This questions seems to come up at least once a week. People who think that marketing is some kind of wizardry tend to wonder if there is a big difference between marketing services or products to consumers vs. marketing to businesses.
It’s important to understand how corporate purchase decisions are made. The simple truth is that there is often no difference in the principles of marketing to individuals because at the end of the day it is either a single person or a group of people making decisions. Even though the product or service is often applied in different ways, the standards of marketing remain the same between marketing to a business vs. marketing to consumer-level products or services. In general, you should follow the following guidelines:
1. Establish (and Maintain) a Coherent Brand
Your brand goes far beyond just your logo and colors. It encapsulates your positioning in the market place, distinguishes you from your competition, suppliers, and allies. Every aspect of your brand should be fleshed out and intentional.
Building a brand is like writing a character in a novel. You want to have a backstory complete with existing relationships that impact the direction and trajectory of your business.
Think like a professor when judging every aspect of your business. If you’ve ever graded a paper, you have the objective tool kit to evaluate your brand. Think of your tagline as a way to “tell them what you’re going to tell them.” By taking a step back and considering not what you’re trying to say, but rather how every social media post, blog post, industry article, web page, and ad is perceived and understood by someone who is trying to understand you from the outside. Think the blank slate theory.
2. Understand Your Decision Makers
Every company you do business with always as a decision maker or a set of decision makers.
A group often evaluates several purchasing options side by side. In this case, it because very important to be as transparent about the the facts of your products or services as possible. To this extent, the most important things to focus on are not only the thoroughness of your content but also its organization and function. Consider producing the following when selling to businesses:
- Case Studies: Most business services are often abstract in their application. Because of this case studies show examples of real life applications of your product and services, as well as provide an idea of the level of customer services your business provides. Imagine the information you provide being reviewed by a committee in a board room. While one person may have the floor, chances are everyone else in that conference room is going to want to explore your marketing material while they tune out “Bob’s” opinions. If you want some real-world inspiration, you can browse 150+ case study examples and get ideas for your own.
- Reviews: Sure, nobody is perfect, so it’s okay if you don’t have a perfect 5-star review. Often what people find most important is the text of the review itself. Public feedback on your product or service is something that should be cultivated. Even if your businesses is not exactly something someone would find on Yelp, there are often dozens of credible directories and industry organizations that will review your product or services. When possible reach out to the talking heads of your industries, as well as your best clients and ask them to write a detailed review. When you get them, always say thank you in your own way.
- Promote your client base: While we have a client map prominently displayed in our office and on our site, other businesses promote their clients and partners right on their homepage. Most businesses do not want to feel like they’re early adopters, rather there is a sense of security that exists in knowing that your product or service has worked well for others who have come before.
- Side by side comparisons: Most business decisions come down to value. It’s very important to not make the mistake of confusing price and value. Price is something anyone is willing to pay so long as the value is understood. While you may not have enough information to line up your product or service side-by-side with your competitors, at the very least show the differences and specs of your products.
- Educate: When possible, provide links to blog posts and white papers that elaborate the why and the how of your product or service. While this is helpful in the decision making process, it’s also helpful for the longer “drip” marketing campaigns for sales cycles that take much longer. By becoming the source of education in your industry for your potential clients, you will remain relevant and top-of-mind.
Most decisions, however, are not made by committee or consensus. While you should always begin by following the above rules, the decisions are primarily made because of a relationship. Even before your sales people have a chance to build a personal relationship with your potential client’s decision maker, your marketing is in previously cultivating a relationship through brand awareness. A few great ways to take control of the “pre-relationship” are as follows:
- Have a website that is more informative and enjoyable to read than that of your competitors.
- Create an email campaign that is actually useful.
- Follow and engage your potential decision makers on social media. Sure, this means you have to do a lot of manual work to identify your people, but the long term relationship really pays off if you maintain it.
- Use tools like Socedo to identify who to follow on twitter. Build a list and check in on what they are tweeting about.
- Use Linkedin sales navigator to identify your best leads, connect with them, and invite them into Linkedin Groups.
- Join Facebook industry groups. Post often, like and commented on your potential decision maker’s posts.
3. Contextual Omnipresence
A great source for understanding broader consumer trends is trendwatching.com. Their 2016 report talked about contextual omnipresence and the idea that rather than thinking about specific publications, think about all of the publications, social networks, events and circles that your decision makers often move in.
A great old school example of this is that during Oscar season movies vying for an award will often buy billboards along the routes members of the Academy take on their way home in order to stay top of mind for their most valued decision makers. Using your marketing data, create a plan to appear everywhere your clients are. This will create the perception of being the “first citizen” within your industry, building not only awareness but that all-important factor: respect.
The very phrase “contextual omnipresence” basically means your brand “is there” in what seems to be “everywhere” that matters. While yes, this includes advertising, it is by no means strictly limited to advertising.
- Content. In most cases you will want your interaction with your potential clients to be relationship building rather than selling. In order to do this you have to have something useful to say. This is the backbone of content marketing. In addition to having an active blog, make a list of the most influential industry publications, reach out to the editors and have your company become a regular contributor. The same is true in less formal industry forums, like LinkedIn Groups, Facebook Groups, and even Twitter hashtag threads. By simply contributing to the global conversation in your industry, your potential clients will become familiar with your business and its services, hopefully laying the foundation of trust for a future relationship.
- Events. Don’t be a shut in. Even in a world that seems to reply entirely on digital communication, events, conferences and meetups are more popular than ever. Whether this means chambers of commerce meetings or buying a booth worth tens of thousands of dollars at trade shows like PAX, Magic, or CES, it is important to remember the first rule of politics. Decisions are made by those who show up.
- Remarketing. It’s very rare that any business is launched with a Fort Knox-sized marketing budget to bombard the general public with their message hoping to capture their target “somewhere in there.” Rather, remarketing is the best tool to intelligently snowball your target audience. By using cookies or more advanced systems like Atlas by Facebook, paying for ads is best applied when targeting people who have already had some interaction with your business in the past. So whether that means using Google Adwords system to leverage their display ad network or simply keeping track of every person your team has met’s business card, make sure that you never let a potential just become a bygone. After all, there is always a chance they may be interested in buying tomorrow.
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