaining in every strategy or plan you put together what you actually should be doing?
If leaving your job isn’t something you’re seriously considering and you want to actually make things better (good on you!), then this post is for you.
Ask your actual customers
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a big difference between actual customers and ideal customers.
Many businesses spend a lot of time simply guessing what they think their aspirational customers want from them, without even asking their actual customers what their experience and opinions are.
Whilst you might be looking ahead to bigger customers and working on a plan that’ll take you there, it’s worth very little if you don’t truly understand where you are now. What do your current clients/customers think of you, your product/service offering, your team and the way you portray your brand to the world?
Anonymous is best – especially if you can get a third-party to do this exercise for you to keep it completely impartial (hi 👋) and you will – and I’d put good money on this – be taken aback with the responses. Ask people to talk in a safe space and BY JOVE, they will talk.
By understanding what you’re doing well and not so well now for your current customer base, you can glean a better understanding of what those aspirational customers are looking for, bearing in mind those businesses will have more robust procurement processes.
If you want extra brownie points (and less of a headache in the long term) this work should be carried out as part of robust persona discovery and revisited at regular intervals (18-24 months), and it really is worth delving into it all.
Connect the dots
Once you have the all-important view of what your current customers/clients think of you, you can start to widen the net.
You could try directly asking people working in the businesses you’d like to work with, although we anticipate success may be slim in that respect because – let’s face it – we’re all busy. You could also try LinkedIn posts and polls, although the quality of responses can be weak and irrelevant, so don’t hope for too much there.
The best way of connecting the dots, we find, is a full persona exploration using the qualitative data you’ve received from asking your existing clients and, well, levelling up a bit.
Deep dive into the industries you want to work in/clients you want to work with and pinpoint your main targets.
Find out as much as you can about them, their key stakeholders, the issues that matter to their business and build robust persona profiles that will help you communicate better with these people.
Stop selling so hard
I work with many clients who just don’t need to adopt an aggressive sales approach. They’re too busy being great at what they do and reap the benefits of that by naturally being attractive to the businesses they want to work with. It doesn’t happen by accident, however.
It’s a strategic approach that can take longer to yield fruit, but when it does and the reputation is where it needs to be, hard, needy and aggressive outbound sales tactics are a thing of the past.
B2B businesses have a tendency to look at their competitors’ marketing tactics, change a few words here and there and then expect the floodgates to open in terms of sales and revenue.
Come on, guys. Be serious! If you’re all regurgitating each others’ messaging, you’re all going to get a similar, lacklustre response.
How does a potential customer differentiate between your “solutions” and your competitors’ “robust methodology”? It’s all meaningless and it makes B2B marketing look bad.
Ultimately, if you’re doing this stuff properly – and that’s a big if! – it really shouldn’t feel so hard to gain new customers/clients. It also shouldn’t read like you’re trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes with meaningless marketing speak.
It’s time to stop selling and start doing.
Have some fun with it
Back to my original point, I wanted to end on what I think is integral to B2B communications. Fun. A splash of personality. A fearlessness in showing exactly what you’re about and what makes your business something to give a toss about.
With so much beige out there, there is an enormous opportunity to stand out.
The fact is, in many industries, the people procuring services are getting younger and have an innately fantastic grasp of digital media and how they like to be spoken to by companies. You’re no longer sending brochures and direct mail out to faceless contacts, you’re contacting them in real-time and being seen, everywhere.
Human, relatable messaging that cuts the fluff and compels the reader to find out more is what we’re aiming for here and, whilst it might take you a while to get there, taking the steps to begin is crucial.
Remember, B2B or not – it’s all H2H.
If you’re reading this and thinking it’s about time you did this stuff properly, reach out for a chat!
We’re obsessed with B2B marketing strategy creation, persona exploration and overall comms for service-led organisations, so will no doubt have ideas aplenty to get the ball rolling.