Contrary to popular belief, marketing is not easy. I once used to work for a company where we were referred to by multiple people as the “colouring-in department”. Sure, we get to do some cool creative stuff. But marketing, particular B2B marketing, can be a challenging and thankless endeavour. As much as they may poke fun, the wider business relies on you to keep the engine running in terms of growth.
In the digitally-led world, where everyone researches products and services thoroughly before buying them, you can’t afford to be quiet on the marketing front, and not on-point at all times. People’s attention and time is at a premium, so you have to be sure you’re making the right noises in the right places.
With that in mind, let’s look at the 5 most common challenges B2B marketers experience, and try to mitigate some of these challenges by suggesting some strategies for success.
Challenge #1: making a niche work for you
On face value, some B2B products or services might seem challenging to market. Chances are, you are targeting a very specific niche or vertical. There may be only a small number of businesses in your country, or even the world, who need what you’re selling – what we would call an addressable market.
Think about someone who sells components for industrial drills. People need those components, so they buy them. But, they still have a choice who they buy them from, and marketing may very well be how you differentiate yourself from competitors. It’s all about making those numbers work for you by selecting the right tactic. If you’re talking a few thousand businesses, chances are inbound-led campaigns aren’t going to be as successful as highly targeted, ABM or email outreach campaigns – where you can really drill into your niche and focus on quality rather than quantity. From a content perspective, you are trying to be a leader in your business space – you are differentiating yourself from your competitors, whether that be via your approach, your service level, or your innovations. Whatever that is, you have something to say. So you have something to focus your marketing on.
Challenge #2: reaching the right people
I’m not saying that our friends in B2C have it easy when it comes to targeting, but let’s face it – there is more data about behaviour and demographics available to them. We all (well, most of us), interact with the internet on a personal level – we have social media accounts, where our age, interests, marital status, location are documented. We buy products on Amazon, eBay, ASOS. We search for things we need and are interested in – all we need do is say “OK Google” and we can buy things while we’re chopping onions. All of this information can be used by businesses very easily to target you with their products.
It’s my experience that this level of data is not available when it comes to B2B. We don’t use personal assistants when we’re at work, generally speaking. We don’t use a personal Google account. Unless you’re an ecommerce business, it can be challenging to see your potential customers’ buying history, or the products they’re interested in. You can’t target a particular person’s shopping habits because you’re not necessarily targeting a particular person – you’re targeting their job role. They may well purchase products very differently for their business than they do in their personal life. It’s a different type of conversation. I’d say it’s much harder for B2B organisations to actually reach the people they want – and need – to engage. You have to be much more canny with your tactics and your messaging. You have to be willing to identify and target key influencers and work your way up to decision makers.
Creating solid buyer personas is a great first step to targeting the right people in B2B. Through insight into your existing customers, you can understand the challenges and goals of the people you’re targeting, without spying into their Amazon accounts. You build this expertise over time, and speak to these challenges and goals by producing great content and the right messaging.
Challenge #3: establishing the right tone
This is obviously a challenge that both B2C and B2B marketers face. You want to establish that is uniquely yours, but not so irreverent or jarring that it puts people off. But I think this is much more of a challenge in B2B. It’s almost always a more professional and formal setting. Depending on who you’re targeting and with what, you might only be able to get away with so much. You still want to stand out amongst your competitors with a tone that’s uniquely yours, honest and transparent, but the margins for error are a lot thinner. You’re building up a level of trust here, and if you sound like someone writing crazy tweets from your shed, you might have a bit of a challenge.
And then there’s the jargon. Sure, B2C has its fair share of jargon, but when you’re selling a product for personal use, it’s much easier to wrap it up in emotion and experience. It’s about finding the right balance. I always say that no matter whether it’s B2B or B2C, you’re still marketing to humans. And humans don’t like to read stuff that sounds robotic or cold.
How you sell your products is a key differentiator, and no matter you’re selling, sell it as you. I would say focus on writing like a person – use plain English where possible and save the jargon overload for datasheets and more complex qualifying conversations down the line.
The biggest one for me is also focusing on customer challenges rather than you and your achievements and characteristics. It’s not “we supply x and we’re really good at it” it’s “we help you do x so you can achieve y”. That’s how you’ll stand out and give your organisation a more personal and aspirational voice and tone.
Those are just some of the challenges that I have seen in my years working in B2B marketing. There are other challenges that span the marketing continuum – budget, resource, getting internal buy-in, interpreting numbers in the right way, and so on. But these are what I felt were most uniquely B2B – a strange space where you have to find a delicate balance between the personal and professional approach.
Are there any challenges you’ve experienced that I’ve missed out here? Get in touch and let me know – we might be able to help!