B2B marketing is tough. The price points and stakes are high, the sales cycle is long and convoluted, and it’s difficult to identify whether any specific effort leads to a sale or not … even when it comes to digital marketing.
The magic formulas and strategies touted by the all those digital gurus out there are designed for the simplicity and instant-purchase mentality of a consumer marketplace. They break down when faced with the realities of B2B marketing.
I’ve worked in digital media for 25 years and have been the Chief Digital Officer for multiple consumer and B2B companies. I’ve had a behind-the-scenes look at hundreds of B2B campaigns from simple banner advertising to complex remarketing / lead nurturing funnels.
I’d love to tell you the exact formula for B2B marketing success, but the truth is there isn’t one. I can, however tell you about three big pitfalls that you should look out for.
Not Thinking Like Your Customer
This sound like marketing 101, right? But I challenge you to truly step back from everything that you do and look at it with a fresh perspective.
First, look at every page on your website, every email you send, every social media post, every ad creative, and every landing page as if you knew absolutely nothing about your company, products, or message. Would a potential customer be able to instantly …
- Understand the message clearly.
- Determine if it’s applicable to them.
- Know what you want them to do next and how that action benefits them.
Next, don’t try to go too far, too fast with your customer. You wouldn’t go to a coffee shop, meet someone for the first time, and then ask for their financial details to see if they can move in with you. Likewise, don’t expect someone to see an ad, go to a landing page, and fill out a form with a ton of demographic and contact information.
It truly is a lot like dating. Despite our zeal to prove the ROI of our marketing, we need to take smaller steps while building the relationship. Get the click by offering something your customer wants to look at (not necessarily what you want to tell them). Get an email and a few demographic questions by offering something of real value to your customer (not just the spec sheet you want them to download).
It takes longer to get to a fully qualified lead this way, but the results are worth it.
BTW, one more simple way to think like your customer … think mobile. I am amazed to see so many B2B companies with websites, emails, and ad creatives that still aren’t optimized for mobile. To solve this, have everyone … from the CEO to your marketing interns to your agencies … look at everything you do on a mobile device, not their laptop. You’ll be amazed too!
Waiting Until Your Buyer Is Already Looking
Inbound is one of the biggest marketing trends right now. The premise is that companies create content to attract potential buyers at their point of greatest interest and then move them through a conversion funnel that ultimately results in a sale.
Proponents claim inbound marketing has a 3x better ROI than traditional outbound marketing. As a result, I see many companies now embracing inbound at the expense of traditional outbound marketing. This is another pitfall that can lead to big problems in B2B.
Most B2B buyers have a short list of suppliers already in mind even before they begin to research solutions. 86% of buyers start with a clear preference for a specific supplier and 94% end up buying from that supplier.
By the time a potential customer starts researching potential solutions (where inbound is the most effective), you’re already too late.
Inbound has such a strong perceived ROI because traditional “non-sexy” outbound marketing has already laid the groundwork. Traditional advertising sets the stage and inbound takes the credit. The reality is that inbound works best when used in tandem with traditional marketing.
Believing Lies, Damn Lies, and KPIs
The third pitfall is over-reliance on marketing KPIs. Of course, data is important and one of the most attractive aspects of digital marketing is that it’s quantifiable. But too often the data we rely upon is misleading, incomplete, or obfuscated.
Take, for example, programmatic advertising. In 2017, programmatic will account for 84% of all U.S. display dollars ($33 billion). However, it’s been shown that up to 50% of each dollar spent on programmatic is wasted due to ad fraud, impressions no one sees, and the fees that agencies and technology companies charge. The KPIs in programmatic are often misleading.
Another example is content marketing. Companies spend a lot of time and money developing and marketing content. They work hard to quantify the ROI of these efforts, but often don’t factor the effort of internal personnel. In fact, when these hidden costs are included, most companies spend 3-10x more on content marketing than they think they do.
Also consider that 4.6 billion new pieces of content are created daily and Google estimates this rate will double in two years. Getting your customers to notice your content is only going to get harder over time. Here, again, the KPIs alone give an incomplete picture.
Finally, we can’t fully rely even on digital advertising KPIs. Agencies especially like to judge the success of campaigns by email opens rates, social media engagement, advertising CTR, or landing page conversion rates. But in B2B, it’s not the quantity of opens, click or leads that matters … it’s the quality of the leads.
I’ll take ten highly qualified leads over a hundred unqualified ones over a thousand ad clicks. Again, over-reliance on KPIs doesn’t truly measure the impact of your marketing.
What’s a Marketer to Do?
Please know, I’m not against modern marketing tactics. In fact, I am a huge proponent of tactics like these and make a living helping companies implement them.
It’s OK to experiment with new marketing tactics and technologies. Just be sure to count the cost and don’t get enamored with the latest shiny object. Sometimes the tried and true still works well because it’s exactly that … tried and true.
It’s good to track KPIs, to run A/B tests, and to analyze the performance of various elements of your marketing programs. But have a full understanding of the caveats and limitations of the data and make sure to look at the data in context.
In the end, you can avoid many B2B digital marketing pitfalls by stepping back, thinking about what really resonates with our customers, and thinking about how that impacts our marketing strategy and tactics.