The team here at LinkedIn recently celebrated 'B2B in focus' week, a few days dedicated to unearthing the latest trends and innovations in B2B marketing.
One of the things that really struck a chord with me was a panel discussion we hosted with Kantar Millward Brown, BrandZ, Hill & Knowlton and a number of leading marketers – Dean Aragon of Shell, Judith Everett from The Crown Estate, Ryan Miles from Microsoft and Annabel Venner of Hiscox – which discussed how marketers can unlock the potential of B2B brands. There was certainly a consensus among the panel that the B2B buying journey is rapidly changing. And as a result, marketers need to work harder than ever to create opportunities for their brands.
I wanted to share three key things I took away from the panel, which I think bring this challenge to light and – when applied correctly – should help all B2B marketers take their brand to new heights.
Be more human
The growing group of decision makers playing a part in any B2B buying cycle contributes to it being longer, more complex and even more emotional than most B2C journeys.
One area where B2B marketers could borrow from their B2C cousins, though, is better understanding and tapping into the emotional drivers of decision making. It's impossible to do this if you don’t humanise your customer first, though.
During the session, Aragon raised the point that for marketers operating in the B2B space, it’s all too easy to forget that buyers and decision makers are human. I challenge you to find someone who defines themselves as “just” a 24/7 fleet manager or procurement director.
With a better understanding of their customers, beyond simply their job title, B2B marketers can humanise their brand and content in ways which will more likely drive action. It’s no easy task in B2B, where the buying committee could be the size of a small village, but it was a great reminder for everyone in the room about where to start with campaigns.
Embed purpose in all that you do
Knowing how to communicate effectively with prospects and customers on a human level is only one part of the jigsaw. Humans are hardwired to buy into something as much as they want to buy something. It’s no different when it comes to the B2B world.
As much as selling a product, B2B marketers need to communicate the wider purpose of their business and use it to drive both awareness and conversions. That purpose needs to be more than just a pet project or the idea of growing a conscience. It needs to be lived and breathed by any organisation every day.
During the session, Venner made this point by explaining how Hiscox has a strong set of values that have successfully guided and defined the business and are consistently communicated through all that they do. In essence, Hiscox aims to be there when stuff goes wrong – to be there quickly, first and make everything right.
Not every business will always have a purpose that means something worthy; the important thing is having something to stand for. What was clear from the session was that this needs to start from the inside out, with employees, otherwise it won’t last and no one will believe it.
Break the structural silos
Engaging customers on a person-to-person level and communicating your purpose boils down to getting closer to them. Marketing teams need to break out of their own confines and better align with other parts of the organisation.
In the session the panelists talked about creating agile teams and the need for closer sales and marketing alignment. While it’s a challenge – especially within larger organisations – building nimble, forward-looking teams is also a massive opportunity.
As well as circumventing unnecessary hierarchies, it automatically means marketing activity is in tune with business priorities and sales targets, enabling a much faster decision making process.
On a more practical level, I have seen first hand how the most successful B2B sales and marketing organisations are those which integrate both types of engagement seamlessly throughout the consideration stage, delivering the right type of interaction that’s most relevant at any given moment. For example, thought leadership content from the marketing team has the potential to short-circuit the traditional buyer journey and lead directly to the award of the business.
For today’s B2B marketer, taking a broad brush approach and simply replicating the B2C buying experience is not an option. B2B marketers need to forge their own path, use technology to automate the process where they can but ensure they have purpose at the heart of their business and communicate it in a human way.
Tom Pepper is head of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions UK