Defining the unique buyer journey, leveraging technology, and staying abreast of emerging trends are critical tactics to create successful marketing campaigns, but even more so in the competitive business landscape. B2B generally demands an intricate sales cycle that relies on deeper relationship-building rather than impulse purchases. In fact, 90% of B2B buyers worldwide say their trust with their supplier is a factor that influences buyer satisfaction, according to a June 2023 TreviPay survey conducted by Murphy Research.
In the guide, we delve deeper into the nuances of B2B marketing, highlighting crucial metrics and examining emerging trends shaping the industry in 2024.
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What is B2B marketing?
B2B marketing involves the promotion of goods, services, or information between businesses. A B2B marketing team creates tailored strategies aimed at meeting the distinctive needs of other businesses, often encompassing longer sales pipelines and multiple decision-makers.
What is the difference between B2B and B2C marketing?
B2C marketing—designed to reach, engage with, and sell to individual consumers—is largely associated with retail products that include everyday goods and services. Although the lines between B2B and B2C are increasingly blurring, with many strategies and channels overlapping, there are key differences in the business objectives, target audiences, and processes.
While B2B companies generally market solely within their industries, to managers responsible for business investments, B2C companies often rely on broad consumer reach. Because B2B purchases are usually higher in value, requiring consensus from a range of stakeholders, they focus more on the quality of deals rather than the quantity. B2B marketing messaging focuses on data-supported ROI and business impact, whether it’s to cut costs or boost efficiencies. B2C marketing, on the other hand, can lean more into the creative, emotionally driven messaging that appeals to a mass market.
Stages of the B2B buyer’s journey
- Awareness: Initiating the journey involves businesses identifying needs or challenges. Marketers leverage industry insights, thought leadership, and targeted content to captivate potential clients.
- Consideration: This phase sees businesses researching solutions extensively. It becomes pivotal to offer clients in-depth case studies, product/service information, and expert consultations.
- Decision: Transparency in pricing, robust customer support, and tailored solutions hold the key to sealing deals.
- Retention: Post-purchase, maintaining client satisfaction and engagement is crucial. Follow-ups, personalized support, and value-added services contribute to sustained partnerships.
- Advocacy/Loyalty: Delighted clients transform into brand advocates, contributing referrals and positive word-of-mouth, bolstering brand reputation.
B2B marketing channels and tactics
B2B marketing leverages a range of marketing channels and strategies, each with unique strengths and challenges. By a significant lead, email (73%) remains the biggest channel that B2B marketers use to effectively connect with prospective buyers, followed by phone (39%) and events (31%), according to April 2023 data from Ascend2 and Zoominfo. We delve into these three tools, as well as their best practices.
As a way to nurture relationships and establish brand credibility, email marketing in the B2B space is an opportunity to connect at different points in the buying journey. Beyond communication, email fosters value, differentiation, and trust.
Because of its accessibility to customers and B2B marketers, however, it’s often used without strategy, measurement tactics, or clean data. B2B customers are more digitally savvy and discerning than ever, demanding personalized and informative email interactions. To take full advantage of the channel:
- Refocus metrics on engagement: Rethink traditional metrics and concentrate on ones that truly reflect recipient engagement and interaction levels. Prioritize metrics like conversion rates, interactivity, and unsubscribe rates to gauge success.
- Invest in data management: Integrate data across buyer stages, channels, and systems for a comprehensive view of email’s impact on the overall marketing strategy. To accomplish this, capitalize on first-party data, customer data platforms (CDPs), and data expertise.
- Explore AI and automation: Embrace AI tools for precise audience segmentation, reengagement strategies, and email list health improvements. Lean on generative AI to craft emails that provide value and relevance, ensuring they meet recipients’ specific needs and interests.
Phone calls also remain a direct and personal tool to engage with prospects and clients. Unlike other communication channels, phone calls offer real-time, interactive conversations that foster immediate connections and enable nuanced discussions.
However, the phone often faces challenges due to evolving customer preferences. To harness the full potential of this channel:
- Prioritize quality conversations: Instead of focusing solely on call volume, prioritize the quality of interactions, taking the time to understand customers’ needs. Ensure that each conversation adds value, whether it’s through providing information, addressing concerns, or building rapport.
- Integrate call data: Combine data from phone interactions with other touchpoints across the buyer’s journey. Integrating this data provides a comprehensive understanding of each customer, facilitating tailored and effective communication strategies.
- Leverage technology: Use advanced tools and systems to streamline phone interactions. Technologies like customer relationship management (CRM) software and call analytics not only improve efficiency, but also provide valuable insights for refining phone-based marketing strategies.
In-person experiences offer a balance to the often-overwhelming digital noise that B2B customers are bombarded with. Physical events, along with webinars and livestreams, are key to solidifying connections and maintaining authority in thought leadership.
A quarter (25%) of US B2B marketers report in-person tradeshows and events as a leading area of marketing spend, per an August 2023 Sagefrog Marketing Group survey. Of the same group, 38% plan to exhibit or sponsor in-person conferences and 36% plan to organize or host their own webinars. To maximize the impact of these events:
- Build immersive experiences: Go beyond traditional presentations and integrate interactive sessions, workshops, and live demos to encourage active participation.
- Foster networking opportunities: Enable professionals to share insights and ideas while forging meaningful connections.
- Embrace hybrid events: Combine physical events with virtual elements to extend reach while retaining the benefits of face-to-face interaction, catering to a broader audience.
Content plays a crucial role in shaping brand narratives, educating prospects, and influencing purchasing decisions. Beyond delivering information, content marketing is a catalyst for establishing thought leadership, giving brands authority in their industry. Successful content marketing prioritizes engagement metrics; integrates actionable insights; and tells authentic, trust-building stories. To boost your content marketing strategy, consider the following types of content:
- Case studies: As proof of a company’s capabilities, case studies help prospective clients envision their use of the product through real-world challenges and solutions.
- Educational content: White papers, webinars, and blog posts provide valuable information and showcase your company’s breadth of knowledge.
- SEO content: Make sure your content is discoverable, ranking highly on search results, by implementing a strategy behind keywords, meta tags, and mobile accessibility.
The B2C evolution of B2B marketing
Today’s B2B buyers are made up of digitally fluent millennials and Gen Zers who expect the same level of attentiveness, personalization, and ease as their B2C experiences. This diversification of the B2B audience—as well as their shifting purchasing behavior—means traditional marketing tactics aren’t enough to capture their attention. Here’s a look at this evolving B2B marketing trend and how it affects B2B buyers’ purchasing decisions.
Larger, diversified buying collectives
B2B buying committees are not only getting more diverse, they’re getting larger, spanning a greater range of generations, perspectives, and buyer personas. In 2023, 59% of B2B buyers were estimated to be between ages 26 to 40, while 30% were 41 to 55 and 6% were 18 to 25, according to 2022 data from the American Marketing Association, Demand Gen Report, and Forrester.
As a result, marketers now face the challenge of engaging stakeholders of various preferences and habits, with an even greater need to keep up with modern consumer-centric demands in the buying process, such as self-managed buying journeys.
The rise of online purchasing
Consumers accustomed to the frictionless online checkout process of B2C retailers such as Amazon and Target assume the same of their B2B experiences. B2B ecommerce, consequently, has much room to grow, with merchants seeing plenty of opportunity to improve online experiences.
Three-quarters (75%) of US B2B purchases use online platforms to buy products, according to BigCommerce. Meanwhile, a third (33%) of Western Europe- and US-based small and medium-sized businesses with $10 million or more in revenues say digital self-serve is a defining need in the purchase process, per an August 2023 Boston Consulting Group survey.
Social media as an essential channel
The increasing share of younger B2B buyers is fueling social media marketing, notably LinkedIn, as a hotspot for engagement. These young professionals turn to social media platforms not only to be informed and connect with others, but also to influence their purchasing decisions. Half (50%) of US B2B marketers report social media as a tactic that contributes most to achieving their top-of-funnel goals, per April 2023 Wpromote and Ascend2 data.
The LinkedIn user base is also reflecting younger audiences. In 2024, 63.7% of US LinkedIn users will be a millennial or Gen Zer, accounting for 50 million users, per a May 2023 eMarketer forecast. Recognizing B2C’s influence on B2B buying, LinkedIn launched Accelerate in 2023. This generative AI-powered tool—which can refine targeting and automate ad campaigns—addresses the need for more efficient self-service in the B2B space, especially at a time when the industry faces economic pressure and tighter budgets. Half (50%) of B2B technology buyers worldwide say that due to the economic climate, they would prioritize purchases that increase automation or save time, according to March 2023 TrustRadius data.
Technology’s role in B2B marketing trends
Technology is the driving force behind B2B marketing disruption. From lead generation to personalized interactions and data-driven decision-making, marketing technology (martech) is transforming every facet of the sales cycle.
In 2024, US B2B marketers will spend $8.71 billion on martech, according to August 2023 eMarketer estimates, marking a 13.4% increase YoY. In addition, B2B martech spending will account for nearly a third (32.2%) of overall martech spending in 2024.
Harnessing innovative tools, analytics, AI-driven insights, and robust CRM systems can amplify marketing effectiveness.
Generative AI’s impact on content creation
Not only is generative AI making simple, tedious content creation tasks more efficient, but it’s also acting as a starting point for creativity and personalization. For marketers, that means generating targeted, relevant content at scale, assisting with everything from email and social media copy to white papers.
OpenAI’s GPT-4 Vision exemplifies the versatility of generative AI, capable of analyzing images and generating corresponding product descriptions. B2B marketers can use this technology to scale content creation across various platforms and tailor messages to resonate with specific audiences.
Generative AI’s impact on brand equity
Generative AI-powered campaigns can help B2B brands reinforce their values and identity, stand out from the competition, and secure long-term customer equity. For instance, generative AI content can quickly assist in outlining unique selling points for a large number of product descriptions, allowing brands to expand their online presence and hone in on the language that attracts potential buyers.
B2B marketers, however, still need to be proactive and involved with AI-generated content, as it can bring risks such as inaccuracies or inconsistencies that may compromise a brand’s integrity. AI-generated content must still be checked to ensure that it’s not misleading, biased, inaccurate, or inappropriate, and that it aligns with the brand’s values.
Companies such as Jasper and Junia AI have integrated systems that can learn a brand’s style and tone, then generate similar copy for a cohesive voice. The goal is content that still maintains authenticity and personality.
Generative AI’s impact on data management
With the increasing reliance on generative AI and heightened privacy concerns, robust data management is becoming crucial. Effective data management forms the backbone for informed decision-making, personalized interactions, and accurate measurement of ROI across marketing channels.
Seamless integration of diverse data sources and platforms is imperative for delivering personalized customer experiences. Establishing centralized data management systems, defining standards, and conducting regular audits can ensure data consistency, enhancing brand integrity.
eMarketer predicts CDPs will proliferate as the need for ethical standards and precaution around the protection of sensitive information rises. In 2022, brands, publishers, and agencies spent between $377,000 and $437,000 on CDPs, data management platforms, and consent management platforms, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s State of Data 2023 report.
Success in B2B marketing
Measuring B2B marketing success involves assessing a range of metrics that may change based on your business objectives. By delving into the following KPIs, companies can gauge the impact of their B2B marketing efforts and identify areas for refinement:
- Marketing qualified leads (MQLs): Indicates the number of leads identified by marketing as potential prospects. Analyzing the quality and quantity of MQLs offers insights into the success of lead-generation strategies and the alignment between marketing and sales teams.
- Cost per acquisition (CPA): Quantifies the total cost invested in acquiring new customers. Understanding the CPA helps in optimizing marketing spend and evaluating the efficiency of acquisition channels, ensuring cost-effective customer acquisition.
- Customer retention rate: Reflects the percentage of returning customers. A high retention rate signifies the success of marketing strategies in fostering customer loyalty and satisfaction.
- Website traffic and engagement: Tracks the volume of visitors to a website and their interactions. Analyzing metrics like page views, time spent on-site, and bounce rates helps in assessing the appeal and relevance of content, SEO efforts, and user experience.
- Customer feedback and surveys: Collecting feedback through surveys or direct customer interactions provides qualitative insights into customer satisfaction, preferences, and areas for improvement in B2B marketing strategies.