B2B Marketing Redux

I have been spending a fair amount of time lately trying to get a grip on just what B2B marketing really means. This might sound like an odd statement coming from someone who writes a column on the subject, but a concrete definition of B2B seems to have eluded me.

As I reviewed the articles Philip and I have written for this column, I took note of the acronyms and buzzwords that have been used to help you better target and sell to customers, and to manage those relationships you have with them. And, while employing software solutions to better track, analyze, and manage customer activity is a huge variable in the B2B marketing equation, it is certainly not the endgame.

So what is?

I would argue that it is creating demand, pure and simple. Your job as a marketer is to convince customers that you have the answer to their problems. In some cases, you may need to make them aware of their problems first, but at the end of the day you still need to convince them that the snake oil you have is better than the snake oil the guy next to you is hawking. And I mean that in the best possible way.

B2B marketing is about convincing decision makers and influencers that they will be better able to drive demand, close sales, create efficiencies, and serve their customers if they use your products and services, since they, in turn, will need to convince their customers of the same.

You can say what you will about the past 24 months, but you can’t deny that we have been operating in some pretty cushy times, with lots of companies investing very heavily in Internet-focused solutions. If you’ve completed your 2001 budget, you are probably well aware that those good times are over. We all have some hard work ahead of us and a lot less cash to do it with.

So how do we function in a market that is tightfisted and fraught with uncertainty and risk? Unfortunately, the answer is not new. Better still, it’s simple: We need to demonstrate the quantifiable value of our offerings. Bells, whistles, T-shirts, dinner, advertising, and conferences are all great ways to prime the conversation. But we must move beyond that now. At the end of the day, people will buy a product because they believe it will help them be more successful. When success is assumed (as it was 18 months ago), marketing is a much easier task.

Think about your marketing messages, the channels through which you communicate, and the position of your products in the market. If you can answer the following four questions affirmatively, then you are probably on the right path. If not, you should sharpen your pencil and get to work.

  1. Do you understand the needs, problems, and challenges of the customers you are serving?

  2. Does your product or service present a solution to a discrete challenge or a set of interdependent challenges?
  3. Can you quantify the value that the product or service offers?
  4. Can you clearly and convincingly articulate product/service value to your customers?

This, by the way, does not mean that all the challenges facing B2B marketers that we have discussed to date no longer apply — rather, it’s just the opposite. They are essential to effectively driving demand for the products and services into which your company has invested. The point is to consider your budget and your strategies and tools to generate demand, and choose where to make investments. Choose wisely, though. We are clearly living in more discerning times.

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