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The evolution of the B2B customer
Jamill Del Rosario, Global Head of Digital Marketing and Analytics
B2B marketers have the opportunity to leverage digital technologies to make customer engagement targeted, personalized, and more empathic than ever before. To avoid mixed and confusing messages and to be able to achieve high consumer engagement, marketing campaigns must be omnichannel–which means they must deliver consistent messages and experiences, regardless of which digital channel is used as a medium.
The rise of the digital nomads and the evolution of collaboration methods have given birth to a new way of working – 'work from anywhere. This new work method is especially predominant among millennials, who have started to occupy more positions in companies, become functional decision-makers, and are hence critical stakeholders in B2B sales. "By 2020, Millennials are expected to make up 50 percent of the workforce." 1 Such a change requires an entirely different type of marketing–from audience segmentation, personalization, content, and digital channels strategy. Millennials, mostly digital natives, also bring a new world of digital marketing opportunities. Knowing how and when to use a specific digital channel like the web, social media, or e-mail, for example, has the potential to exponentially increase the impact of marketing compared to traditional methods. Proper consumer journey mapping research is very important to be able to identify and exploit the new digital consumer touchpoints which millennials are using to consume digital media.
According to one research, fifty-six percent (56%) of companies have more than three stakeholders in a procurement process, 21 percent (21%) have at least seven participants; seventy-five percent (75%) of buyers now spend time on product research, from seventy-two percent (72%) in 2018; and seventy-nine percent (79%) said that vendor marketing content quality was the biggest factor that contributed to winning contracts. There is also more and more reliance on peer review and consultation, which is another important factor to consider in a marketing strategy. Sixty-one percent (61%) said they agree that they rely more on peer recommendations and review sites.2
Invest in audience research and make every interaction personal
Every person wants to be treated like a human being. That is the reason why personalized messages are more authentic and are much better received by people. It is not different in marketing, where audiences must not be treated as faceless entities but rather as personas with quirks, personalities, and emotions. The genius of marketing is when it can communicate a message that can trigger an emotional response from the audience, which can only be achieved through a personalized approach. Personalization builds trust and helps increase conversion rates. "This is something that's particularly important in B2B because the sales funnel is usually long and complex: showing you're there for your customers and understand their needs helps to build loyalty" .3
Investing in proper audience persona research is valueble to enable digital marketing campaigns and sales activities. Personas represent a humanized picture of one's target audiences, around which all marketing strategies can be properly built. After all, it is more effective to craft and deliver a message if one has a good picture of the receiver.4
During the persona, research, and development process, it is important to consider all the factors affecting the hows, whens, and whys of purchasing a product or service. These may include profession, interests, demographics, and behavioral patterns of preferred digital platforms. The effective personas are the ones that have been developed in a holistic and interdisciplinary way, considering the 360-degree view of the buyer. One-dimensional personas may negatively impact marketing efforts as they do not paint a full picture of the customer who needs to be convinced to finally make a purchase.
One example of a US Building Materials industry persona is the architect. According to Venveo's audience research, architects want a high-quality product at a decent price point. They are trained to find the best products for the job but are also trained to stay on budget and find the best value. Architects want to read about past projects and obtain product samples easily. 60% of the architects in the survey were male, while 40% were female. 30% of them have 6-20 years of experience. Building Material Manufacturers' websites are the first place architects research product information online.5
The architect persona above can properly guide a digital marketing strategy. Marketing personalization can be applied to all digital channels, especially the web and e-mail, in order to successfully deliver messages to architects.
Automatically reformatted depending on the visitor profile.
E-mails can be customized with personal details, language and graphics. Customer experiences are more meaningful and impactful when personalized, regardless of the digital touchpoint.
Audience targeting and experimentation
Using well-developed customer personas, digital marketers are able to target specific campaign audiences and prospects. Proper targeting increases campaign effectiveness and better conversion rates since the messages are sent only to the intended audience. Using display or paid social media advertising combined with proper audience targeting, product ads can be served directly in front of prospects who are most likely to make an inquiry or a purchase.6 Moreover, experimentation through A/B testing has shown good success in further increasing conversion rates. This is done by creating two or more versions of a web page or display advertisement for the same customer persona, monitoring the performance of the different versions, and choosing the best performing version(s) to remain. Because of its benefits, A/B testing has become important, if not essential, to any digital marketing campaign.
The customer journey is like a visual mindmap of a buyer's journey. This is one of the best tools for B2B marketers to properly understand the behavior and intentions of a customer at the different phases of the road leading to a purchase. B2B customer journeys are much more complex compared to B2C journeys since there are several stakeholders, influencers and decision-makers involved. Each participant is a different type of audience persona, requiring a different type of marketing personalization and messaging. Through the customer journey, it is possible to highlight bottlenecks where a customer could be stuck from proceeding further. Such are the points marketers should focus on and address in order to optimize and shorten the purchasing decision process. Due to its complexity, B2B journeys usually last several months or even years before the conclusion, making it absolutely essential that marketers invest enough time and effort in mapping and deeply understanding B2B customer journeys, which will serve as the blueprint to a digital marketing strategy.7
According to Forrester," Buyers don't want to engage with sales immediately. In their optimal buying experience, respondents would not engage with a sales rep until the Explore (33%) or Buy phases (30%). Buyers prefer self-guided research in the Discover phase of the buying cycle, as opposed to interacting directly with a seller. However, 69% of respondents indicated that, in their ideal buying experience, a seller would reach out to them to schedule meetings. Buyers conduct their research before accepting a sales meeting. Buyer respondents typically visit the supplier's website, attend a webinar, conduct research, and go to peer review sites before accepting a sales meeting."
The more proactive and informed B2B buyers nowadays further establish the critical importance of digital content marketing. It becomes essential to provide B2B buyers with all the relevant information they may require in order to progress to the next steps of their self-guided journey. Nowadays, at least fifty percent (50%) of the buyer's journey is already completed even before a sales representative gets involved, so having a carefully-crafted content strategy is crucial in keeping B2B buyers engaged and interested.
Instead of seeking your audiences, let them naturally find you
In the past, most B2B customers intending to purchase something would normally contact their vendor account managers or their network of supplier contacts, who would then guide them through the entire sales process. Nowadays, most potential buyers are already well beyond 60% of their sales journey even before the sales team is engaged.
This behavioral evolution changes the entire marketing and sales strategy–wherein more than half of the journey is not sales related at all. Since product awareness and engagement happen before the sales representative is involved, B2B marketers must provide all the necessary product information in a well-designed website, which is also search engine optimized. Good quality and searchable content is a game changer in B2B marketing because modern B2B customers are proactive and digitally educated. This is called inbound marketing, wherein it is the customers looking for the product information, unlike outbound marketing, wherein campaigns push information toward customers instead. Inbound marketing is so much more authentic and does not feel like marketing since it is the customer actively looking for something. Interested B2B customers normally look for product brochures, infographics, white papers, and product samples, and B2B marketers need to be able to provide all of them when and where they are needed through a seamless user experience.
According to WSI9,
● 41% of marketers say inbound marketing improves marketing return on investment (ROI) ● With the proper strategy and execution, inbound marketing could be ten times more effective than outbound marketing
● 91% of consumers prefer authentic versus aggressive brand communication. Let data analytics light the way and lead you in the right direction
One unique feature of digital marketing is that every single activity leaves data tracks. Using data analytics, B2B marketers have the opportunity to track and measure the performance of all digital channels, thereby having the right information basis for correction or optimization. Without data analytics, decisions are based on gut feel, which may not always be fact-based. According to McKinsey, "Companies that effectively use analytics in service of marketing and sales performance are 1.5 times more likely to achieve above-average growth rates than their peers. B2B companies historically lag behind their B2C counterparts in adopting and deploying commercial analytics, but the ones who engage with the tools already outperform their peers; their return on sales are up to five percentage points higher than that of their counterparts." 10
B2B marketers have the opportunity to leverage digital technologies to make customer engagement targeted, personalized, and more empathic than ever before.
Remove silos and focus on the customer.
Most organizations have traditionally split the marketing and sales functions due to several reasons–whether valid or not. According to brandyourselfbetter.com, "One of the most significant contrasts between sales and marketing is that marketing has traditionally focused on products, while sales focus on customers. Product-focused marketing is based on planning and performance evaluations, where a customer focuses instead on forming and maintaining relationships." But is that the case?
Customer centricity is so essential to commercial success that organizational structures, processes, cultures, and technologies have evolved towards it over time. Successful modern companies have realized that organizations should be mainly centered around one thing: customers. The consumer journey map, for example, actually begins in the marketing space where the campaigns target potential customers. Once these people progress further in the journey, become interested in the company's products, and at some point become converted customers, they crossover into the sales area. They are exactly the same people at different phases of the sales journey. B2B marketers need to provide them with consistent messages and experiences; otherwise, they could end up confused and eventually disengage. Marketing and sales functions should be integrated as one function or, at the very least, collaborate intensively in order to engage customers properly across the entire journey.
Embed sustainability in the marketing narrative
B2B customers, civil society, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are demanding sustainable operations from everybody, especially the private sector. People have started realizing that if we do not change the way we live and continue to consume the earth's natural resources at the same rate, there simply will not be enough left in the near future.
Sustainability does not mean only decarbonizing a company's production line; it also includes the entire supply chain--from suppliers, employees, assets, and investments to product distribution, usage and recycling. B2B marketing campaigns should be constantly interwoven with the sustainability story since most B2B customers nowadays are looking for a great product and a sustainable one. The sustainability narrative has the potential to become a strategic tool for companies to gain customer centricity. If communicated with honesty and authenticity, such messages will resonate well with B2B customers and establish trust-based and enduring relationships in the long run.
Empathy scaled up
It is worth emphasizing that digital marketing has one very important entity to understand, interact with and serve–the customer. The B2B customer is not merely a computer that only comprehends 1s and 0s but a whole human being with different layers, personalities, and values. In the context of person-to-person communication, empathy is required to achieve mutual understanding, trust and respect. However, through technology and proper audience research, B2B digital marketing has the potential to achieve empathy at scale–reach a much wider audience, engage more interested people and eventually convince them to fall in love with the experience your product provides.