B2B Means Back to Basics

At the risk of insulting or (perhaps worse) boring you, I’m going to be talking about pretty elementary marketing stuff in this column. Why? Because it never ceases to amaze me that even the most basic rules of marketing are sometimes broken by savvy B2B Internet marketers.

One of those basic rules is targeting your audience. This means truly understanding the customers and prospects to whom you direct your messages every day. Are you sure that your web site is serving the specific needs of your target audience(s)? Are you making every effort to target your email effectively, utilize the online newsletters that target your audience, and place online advertising on the most targeted sites available?

Employ strategies used by B2B direct marketers to better target your audience. Here are three key strategies:

1. Microsegmentation

B2B direct marketers have discovered that there is no such thing as a single audience for their products or services. Rather, there are numerous audience segments — each of which has separate and distinct needs.

Microsegmentation is the process of breaking an audience into finely defined segments and then targeting those segments with appropriate offers and messages. An audience can be subdivided into distinct segments using value-based criteria to distinguish one segment from another. Marketing activity can then be keyed to each of those individual segments.

While it may not be as easy to microsegment an audience with Internet marketing as it is with traditional direct marketing (using segmentable direct-mail lists, for example), there are ways to do it. Start with a house list of customers and prospects, and build a segmentation scheme. Accumulate as much business demographic information as you can, along with information about each individual’s interests in your products or services. Make sure you aggressively collect email addresses and get permission to use them so you can apply a segmentation strategy to your email campaigns.

When procuring online media, seek out the narrowest sources rather than the broadest sources. For example, find the specific online newsletters your target audience reads and place ads there, rather than using more generic web sites that cut across many audiences. If an audience is important enough, build a minisite off your web site that appeals just to them.

2. Cross-Functional Direct Marketing

In any organization, there are multiple buyers and influencers who play a role in the buying decision. You may know with reasonable certainty who your primary target is, but secondary targets can be just as important to reach. For example, you may have to reach business buyers and influencers in general, financial, and functional management.

Audience situations can be far more complex than that, especially in larger companies. For example, if you market information-technology products, you may also have to reach IT buyers and influencers.

One of the primary objectives in reaching across functions is to create widespread awareness for your product or service. Ideally, your marketing promotion will spur “cross-talk” among various individuals. In fact, you can design email campaigns to actually create that cross-talk. Send an email to one individual at a company and suggest that the recipient pass the email along to another colleague who might be interested. Even better, suggest it be passed along to a colleague who works in a particular department that you want to reach.

3. Relationship Direct Marketing

Individuals in a business are not always ready to buy products or services when you are ready to sell them. Factors you cannot control, such as the company’s budgeting process, the need for additional approvals, or purchasing procedures, may have a direct impact on purchasing plans.

The smart business-to-business direct marketer compensates for this uncertainty by making sure to be in front of prospects periodically — with a program of regular, ongoing communications (often called a continuity program). Email is an ideal medium for continuity programs because it is so cost-effective and fast.

Continuity is important for a number of reasons:

  • It provides numerous opportunities for the prospect to respond at different times — when the prospect is ready to do so. There is evidence that if a prospect is interested in a product but does not need it immediately, he or she will retain a mailing piece or email for future reference.

  • It encourages pass-along by the prospect to other levels within a prospect’s functional area and to functional areas other than the prospect’s area.
  • It provides opportunities to reach new individuals who may take over the prospect’s job — not insignificant, given the high turnover in many business positions today.
  • It offers yet another marketing opportunity should the prospect move on to another company where he or she may be in a position to influence purchasing decisions.

It may seem basic, but in B2B, all marketing should be relationship marketing because that’s what turns prospects into customers, and customers into loyal customers.

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