It’s time to get your B2B marketing strategy in order

You want to deliver content that will make a difference to buyers…not send more carefully curated product content “selfies”.

The classic American television show, The Dating Game, was a hit in the early 1970s based on a simple format. A bachelor would interview three bachelors (who were hidden from her) and at the end of the interrogation period, she would choose one to accompany her on a date. With limited information and time, the single had to ask good questions to find out what she could about singles, because she would make her choice based solely on their answers.

As pop culture has evolved to embrace a whole new genre of reality TV shows, the concept of asking thought-provoking questions to find out more about people remains a classic approach. The time has come in the world of B2B marketing.

It’s all about the buyer now

Let’s start with some basic facts. The B2B buying process has changed dramatically over the past decade. Although this change happened gradually before 2019, it jumped exponentially between 2019 and 2020. B2B buying behavior has changed to become increasingly self-service and digital.

Second, your target “buyer” today is often a group of people rather than an individual. Forrester found that 63% of purchase decisions in 2021 involved more than four people. In 2017, the number was only 47%. Not only are more buyers involved, but they need more interactions and information when researching buying options. According to Forrester, the average individual B2B buyer made 17 contacts in 2019. Now that same buyer makes an average of 27 contacts. That’s an incredible 58% jump.

The last thing to remember is that the typical B2B buyer isn’t in the buying process every day of every year. You can have them in your pipeline and wait months or years, depending on your product lifecycle, before they are ready to research their options.

To compensate for these changes, B2B marketers must support buyers who are looking for products and solutions that meet their specific needs; who work in larger buying groups; who seek information on several channels; who spend more time on independent research (and less time on sales); and who are actively in the market for new products for a limited time.

Related Article: Why B2B Marketing is a Long Game, Not a Random SaaS Game

Make a marketing shift

Despite all the significant changes in buyer behavior, the B2B marketing approach has remained essentially the same. The overwhelming majority of B2B marketing campaigns continue to promote an organization’s solution offerings rather than addressing basic buyer needs. Few companies explain why buyers should buy their offers, or what the specific benefits or use cases of the offers are.

In the current buying climate, that’s a big miss. Marketers must pay attention to buyers, understand their problems or opportunities, speak their language, understand the underlying business or technical needs to be addressed, and explain how their solutions bring value to buying organizations.

However, we can’t be too hard on our fellow B2B marketers as they struggle to adjust to new buying realities. Marketers have been regularly trained over the years by their employers to focus on company offerings (eg, our wonderful products), internal organizational structures (eg, our large business units) and company initiatives (e.g., our transformational journey to the cloud) rather than focusing on who their buyers are and the business issues they face.

But now is the time to change. B2B buyers expect no less. To help marketers create better buyer-focused campaigns, here’s a list of five basic campaign planning questions B2B marketers need to answer.

Related article: Do you suffer from account blindness in B2B marketing?

The 5 key questions

1. Who do you sell to?

Instead of starting with product or solution offerings, marketers need to start with the buyer. Can you clearly identify your buying audience? Do you know your key buyer personas? Do your buyers change based on different product offerings or market segments? When answering these questions, don’t make assumptions. Talk to sales to really understand who is involved in the deals that are closed. For example, your leaders may want to sell in the C-Suite (and push marketing and sales to get there), but most selling is really at the director level.

2. Why are they buying?

This is the critical (and often the most difficult) question to answer. Marketers need to be clear about their buyers’ primary initiatives, challenges, and needs. They need to understand how buyers describe the problems or opportunities they are working on. What are buyers looking for? Does this language change depending on the personality of the buyer or the market segment? Marketers need to understand the difference between the features and benefits of the business solution (our products do that) and the buyer’s need (the business or technical problem they are trying to solve). To answer these questions, it is essential to spend time with product marketing and do your homework on buyer needs and differences in buyer behavior across market segments.

3. Who makes the decision?

As the data tells us, B2B purchasing decisions are increasingly being made as a team. Marketers need to understand the concept of buying groups and the role(s) their buyer personas play in it. Is your buyer persona the champion – the key sponsor for a particular purchase? Are they the decision maker – the one with final budgetary authority for the purchase? Or is your character an influencer, the trusted source who plays a behind-the-scenes advisory role at critical points in the buying process? Do you talk to everyone involved in the buying group? If not, are you empowering your champion to speak on your behalf and gain buy-in support? Understanding the role your buyer persona plays as part of the buying group is crucial, as this will have a significant impact on the messaging and content to be created for the campaign.

4. How to reach them?

To answer this question, don’t just think of standard marketing channels like email or webinars. Ask yourself what influences your buyers’ decisions (peers, previous experience with your company or solutions, third-party research) and where your buyers go for information (online content, industry research, associations, vendors of the company). Understand this buyer behavior before making decisions about the desired marketing mix for your campaigns. Marketing teams that go through this thought process often find that they’ve typically over-shot certain tactics (eg, trade shows) and under-used other channels (eg, content syndication).

5. What do you deliver?

You may be defining the ideal marketing mix to reach your personas, but are you telling them a compelling and relevant story? Think about the content and offers you provide to your buyers. Does the content speak to them? Does it meet their business needs? Does he “speak” their language? Will your offers help a buyer take the next step in the buying journey or help an existing customer progress through the customer lifecycle? If the answer is no, it’s time to do some research with product marketing and existing customer advocates to understand the information that matters. You want to deliver content that will make a difference to buyers…not send more carefully curated product content “selfies”.

Conclusion: B2B marketing takes work

Answering these key questions takes work. But it’s worth it.

Once you can answer these questions confidentially, you will have the knowledge to create next-level marketing campaigns that will truly captivate your buyers. In other words, in the “dating game” of B2B marketing, you’re the one who has the date…and the chance to build a long-term business relationship.

William L. Hart