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What did Black Friday teach us B2B’ers?

We all marvelled at the more than $1bn spent in the first five minutes during Singles Day a few weeks ago and may have even jumped on Black Friday deals at the end of last week.

In amongst all the hype around how profitable or sustainable this all is, however, it raises an important question for me: Is the B2B world missing a trick by not getting involved or creating it's own shopping ‘peaks’?

Here’s what I think.

You can get in on the action (but not everyone)

I have seen a number of examples of B2B brands who have jumped on existing consumer shopping peaks, including a corporate hospitality company who generated £200k sales from offers during Black Friday last year and a media trainer who generated long term loyalty by giving away free sessions. Under our thick corporate skin, we are all consumers at heart and with the right messaging (including humour) and timing, tapping into B2C shopping peaks may make sense for some brands.

This is not a one size fits all theory, though. For example, B2B brands in the US may not get very far with targeting professional audiences around Black Friday since it’s a public holiday and most professionals will be at home with their families. In the UK, which has more recently imported this peak, it may make more sense. It’s also important to consider if you even want to create a peak at all, and instead focus on spreading sales across a longer, more manageable period of time.

B2B mindset

For larger enterprises, however, there is more to be gained in better understanding the professional mindset. This goes beyond mapping out clients’ planning cycles or knowing when their fiscal years runs to and from. Just as Black Friday is tapping into a public holiday and the start of the festive season, B2B brands can be more effective if they understand the context within which their customers are buying.

Ensuring greater collaboration between sales and marketing so that the customer voice is being heard is vital. For example, it’s one thing knowing that organisations in the education space are planning in April for a September ramp up, but knowing that there is a particular international push will enable marketers to adapt their targeting, messaging and creative. Harnessing data is also necessary. What does your customer behaviour teach you about the times of year and channels when they might be most receptive to you? Our B2C cousins are getting very savvy at this and are even using it to create new peaks which fit their customer shopping habits. Just think about Amazon Prime day in July or Walmart’s Black Friday-like deals on outdoor and garden products in spring, for example. We need to follow suit.

Tap into downtime

For many B2B brands, the marketing machine winds down over Christmas, who’s going to buy a new server or fleet of cars during the Queen’s speech?

This is naive. Today’s B2B shopping journey is more complex than ever and is measured in years, not days. Just as Alibaba in China didn’t just turn on their marketing machine a week before Singles Day, engagement with prospects need to be ‘always’ on and the role of content is huge. During the holidays people have time to think, take stock, let the dust settle. A perfect time to engage them with interesting content which will inspire and educate, and can be jumped on later in the year.

Don’t limit this to the festive season though, the summer is also a good time to engage with prospects with the right content.

Job move peaks

At the start of each year we see a raft of people update their LinkedIn profiles and consider new career directions. This is B2B’s equivalent of the January sales footfall. Job moves and promotions typically mean increased responsibility for business purchase decisions and, for many, an opportunity to make their mark in a new role.

Recently promoted professionals may be rethinking their existing relationships with vendors, as well as re-examining the contracts and strategies they have inherited. And let’s not forget that people are most open to guidance and inspiration in the first few weeks of a new role, particularly if they have moved to a different, unfamiliar function or sector, making it a perfect opportunity for B2B marketers to engage.

While B2B shopping peaks might not be as ‘extreme’ as those in the consumer world, there are many lessons we can learn and borrow for the business world. It’s important to base any ‘peak’ strategy on real insights and data, however, to avoid wasting investment. As our professional and personal lives continue to blur, however, there is no doubt we will see more brands jumping on consumer peaks in even more creative ways.

Henry Clifford-Jones is director, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions for UK, DE and ES

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