Anyone who has been in the business-to-business marketing space for any length of time knows first-hand that it comes with its own particular set of challenges. Unlike marketing to consumers, B2B businesses have to overcome the challenges of longer sales cycles, smaller audience markets, and higher purchase prices. And just as frequently, they have the extra step of generating leads to be turned into a sale, as opposed to selling a product directly.
This makes B2B marketing challenging, to say the least. While I can't cover every challenge you may encounter in your B2B marketing efforts, I have outlined four common challenges that you may be facing and how to overcome them to grow your business.
Challenge #1: Embracing digital marketing
If you're reading this article, then perhaps you have already embraced digital marketing as part of your business growth efforts. Or maybe you're still trying to understand if digital marketing is right for you. Perhaps business is good and you have plenty of work keeping you busy so you're questioning why you need to go all-in on digital marketing.
Truth be told, if you're still relying on old-school marketing strategies, those are quickly going the way of the Yellow Pages. And if you're not sure what I mean by that, let me clear it up: Marketing strategies that don't incorporate digital are becoming obsolete. According to a 2014 study, only 29% of buyers want to meet with a sales representative in person or even over the phone. A significant majority (71%) prefer to perform online research, with or without the help of a salesperson.
Again, just in case that's not clear: Most buyers want to do their research digitally.
Which brings us to two primary questions every B2B businesses must ask themselves:
- Will I invest in becoming a destination hub for researchers, or forgo that opportunity so my would-be customers land on my competitors' website instead?
- Are my competitors doing a better job of educating and earning buyers' trust, or will I put my company on the forefront of creating value that earns sales?
It's a long road from research to sale but that path can be cut down significantly by investing in digital marketing. Becoming an online authority in your niche opens up new opportunities for branding and proving value to your audience long before they are even ready to start talking about the sale.
Challenge #2: Producing content
In the digital age, every company must operate as a publishing company. I often make this point when speaking to other businesses about digital marketing, and illustrate it using the image below.
Up until fairly recently, none of the companies shown above were known as content producers. Netflix and AMC's business models were to get paid for broadcasting shows and movies produced by other studios. While that's still part of their business plan, it is quickly becoming secondary to their own content production.
No one really thinks of Red Bull or Chipotle as content producers, but they have both been active in creating and publishing entertainment content. Among other things, Red Bull currently has a magazine and a record label and employs 135 people strictly dedicated to their content efforts. And Chipotle created a 4-episode TV series that didn't mention their name once.
As you probably already know, content is hard! The good news is, the brands mentioned above are not your competition. The bad news is, any competitor that starts building content first is giving themselves an advantage that you don't have if you're not producing content. The trick--if there is one--is planning. Sit down with your team and map out content ideas for the next four to twelve months. Then determine the best format for each piece of content (text, image, video, social media, etc.) Planning is half of the content creation battle. Once you have a plan in place, make assignments and stick to deadlines.
Most B2B businesses don't produce content because of the time it takes to do it right. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. But if you plan it, schedule it, and put the right people in charge of it, your content production will increase in quantity and value over time, doing more to serve those researchers from Challenge #1 above.
Challenge #3: Understanding conversion values
In e-commerce, the conversion is the sale. But most B2B businesses don't have the luxury of selling products directly and instead must manage leads from a variety of conversion points on their website.
Most B2B websites range from one to a half dozen or more "conversion" points. These can range from a contact form; a phone call; a question being submitted; a download of a brochure, whitepaper, or ebook; or even a visit to a particular page on your website. Each one of these conversions has a different value based on the likelihood of it turning into an actual customer. When looking at your online conversion data, it's important to differentiate between each of these conversion points.
If your digital marketing team is touting growth in conversions but your sales are not following suit, it may be because they have lumped all their conversions into the same bucket. While you can't fault them for showing the improvements they have achieved, you need to make sure they are focused on the conversions that have the highest value to your bottom line.
Challenge #4: Managing expectations
Digital marketing itself is a long-term play. While a site can be optimized within a definitive amount of time, it's the building up of your digital authority that takes time. This makes digital marketing a challenge for many who expect to see quick results. I tell most people that they're looking at nine to twelve months before they'll really feel like their digital strategy is paying off.
But with the long sales cycle of B2B, it's even more important to manage expectations. Not only do you have to bide your time while you build up your digital authority, you then have the added delay of the time it takes to convert your leads into actual customers. The good news is that with analytics in place, you can start tracking metrics that prove whether or not your digital marketing strategy is working.
As you build your online authority and optimize your website, you should begin to see a rise in the metrics. First, you should see an increase in traffic, which will be followed by an increase in the low-value leads, followed by an increase in the high-value leads. Ultimately, you want more of those high-value leads that you can convert into customers, but it often takes more of the former to get the latter.
When you see traffic increase but you don't see an increase in leads, remember that many searchers are doing research first. That means a potential customer may come back to your site one or more times before they reach out. Ultimately, you want to get results as quickly as possible. But having unrealistic expectations in regard to the already long timeframes that are a part of digital marketing, as well as B2B marketing, will only cause frustration and potentially lead you to bail on a campaign before it has a chance to succeed.
Overcome and conquer
If you're frustrated with the challenges faced in digital marketing for your B2B business, you're in a very big boat. But nobody conquered anything by doing nothing. Think of digital marketing as unclaimed land. There is a lot of it out there, and sooner or later, someone is going to stake their claim. As the digital landscape grows (and non-digital shrinks) you're going to need some digital real estate to survive.
No matter what avenues you go to for new business, there will be challenges. Are digital marketing challenges any greater than the others? Maybe. But if the challenge is greater, so then is the reward.