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11 B2B fundamentals to master before defining your Marketing Strategies and tactics, Part I

Updated: Aug 28, 2022

As business ecosystems become more complex and diverse, they require new approaches to reach their goals and audiences. There's a lot for B2B marketers to comprehend if we want to succeed.

What comes before the marketing strategy and tactics? The fundamentals of the B2B market.

To build a well-running marketing machine, marketing leaders must understand and master different B2B areas and concepts beyond marketing, from specifics of B2B products, buyer personas, and their behavior, segmentation, and positioning to the sales funnel and purchasing considerations and customer relationships.

The concepts can be complex, and the strategies intricate, but there is a transformation happening that requires us to rethink all things marketing.

Ultimately, it all comes down to selecting proper B2B Marketing strategies and using efficient techniques. In times when new tools and approaches emerge consistently, you will have a much easier way to understand whether and how they fit your purpose by having a grip on the B2B fundamentals.

Connecting the dots - linking the 11 fundamentals with strategies and tactics

Here are some examples of how the fundamentals should drive the change of strategies.

Suppose COVID forced 90% of your prospects to move to online research before engaging with your sales. Replacing (at least some of) your expensive trade shows with a digital-based sales and marketing strategy based on search ads, content, and social selling probably makes sense, especially if you are taking the SaaS route.

Suppose you decide to go for late funnel prospects with clearly identified problems. In that case, it probably makes sense to augment (or replace) cold calling (where you shoot blanks and hope to make just this one lucky call) with intent-based advertising across different search engines and high-converting landing pages.

Suppose your advert campaigns are not working, no matter how creative your agency goes. Until a client reveals the hard truth that you targeted the wrong person with the wrong message. Instead of IT, you should have targeted the compliance team with a clear regulatory risk message.

Suppose you do not get any leads from tier 1 and tier 2 clients. One day you finally decide to involve an external agency performing research on early-phase influences and decision-making. Tier 1 clients clearly state what their process looks like: consulting with analysts and top consultants for a riskless pre-selection phase. As you have zero relations with analysts and the big four, you have two options- either to position for lower-tier clients or work on your influencer-analyst-partner program.

These were some examples of how changes drive us to change the approach. Now, let's go to the fundamentals; in this post, I will outline them according to my personal experience. They worked for my marketing teams, so I am sure some will work for you; mastering them will help you select proper strategies and make your operations more efficient.

So, let's start our ten-step journey toward B2B marketing mastery,

1) "Why they buy" - master understanding of what moves your client's markets and what it takes for them to become a market leader

It is never about your product or services. It is about your client's motives, strategic initiatives, and priorities. It is about how your product fits these initiatives and the promised benefits of your tech. The motive can range from compliance with new regulations, replacing an end-of-life legacy system, transforming distribution Channels and-0r logistics, or becoming an ecosystem player. Link your tech to these initiatives, and make sure it is clear how you can help. Consider also the different approaches you may use- for a "first-time"/"innovation" or a "replacement buy,." When dealing with replacement initiatives, your focus should be the differentiation of your solution, while for an "innovation" buy, you must demonstrate clear value and the ROI of the purchase. Also, be prepared for longer cycles for the "first-timers"- help them jump the chasm and explain why to invest in hyped technologies.

2) "How they buy" - understand the stages and activities of your prospect's buying journey

Prospects move through different buying stages, from problem identification to supplier selection. Driven by the desire to close the deal, we often jump these stages too soon; sometimes, we even move from marketing to sales too fast. By understanding what activities they are performing, we can adequately address their needs, and by understanding whether they are ready to move to the next stage, we can use our resources efficiently and oversee the pipeline properly. If there is no consensus on the problem (problem identification phase), it may not be the proper time to address the price. If they asked for a demo (solutions exploration phase), it does not mean there is a project or even a budget. Being involved is still your chance to demonstrate all the uses, benefits, and unique advantages of your technology (and maybe even influence the "requirements definition" phase), but be clear about the stage of the journey. If they have not yet defined the scope and there is no project charter, there may not even be a budget, and the final "vendor selection" phase could be months away. Do not assume and jump to conclusions; ask questions. And do not assume that there is such a thing as a vendor sales-driven process. Today, the process is driven by the B2B Buyer.

This is still the most "close to real life" journey diagram out there, which also perfectly reflects my experience with enterprise-level mature buying organizations.

Source: "The B2B Buying Journey" by Gartner

3) "Who buys" - address adequately the many people and roles that influence and make purchase decisions

B2B buying decisions depend on external influences such as consultants, analysts, and peers and the motives of internal stakeholders and decision-makers. To address them adequately, you have to answer many important questions. Who is the first person your clients turn to when they have a problem? A top-tier consulting name or a local boutique consulting shop? What about market analysts? Does it make sense to spend time on a strategic analyst relation program or work with LinkedIn "celebrities"? What is the balance between technical and business decision-makers? Who runs the initiative, and who has the budget? Who is the line of business person vital for the decision to go in your favor? You need to understand these personas, roles, and motives to address them with compelling propositions and messages. Do not forget- you always talk to someone, and this someone is a person, not a company. Threat this someone as the hero of this journey.

4) "What moves through buying stages?" - make your brand available and provide answers at every step of their journey

People make decisions based on the information at hand. A reach digital self-guided experience powered by relevant and educational content is an excellent way to steer the buying process. Support prospect's intent-based search with content (your content marketing strategy) relevant to the search and what they are looking for. Address the questions asked during the late buying stage discussions. Use thought leadership to show your vision, value proposition, and differentiation. Use client testimonials; market analyst reports establishing trust. To achieve rapport with your prospects, empathize and demonstrate that you understand their problem. Advocate your solution by addressing their problem from your unique perspective and angle- convince them you are the Yoda to guide the Skywalker through his journey. But, before all, ensure mental and physical availability. It is not all about digital; it is also about brand salience, relationships, and people. Be available in every situation- be there when they identify the problem (mental association or-and even "physical" presence via a consultant or a partner) and be there when they are ready to move and need your content.

5) "Who is your client?" - positioning, segmentation, and messaging are critical to efficient marketing

The only way to successful marketing messaging is clear positioning. Positioning is not a marketing-only exercise but about building key differentiation of the complete offering. Segmentation is critical. Can we build enough trust to go for tier-one clients? Going for a too broad segment (and a wrong one) is one of the reasons your campaigns have a low response and your lead generation is inefficient. You can not satisfy all the markets all the time. You need a combination of an enterprise and a buyer persona, to which you are a superior alternative to what they are currently doing. "Segment, segment, segment ..." is a mantra you should chat about. Then comes your previously identified buyer person, and you are ready for proper differentiation and proper persona-focused storytelling.

6) "The business and emotional value" - address both the rational organizational needs and the emotional aspects of individual decision making

The B2B buying process is both rational and emotional. Based on the need, it is designed to be rational because companies buy solutions to satisfy the rational needs of an organization, as opposed to an individual's emotional need and want. But, even rational decisions involve emotion. Costly solutions come with personal risks ranging from acting cautiously to causing decision paralysis. An ROI calculation is an "Insurance" designed to protect not only the investment but also the individual's risk (from losing internal status to losing a job). Along with ROI goes trust (an emotion) which is one of the essential elements of B2B decision-making. And then, there are other elements of behavior-based influence that we can include in our B2B marketing processes, such as investing in the share of voice (likability), freemium models (reciprocity, commitment, and consistency), and authority (market influencers and analyst relations).

7) "From setting goals to defining marketing strategies" - ask yourself consistently "will it make the boat go faster?"

Although no strategy ever survived contact with opponents' armies, it does not mean you should not set your goals clearly and define the corresponding strategy. Documenting goals will help you think about them; sharing your approach and vision with your colleagues and your marketing team will lead to commitment toward joint goals, which is essential for success. It is not about activities and tasks; it is about your goals. Adopt the strategies and tactics if they do not work. Do only things that help achieve the goals. Steer your boat correctly and with reason. Write down everything and put a "B2B marketing plan and strategies" label on it.

8) Measure - navigate, and make decisions based on data

Steering your ship, demonstrating, and communicating your contribution and progress, should be based on data. As important as is the commitment toward goals, the same is valid for tracking your team's and organization's progress towards these goals. Clearly defined and measured KPIs are key to your team's performance, but they must be assigned and tied to personal performance. They are also your friend regarding the budget and funding of your projects. This is an area I am frequently asked about, and I can tell you that your CEO and CFO will always look for value; there is no way to prove it without data and analytics.

09) Digitalize every possible process and then some - invest heavily in marketing technology

Technology will not only make your life easier but will also change the quality of what you do. Use Google Analytics for traffic trends and ad quality, use a marketing CRM for your master data, use marketing automation software to nurture your prospects and email campaigns, employ web lead analytics to understand whom you have attracted, and use AI for copywriting and SERP analysis at least when your energy level is down (the machine never gets tired). There is no modern B2B marketing without tremendous technology investment. Check your pulse by assessing whether you spend at least 20% of your budget on tech.

10) The changing relationship between R&D and Marketing and Sales - the need for collaboration was never more important

In a world where marketing touches every aspect of business, the need for collaboration has never been more critical.

One reason we must rethink strategies and goals is the changing nature of other functions. Managing relations with functions such as Sales and R&D was always crucial and, most of the time, a challenge for marketing leads. Sales used to have sole control over information and communication with prospects, but those days are gone. As marketing became more than "putting your company’s name out there" and got deeply involved in lead and opportunity generation, a successful transformation requires both sides to work together effectively. Cloud helped R&D teams to transform Software into a service that can quickly be provisioned to B2B Customers. To fully leverage the model, think B2C-like. You can read about B2B and B2C similarities here.

11) building long-term value - keep a healthy balance between brand and activation-related investment

Successful B2B brands understand the importance of brand experience across different touchpoints. It is not only sales and marketing, but mostly customer services, support, and more. Leading brands strive that the actual experience is at the level of expectations, if not better. Marketing leaders must advocate the importance of brand experience even though it is our of their hands. What they can do, is to take care that there is a healthy balance between brand and sales activation in investment. It does make sense to focus first on supporting sales for a quick win, but you also must plan to move towards branding and a healthy balance. While your Forbes editorial or a keynote before an influential audience may not run for a quick win but rather a long-term brand benefit, the Google Ad, from a B2B marketing campaign that no one even noticed, may have turned into a qualified lead that could turn into a win. If your team is small and growing, watch for the right moment to reorganize it to split responsibilities, differentiate the strategies, and build up different competencies.

Instead of a conclusion - include these fundamentals in your team's curriculum

I do. And I can tell you that, after a deep dive and thorough discussion about fundamentals, it is much easier to understand why we are doing the things we are doing. To everyone.

And we then always go back to these fundamentals to check things such as whether our lead strategy still reflects the changed "how they buy" due to changed customer behavior and more. Ultimately, it all comes down to selecting proper B2B Marketing strategies and using efficient techniques.

I admire every Marketing leader trying to transform their organization into a market-driven one. I admire it because marketing can be one of the most challenging areas of work within B2B. And I've worked on some serious software R&D projects (OS development), led customer support teams, and, to keep myself in good shape, I still make sales calls. But, I would still stick to marketing because it can be one of the most exciting areas of B2B.

I hope you enjoyed reading my learnings.

I am always interested to hear what you are.

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