A lot of people understand that the glamourous world of advertising, that is, what you see on television, billboards or magazines, are great for consumer products and services. But what if you’re in an industry where your potential clients aren’t consumers at all, but businesses or organizations of some sort? Should you really buy advertising to tell the whole world about what you do, when only a few people, i.e. the owners or specific people within those businesses, will actually buy your services?
Of course not.
There are other techniques for marketing to businesses, and they are quite distinct from marketing to consumers. Like consumer marketing though, they are almost infinite, but there are a few things you can reliably say will be necessary in almost any kind of business to business (also know as B2B) marketing plan. We will place these in order of importance:
#1 B2B Marketing Method: Relationship Selling
I know what you’re thinking: Sales? Really, is that still necessary these days?
Here’s the thing: businesses who purchase services and products see their vendors as part of their success. If you screw up, you won’t just make them mad (as would happen with a consumer), but you’ll make your clients look bad to their customers. For example, if the cleaners of Tenato’s office don’t get the stains out of the coffee mugs, and we serve it to the customers that way, it makes us look bad to our customers. For that reason, we only want to deal with vendors we’ve met personally, vetted, and can trust. So, if any vendor wants to do business with us, we have to meet them face to face. Getting someone’s flyer isn’t going to make us send them a cheque. But it can sometimes get the vendor a meeting, which means that vendor’s sales representative has to do the rest. Being competent and committed to making sales meetings happen, regardless of industry, is the most critical way to turn prospects into clients.
Relationship selling has several components: researching the prospective client, making an initial connection, meeting face to face (if at all possible), and contacting regularly to make sure the relationship is on track. If you’re not strong at it, but need to be, your options are training or hiring others who are. But without good relationship selling, your B2B marketing program is going to be very weak, and your business will be significantly hampered in its ability to succeed.
The cost? Your time, and/or the cost of hiring a salesperson (note: this can even be a part time role – sales is a very flexible career, so do consider this).
#2 B2B Marketing Method: Branded Sales Tools
A salesperson is like a soldier on the front lines…and is it fair to send a soldier out to battle without a helmet, boots, socks, and weapons?
Now while there’s a small chance that a good relationship salesperson can land a client without any tools at all, having at least a business card, with a respectable company name and logo (that they can use for their proposals) will dramatically add credibility.
If the product or service is complex, having visuals such as a sample or a visual diagram, is the next most important thing. Even without a website, good salespeople can land clients with just these few things, assuming the company has a good strategy and shows value for the price asked.
The cost: Branding can cost $5 – $20K depending on how much help you need doing it.
#3 B2B Marketing Method: Website
You don’t need a consultant to tell you that websites are a crucial screening step that prospects use to determine how professional your company is. While many companies rush to get “something” live online, it is better to say “coming soon” with a very simple landing page than to do a shoddy job of an entire website.
The key to a successful B2B website is original writing and photography and updating these frequently. If you spend the time to really think about what you believe in, bring that across, and be original with your photos and message, it will resonate, no matter how basic your starting template may be.
I often say a website template is like one of those little airplane dinner plates – they’re like a flat plate with all little compartments you have to fill food into. No one cares about the shape of the plate, just the quality and freshness of what goes into it. If you can write something distinct, and do this often, you will be able to brand yourself uniquely over time.
The cost? $100 – $50,000. Plus the cost of excellent content.
#4 B2B Marketing Method: Social Media
When I say social media, I’m going to be pretty specific – LinkedIn is more crucial for B2B marketing than any of the others. If you’re an industry expert, people like to look up your personal background and resume. You should spend some time really making the profile shine, and then connecting with people in your target market by linking with them. Be sure to send personal introductions this way (don’t just send the generic link!).
Twitter is also useful; if you know how to make it work for you. Either way, you can search out specific contact people on either of these media and start discussions with them to get yourself a meeting (which takes us back to #1, Relationship Selling)!
Check here for our tips on using social media for B2B marketing.
The cost? Free. (You could get the premium version of LinkedIn, but it’s not necessary). Just be sure to have a good business portrait and spend the time to make a great profile for yourself.
#5 B2B Marketing Methods: Everything Else
There are a million other ways to market to businesses, here’s a general list you may want to consider:
- Search Engine Optimization: If you’d like to get traffic to your website, search engine optimization (SEO) will help you boost the ranking of your site so it is found closer to the top of the list on search engines such as Google and Bing
- Pay Per Click (PPC) Ads: Google and Bing let you “buy” your way to the first-page list through selling ads…that said this is a tricky business, and easy to waste money. Be sure to get the help of a professional to determine if it is right for your type of business…prospects must at least be looking for something close to what you do in order for this to be very effective.
- E-Newsletters: If you’re an expert, you can invite people to subscribe to your e-newsletter, and then you can send monthly or quarterly content via email. This is quite a lot of work, but if you don’t have time to call and stay in touch in other ways, it can be useful to let people know your company is alive and on top of current industry news.
- Events: At speaking engagements/seminars, you offer to give insight to a group of prospects with similar needs.
- Trade Shows: Where you can reach many prospects in a given industry in one place…and yes, you can simply attend instead of buying booth space in the first year to determine if it’s worth your efforts.
- Trade Magazines: You can certainly find trade magazines – whether online or offline – that have a good following. These do tend to be more expensive, but at least the online version can create trackable traffic to your website.
- Referral Sources & Networking: Attending networking groups, or sharing leads with complementary businesses that may have a similar client list to yours (but who do not compete with you) is a great way to find new opportunities. If you expect someone to give you referrals though, try to do something for them first (such as buy them lunch or do a free service) before you ask.
- Write a Book: If you’re considering the speaking, conference, or event route, consider writing a book. If you’re writing fresh content for your website regularly anyway, consider building it chapter by chapter, and creating an e-book. You can always create a printed version later.
- Traditional Media: Billboards, Television, Radio, etc. Unless someone starts an industry-focused or business-focused station or channel that reaches only the right prospects for you, you’ll likely waste money reaching general consumers who don’t care about what you do. If you’re targeting a large group (e.g. entrepreneurs in general) though, it could work well if you’ve got the budget…many banks do this with great success. It can also be useful to just get name recognition so that when you make your sales call, people will already know the company name…but it is a “nice to have” not a “need to have.”
Business to business marketing can take many directions. Relationship selling, sales tools, and a credible online presence are the most important of all and don’t really need to cost much, as long as they are well thought out and carefully crafted. If you can get those elements right, and be persistent about them, you will probably get so busy that you don’t have to look much further. The most critical factor in bringing clients in the door, and keeping them there, is you.