Marketing Strategy Tips for Spinning B2B Companies

Outside of the sports field, the term “pivot” has become an idiom for corporate change. While pivoting can be circumstantial — think of all those who shut down production lines to aid Covid-19 pandemic efforts — it’s more often driven by an error in initial strategy, such as a failure to understand who your audience is, a mediocre-to-market product or business model that just hasn’t achieved your goals.

A pivot can also be the result of a happy accident, when part of a business sees an unexpected burst of growth and resources are diverted as a result.

Whatever the motivation, almost any business going through a period of upheaval is likely to need a quick and effective overhaul of their marketing strategy. The resulting approach will depend on the context, as well as how much of the “old” business or brand you want to take with you.

First, consider the level of change. Is your pivot more iterative than innovative, or more revolutionary than evolutionary? Is it a radical change, the same product but targeting a whole new type of clientele or a total transformation of your product line for the same audience?

Then think about your customer. To retain your existing customer base, you will need to think carefully about how to communicate this change. What’s in it for them? Why is this a good thing? Why might they, in fact, want to stop buying from you? The latter can be important when you have a customer base that is only marginally profitable at best and you are focusing on a new ideal customer profile (ICP).

To understand people’s reaction to change and to predict how your audience might react, there is a useful approach we can borrow from Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), called the Sameness/Difference Spectrum.

We all belong somewhere in one of these four categories:

  1. Similarity: These people actively resist change and like things to say the same thing.
  2. Identity with exception: They prefer continuity, but they can handle minor changes from time to time.
  3. Sameness with exception and difference: They are comfortable with big and small changes if they are not too frequent.
  4. Difference: They like change and change things frequently; without change, they quickly get bored.

Marketing personalities, while notoriously vague, can tell us a bit more about our customers. If you are targeting accounting firms or insurers, industries that tend not to take risks, you may decide to treat them, at least for marketing purposes, as categories one or two. If you’re targeting fast-growing or C-suite entrepreneurs, you might want to choose categories three or four instead.

When communicating with those who have a predilection for similarity, reduce references to change and transformation, and emphasize references and similarities to the status quo, reliability and continuity of service. For those who love change, make up the difference, focus on the inadequacies of the status quo, and demonstrate a clean break with the past.

Most pivots will have an element that will resist the upheaval – perhaps technology, people, customer service, or overall vision – that you can choose to maintain while creating a new offering. Even the most radically pivoted companies will want to avoid reverting to a start-up position.

However, in some cases, a pivot may be necessary because the old product or brand was somehow toxic. In this case, you might want to hit the full reset button. But this will be a relatively rare occurrence.

Ultimately, the key is to match your marketing to your pivot, ensuring you give your newly refreshed business the best chance of delivering messages that stick.

Jason Ball is the founder of B2B marketing agency Considered Content, which counts Google, Oracle, AT&T, EY and Microsoft among its clients. Ball is also behind Prolific, a one-of-a-kind managed content service created for the B2B industry. It helps ambitious marketers differentiate their brands, generate demand, and reduce friction in the buyer’s journey.

William L. Hart