Marketing to business-to-business (B2B) customers is a completely different game from B2C marketing. B2C products are consumer items, things like t-shirts and toilet paper that businesses aren’t involved in purchasing. They’re the domain of consumers who buy them for themselves or their families.
By contrast, B2B products are usually large ticket items that companies buy for their employees or their operations – attorneys’ fees, office supplies, facility rent, etc. They don’t “shop” for these things so much as they “buy” them by signing checks. That’s why the rules of B2B marketing are so very different than those of consumer marketing – not only because you’re dealing with businesses instead of individuals, but because you’re dealing with check signers rather than shoppers.
Building a customer list is an easier proposition in B2C marketing. Most companies make it easy for anyone to obtain their customer lists – simply go to their website and fill out a form requesting the information. In contrast, B2B marketers usually have a much harder time getting access to decision maker contact info or other data sources that can be used to promote products and services.
Inbound vs Outbound Marketing
There are two major approaches in B2B marketing: inbound and outbound. Inbound means making your product available via your website where visitors will find it when they’re looking for something like what you offer. In other words, it means creating a presence on the Internet and standing ready to engage those visitors with compelling content about your products, services and solutions.
In the outbound scenario the marketer initiates contact with potential customers by using one or more of a variety of methods to “pitch” them on whatever it is that’s being marketed.
The most obvious example would be going through a list of prospects and calling each one on the phone until someone agrees to talk to you about your product.
A less obvious form of outbound marketing is offering free trials or complimentary subscriptions as a way of getting prospects interested in your product or service – then following up with sales calls.
In either case you’re trying to people who have no prior relationship with you, who have never heard of your products or services and to whom you’re trying to get their attention. You’re trying to get them to agree to at least learn more about what it is that you sell – by talking with one of your sales reps if it’s a B2B product, or downloading a free trial version if it’s a B2C product.
Organizing for Success
In comparison, inbound marketing has no real pitching involved. Instead there is simply content on the website that uses “pull” rather than “push” techniques – meaning that the visitor comes looking for information and engages with content because they want to know more rather than being forced into an interaction because someone called them out of the blue and started talking about what it is that they’re selling.
The important thing to realize about inbound marketing is that it does not involve any hard sell or “pushing” of anything at all on the part of the marketer. And yet, in terms of getting immediate sales results from a B2B customer list, nothing beats inbound marketing when done right. In fact, many people find it counterintuitive to think that you can get more sales from a list by being less pushy and aggressive – but numbers don’t lie: good inbound marketing generates higher response rates and far better ROI than most forms of outbound marketing…even if you’re using a telemarketing company capable of making hundreds of calls a day.
In addition to avoiding the pushy, hard sell approach of outbound marketing, inbound marketing also has a very low cost associated with it. Once set up, an inbound marketing campaign can continue indefinitely at basically zero marginal cost to the company…the more traffic there is coming to your website or blog, the more people you’ll find who are interested in what it is that you have to offer.
Good inbound marketing practices include: blogging on your site about industry specific topics; publishing white papers and eBooks via your site for download by visitors; participating in social media networks where prospects are likely to be spending time online; tweeting interesting information on Twitter that draws attention to posts on your site – these are all content based activities that will generate interest from B2B customers and prospects…as long as you offer genuinely interesting and useful information that is of interest to your target market, as opposed to mere self-promotion.
When it comes to content, the first rule should always be: don’t sell – meaning, absolutely avoid at all costs any kind of blatant promotional tactics on your website. If a prospect or customer lands on your site looking for something specific this is a good thing – they’ve found their way to you which means that there’s a good chance they’re interested in what it is that you have to say.
Don’t ruin the opportunity by bombarding them with messages about how great your products are right from second number one! Instead make sure that everything you post or publish has actual value in the eyes of your readers.
Making Buying Easier
A second aspect of inbound marketing is to help make it easier for prospects to find exactly what they’re looking for when it comes time to buy. If you sell B2B products or services this will most likely not mean making the buying process less complex so much as it will mean making it easier and more efficient from a customer’s perspective.
In addition to content on your website that is genuinely valuable, good B2B inbound marketing also includes places where customers can do things before purchasing such as: requesting a free consultation or demonstration, downloading a free trial version, getting a quote on pricing…whatever makes sense for what you have to offer.
A great example of a website that follows this model is Atlassian – they offer a large selection of project management and collaboration tools for IT teams as well as products aimed at non-IT teams such as Jira Service Desk. Their site includes multiple examples of inbound marketing goodness: one-click demo request forms, free trial downloads and full featured trial periods, options to download product documentation and even browse through hundreds of case studies.
Every single page on the Atlassian website has something valuable to offer; there’s no useless or pointless fluff anywhere which makes it easy for customers to quickly find what it is that they’re looking for…and because all of the content serves a useful purpose (from getting employees working better together to helping IT service teams resolve customer issues more efficiently) they know that what it is that they’re getting is actually something of value.
The most important part of this, however, is the fact that the Atlassian website is designed to be great for their customers – so much so that they often need very little help from sales reps when it comes time to make a buying decision. This means more efficient sales cycles and happier prospects…and these are things any company would love to achieve!