“Strategy without tactics is a daydream; tactics without strategy is a nightmare.” Influenced by Sun Tzu and coined by Sagefrog CEO and Co-founder Mark Schmukler, this quote implies that there’s a clear difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics. It suggests that one can’t be done without the other, and to do both correctly, strategy must come first. It’s the foundation, after all.
Marketing strategy, however, can mean different things: the position or “strategy” by which your brand will go to market, and the actual way or “strategy” by which your company will create a brand to go to market with. The second definition is what we’re going to talk about here—what your marketing department’s strategy should be for making the most of the time, energy and dollars you allocate to marketing.
The Most Effective B2B Marketing Strategies
In a new report that collected data from hundreds of B2B marketing professionals, the ways in which B2B marketing teams across the nation operate as a majority were brought to light. In this post, you’ll find out how B2B marketers are planning, executing and budgeting their marketing programs, so you can be sure your strategy falls in line with or zooms ahead of your competition in 2020.
1. Have a Formal Marketing Plan
In a significant and encouraging shift from the data released in Sagefrog’s B2B Marketing Mix Report, more B2B teams are using formal plans to guide their branding and marketing. 66% of B2B marketers reported using a formal marketing plan this year, taking a more strategic and proactive approach to tactics, rather than a sporadic and reactive approach to the marketplace.
Once again, there are differences between a strategic marketing plan and a tactical marketing plan. A strategic marketing plan, which we’re talking about here, combines market research with a situation analysis of your brand. One of the most common ways to get started is by using your marketing agency or internal committee to identify your top five to ten competitors and conduct a SWOT analysis for each. Cross-reference your competitors’ SWOTs against your company’s own analysis to uncover the whitespace—areas where the market is severely lacking or strengths that only your company brings to the table. With this information, you can develop a brand strategy and messaging platform that intelligently markets the characteristics that make your brand different and better from the rest.
2. Partner with a Marketing Agency
63% of B2B marketers report using a marketing agency to handle some or all of their marketing program.1 For small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that can’t afford to build out an entire marketing department in-house, complete with strategic marketers, certified specialists and subscriptions to the various tools and platforms that make a marketing program run, an agency is often the way to go. Marketing agencies give SMBs access to top-tier marketing capabilities and capacity, while using their internal resources more effectively.
“Between digital, inbound and traditional methods, there are an incredible number of moving parts, and the real art lies in not just understanding how each tool works best, but how each works best in cooperation with each other. And that requires an agency that has developed a particular kind of harmony in addition to individual expertise,” commented one of the publishers of the report.
3. Use Retainer vs. Project Contracts
The majority of outsourced marketing efforts are executed via retainers, according to the 2019 B2B Marketing Mix Report.1 More and more companies are taking advantage of retainers, recognizing that the nature of most digital marketing programs is long-term and ongoing.
Search engine optimization (SEO), for example, aims to get your company found on Google by increasing its presence in unpaid search results. But ranking in the search results doesn’t happen overnight. It requires ongoing technical work, such as website optimization, as well as local SEO, which is the process of using a company’s geographical location to rank a business higher than its local competitors. Link building, keyword research, optimizing copy development and more are all part of a successful SEO program, and as you can tell, these tactics are not one and done; rather, they require ongoing maintenance, attention and analytics, which are best executed with a retainer agreement.
Of course project work has its place for initiatives that have a concrete start and end, such as completing a brand strategy, creating a website or producing a marketing brochure. But when it comes to implementing a complete marketing program, including digital, retainer contracts are the way to go.
4. Spend 10% of Revenue on Marketing
Senior leadership and marketers have differing opinions when it comes to the marketing organization’s goals. The management team expects marketing to lower customer acquisition costs. Marketers, on the other hand, believe it is more important to focus on developing and executing strategies that will drive brand awareness and positioning.
Senior leadership teams also expect marketers to demonstrate ROI of their marketing efforts, but this is extremely difficult as marketers feel they do not have the proper tools to do this. For other marketers, they feel senior management needs to focus more on customer insights rather than just on products and pricing.
One of the most common questions marketing leaders get asked is, “How much should I be spending on marketing?” Informed by hundreds of marketing executives, the Sagefrog report found that the magic number for 2019 is 10% or more of a yearly budget. Up 5% from 2018’s report, the number of businesses allotting 10% or more of their company’s budget on marketing reflects the priorities of leaders facing greater competition both online and off. Advanced and automated marketing tactics, personalization, interactive content and new user experience requirements all demand a greater portion of a business’s budget to achieve.
Beyond the spend that’s allocated to marketing personnel and agency partnerships, the top three tactical areas where marketers invested that 10%, as identified by the report, include website development, digital marketing and tradeshows and events.
5. Consider Account-Based Marketing
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is the practice of tailoring sales and marketing strategies to a particular account that can make a big impact on ROI. ABM doesn’t care about the thousands of followers you gained on Twitter. It’s closing the deal that matters, which helps you build your bottom line faster and more efficiently.
According to a study by SiriusDecisions, 42% of marketers claim that they have been using ABM for at least 6 months. During the Sirius Decisions 2017 Summit in Las Vegas, Lynsay Russell of Medtronic discussed how ABM proved beneficial for their organization. In their ABM approach, the average deal size of accounts targeted via ABM methods was 35% larger than that of accounts not targeted via ABM methods.
Account-based marketers don’t concern themselves with lead quantity. Rather, they pursue quality. Narrow your focus and personalize your marketing efforts to target your best accounts that have higher chances of converting. Don’t waste your resources on the smaller fish. Go for the big one.
6. Ride the Rise of Mobile
More than half of the world’s web traffic comes from mobile devices, so if you’re not implementing a mobile-first strategy, then you’re ignoring more than 50% of your potential leads.
There are over 5 billion mobile users around the world that you can potentially reach with mobile marketing strategies. Now that mobile has become a primary channel for media consumption; businesses need to take advantage of the opportunities for new traffic and data collection.
Ensure that your content is responsive on any mobile device. Since business owners and department heads are now using their mobile devices to research business solutions, make your website accessible through any device and optimize it for the biggest screens down to the smallest gadgets.
Invest in mobile apps so that you can personally reach out to your prospects and existing clients, as this will help increase sales and client engagement. Make sure to allot resources for mobile app remarketing since research suggests that people tend to stop using apps after 30 days.
7. Embrace Automation and Martech
A multitude of technologies and innovations are available to make the lives of marketers easier. Of course, these tools can also be used to enhance existing marketing campaigns.
Marketing automation tools help you reach your prospects and personalize communications. If you’re still doing it old-school, these repetitive, mundane tasks are probably costing your business more in the long-run.
Review your approach to using marketing technologies. Audit the tools you currently use across your marketing categories. Scott Brinker, author of “Hacking Marketing,” outlines six marketing categories that you can use for your audit:
Marketing Experiences: This refers to technologies that directly affect customer touchpoints across the marketing lifecycle, including advertising, email, social media, SEO, content marketing, A/B testing, marketing apps, and other related tools.
Marketing Operations: Operations cover the tools and data for managing the “back-office” of marketing. This includes your data analytics, MRM, DAM, and agile marketing management technologies.
Marketing Middleware: Marketing middleware helps integrate marketing platforms and systems with each other. This may include data management platform, data protection, API services, cloud connectors, tag management, and the like.
Marketing Backbone Platforms: Review each of your backbone platforms separately, as each may be for a different purpose. Examples of these are tools for customer relationship management (CRM), content management systems (CMS), automation, and e-commerce tools.
Infrastructure Services: Your marketing infrastructure includes cloud computing, big data management, databases, and software development tools.
Internet Services: This doesn’t just refer to your internet provider (but you need to check that, too). Make sure the internet platforms you’re using such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other services that underlie the marketing environment are integrated seamlessly.
8. Create Visual Content
Adding images and video to your content will help promote brand awareness and brand recall. According to multiple studies, visual recall is stronger than audio or text. When people hear a piece of information, they tend to only remember 10% of it three days later. But when you add pictures to the same information, they can remember 65% of it after three days.
Additionally, 37% of marketers claim that visual marketing is their most important form of content because it greatly contributes to building trust and engagement with audiences.
Use compelling images that are consistent with your brand across all platforms. Make your content easy on the eyes and use white space to your advantage. You don’t want to overdo it and overwhelm your audience with needless distractions, so aim for visual quality over quantity.
Create graphs and charts to illustrate data and statistics. Customize your images for added relevance and branding. Experiment with short and highly educational videos. Most importantly, make sure you’re following the 10 Commandments of Visual Content.
9. Harness the Power of Big Data
Big data algorithms and advanced data analytics make it possible for marketers to deliver consistent omnichannel customer experiences across all platforms and channels. Indeed, big data is revolutionizing the way we do marketing. It increases the quality of your sales leads, improves customer experiences at every touchpoint, and helps managers make sound business decisions.
Without the necessary data, you can’t understand who your leads are and how to reach them with personalized communications. So, get on the big data bandwagon and optimize your campaigns!
Go beyond your marketing campaign execution and use big data to help make customer relationships more successful. A data analytics expert or consultant can help you with this when the numbers become too overwhelming.
Create a big data framework that’s aligned with your organizational and marketing goals. Segregate transactional and non-transactional data to determine which ones go under social analytics, performance management, decision science, and data exploration.
In a nutshell, taking advantage of data means setting up systems to collect and analyze data at every possible point in your sales process. The more you know about your business and your audience, the better you’ll be at creating the right marketing strategy.
10. Create More Relevant Content
I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday who asked me what I thought about instructing sales to get inserted the buying process as early as possible to “paint the vision.” I asked her how many sales people she knew that were truly industry experts that could paint a vision without pushing their products?
Much of the content or discussion I have with vendors (either digitally or with their sales people) is all focused on them – their products, their services, their unique value proposition. What about the buyer? It is imperative that B2B organizations begin developing content that is much less about what they want to say and tailored to what the buyer wants to hear.
The days of selling to “the decision maker” are largely over. Multiple buyers with different perspectives and biases are all part of this process and it is necessary to speak to all of them. Consequently, this impacts the content creation process.
Marketing content should educate and create a dialogue about challenges and issues that are unique to the buyer. This dialogue must extend through to the sales conversation and it is marketing’s job to help educate and enable sales to have this conversation.
While many organizations are spending and creating more content, one must ask if this is the right content. Marketers must begin to understand the various roles that are involved in the buying process and create content specific to them. It is then that marketing will see an improvement in the value of their content and not before. More isn’t better, it’s about relevance.
11. Go Multichannel
B2B buyers use a multitude of mediums to research and explore their purchase options with the web, specifically with social media leading the way. This highlights the need for our marketing messages to be accessible across an array of mediums, not just email.
In order to determine a proper and profitable medium, it is imperative that organizations know how their buyers like to consume content and ensure their content is accessible via these channels. Too often organizations rely on social, web and email as the go-to channels and while these are often used; to just assume these are the only channels your buyers uses to consume content is a dangerous proposition. Ensure you are utilizing the channels that your buyers are using and make your content available across all of them. Think multi-channel.
12. Develop Strategic Marketing Objectives
Compared to higher revenue B2B companies (37%), lower revenue companies (57%) are more likely to view the marketing team as an extension of the sales organization, and not as a strategic asset to the company.
For high performing B2B marketing organizations, they develop marketing objectives, not sales plans, that inform their company’s business strategy to help differentiate their brand in the marketplace.
13. Identify a Senior Marketing Advocate
Nearly two-thirds of all B2B marketers think a senior advocate or champion will be needed to help marketing succeed in the next 3-5 years.
This person will not only represent the marketing and customer’s voice at the executive table, but will also work to influence and collaborate with other organizations to drive business strategy and sales through marketing, establishing marketing as a competitive advantage and revenue stream for the organization.
14. Develop and Invest in Marketing ROI Metrics
The ability to measure results and demonstrate that B2B marketing contributes to the company’s bottom line and enables business growth will help change the perception of marketing as a competitive advantage rather than cost center for organizations. But nearly 60% of B2B marketers say they do not have the appropriate measurement tools they need to effectively prove their ROI.
The top strategy for removing these barriers is to develop ROI metrics and invest in marketing strategies and technologies that will enable marketers to measure and demonstrate ROI.
15. Build Relationships with IT and Finance
Higher revenue B2B companies believe cultivating close relationships with other organizations within the business, such as IT and Finance, is absolutely needed to successfully drive their marketing strategies, measure performance and manage marketing spend.
16. Create Content that Addresses Your Customer Journey
What differentiates high performing marketing organizations and marketers from their average peers is that they develop a deep understanding of their customers, including their biggest pain points and challenges, content needs and preferences, just to name a few.
Using the customer insights gathered, successful B2B marketers develop specific marketing strategies for each buyer persona and create as well as curate content that is relevant and valuable to consumers at each stage of the customer journey, to effectively connect, engage and convert them.
17. Create a Brand Identity
The B2B companies that achieve higher revenue focus their marketing efforts on developing and driving a consistent brand identity at every online and offline touchpoint, creating a seamless, positive experience across all parts of the organization a customer touches and interacts with.
This requires marketers to develop a strong brand positioning against their competition, track and identify segments for better targeting, and communicate their insights to sales teams so they can adjust and improve their strategies accordingly.
18. Align and Build Ongoing Partnerships with Sales
Silos between sales and marketing organizations continues to be one of the biggest barriers to marketing success. And over half of all B2B marketers surveyed in a joint study by ANA and GfK believe better alignment between sales and marketing will help advance marketing’s contribution and ability to demonstrate their ROI.
The research found that the top three marketing objectives for B2B marketers are to generate sales and leads, improve brand awareness, and increase customer loyalty and retention, and it is crucial for marketing to partner and collaborate with sales in order to achieve these goals more effectively and drive business growth together.
19. Acquire Digital Marketing and Technology Competencies
The wide adoption of digital and mobile by consumers will continue to accelerate, and B2B marketers believe this would require developing digital marketing and technology skillsets that most marketers currently do not have.
Only 7% of B2B marketers surveyed believe they have an effective process in place to capture data on customer behaviors, attitudes and engagement that can inform and optimize existing marketing strategies and tactics.
These Mistakes Could Trip You Up
It’s all very good to have a great strategy in place. But with planning and greater budgets come greater responsibilities. Don’t let these common B2B marketing mistakes put a wench in your works:
Not Using Buyer Personas
Interestingly, many B2B companies don’t have buyer personas in place today, but do plan to build them in coming year to help boost the effectiveness of their demand gen efforts. A Demand Gen Report study found that only 27% of respondents said personas were aligned to their messaging and 30% noted that there will need to be some fine-tuning of their efforts.
Often, mistargeted or irrelevant content and messaging contributes to campaign failure. Detailed buyer personas offer a fantastic opportunity for marketers to ensure content is relevant for its intended audience, on the channels they prefer.
Not Optimizing Content for Mobile Phones
With 42% of B2B buyers using mobile specifically to do research for business purchases, it’s alarming that more than two thirds (67%) of respondents in this study reported their content — including emails and ebooks – to not be optimized for mobile devices. As said in the full report:
“While more B2B buyers are turning to their tablets and smartphones to engage with and research vendors, marketers have not made mobile optimization a priority.”
Top-of-the-funnel heavy, that is. You may think webinars, events, and white papers are great top-of-funnel lead generation tactics. You’re right. But don’t neglect the mid-and-late-stage funnel needs of your leads. Once they’re passed to sales, our job isn’t done. Survey respondents indicated that these tactics were also the three most-used tactics in mid-and late-stage funnel efforts.
Neglecting your Database
You know that big .CSV file in the sky full of your customers and prospects? The one you sometimes you think about, maybe when your email service provider pings you for high bounce rates? It makes a big difference in the performance of your campaigns.
When asked about their current database performance and capabilities, only 7% of respondents reported their database was current and provides complete coverage in key segments. The good news is that 37% are reviewing their database to ensure they have full and complete contacts.
It’s All About the Buyer!
The buying process is becoming longer in the majority of cases, not shorter. This only underscores the need for B2B marketing organizations to move away from tactical one-and-done campaigns, to a strategic approach that maps content to this buying process and engages, nurtures and converts the buyer throughout their buying process.
What does this mean? It means that our B2B demand generation programs always have a sense of “what’s next” in terms of content. It means that marketers should not be promoting an asset, but seeking a conversation. This requires a buyer-centric strategy and without this in place, there is no way marketers will be successful in connecting through this ever-growing buying process.
For B2B marketers, the complexity and world in which we operate in a day-to-day basis will only continue to shift, change and grow with increasingly complexity. A tactical approach of spending, creating and pushing more of anything, is not the answer. There must be real transformation that enables us to get to know and engage our buyers at a deeper level and ultimately, meet them where they are in their process. It’s all about the buyer, so go figure!