I’ve spent the past two decades working in marketing roles within technical business-to-business (B2B) and industrial industries. Sexy, I know. It’s fair to say I’ve seen the good, the bad and the drab. As I reflect on my receding hairline and the fact that I’m old enough to be a parent to several of my agency colleagues, I figured I’d extract some useful wisdom from yesterday’s experiences that could help your company and your customers today.
Even though tactics and technologies are ever-changing, some fundamental B2B marketing mistakes seem to be timeless. And here we were, thinking anything “timeless” was a good thing. But not these classic errors, I’m afraid. Here’s how to identify and fix them.
1. Your positioning is not a priority.
From what I’ve seen, very little thought goes into a company’s competitive positioning. How do you want to be perceived in the market by clients and prospects? The irony is that B2B marketers love a competitor analysis: “Let’s see what those pesky folks at Rival X are up to now.” But this approach is a bit one-dimensional and often subjective. And that competitor analysis then sits on a shelf lying dormant, while everyone moves on.
Investing in genuine market insight is invaluable in objectively understanding how you are viewed compared to the competition. Also, unearthing what’s important to your market enables you to focus on “owning” something of value in the mind of the client. So, if you’re a technical business with a special capability that delivers the benefits sought by your audience, then start by owning these enticing advantages. Do not try to be everything to everyone. This is a sure way to get lost in the crowd.
2. You follow the crowd.
There is a tendency to emulate what others have already done in your space. If two market leaders are doing it, then it must be right. Right? Wrong.
What they’re doing is probably right for them and their goals, but it might not be right for yours. So why imitate what they are doing? Especially if you’re a challenger brand, therein lies your advantage. The last thing you want is homogeny because when that’s the case, B2B buyers tend to opt for the established — normally because it’s less risky. So be true to your clients and who you are. Be authentic. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be the better choice for who you aim to serve.
3. You don’t give a say (early on) to those with sway.
If you’re undertaking a sizable project like a re-brand, new website or CRM installation, then for goodness’ sake, involve the key stakeholders early on. Limited understanding and minimal buy-in from those influencing these major decisions are going to derail your initiative at some point on the journey.
In most technical and industrial B2B sectors, many of the C-suite decision makers are highly skilled in their field of technical expertise, but not in marketing. So, begin the education piece early and take them on the journey with you. It may seem over the top or obvious, but it will prevent problems down the line when those with sway want to have a say. The most successful client projects I’ve been involved in have always had senior leadership and key executives there from the start. You can’t do it alone, so fight for early engagement.
4. You make it all about you.
“We are company X and we offer XYZ services. We were established in 2001, and we have three sites and 100 staff. We are brilliant, amazing and fabulous. We do this. We do that.”
No one cares! Focus on your customer and not your company.
Yes, this information is important, but only in relevant places. For every line of promotional copy on your website, ask: So what? What is the value or benefit this delivers to our client? How will it make them feel or make their life easier? Good quality customer insight and leveraging the frontline knowledge of your business development team will also enable you to use the vernacular of your clients. Use their language, not yours. Serve and solve their problems before you start shouting about yourself.
5. There’s no cohesion between your marketing and sales teams.
Last up is what I call the “BD (business development) tail” wagging the marketing dog. It’s something I’ve seen for years in the aforementioned sectors. It’s when the business development team says “jump,” and marketing colleagues typically ask, “How high?”
But now is your window of opportunity. The pandemic has shifted the balance of influence toward B2B marketing teams. All of a sudden, digital presence, email marketing, customer experience and demand generation campaigns are gold for your business development colleagues. Alignment, collaboration and mutual respect between sales and marketing teams have to be the goal. If it’s all business development-led, it’ll be short-term. If it’s all marketing-led, it’ll be too long-term. Like most good things in life, find a balance.
There you have it. Avoid these timeless mistakes, break the mold and take your company’s B2B marketing efforts to the next level. Or just ignore me and follow the well-trodden path to a real-life facepalm emoji.