Unique Dynamics of B2B Marketing

Business-to-business marketing may be one of the least understood disciplines in business.

It’s ironic, because consumer-centric marketing has been widely popularized – just check out the marketing section at any bookstore or peruse the curriculum of most MBA marketing programs. But while a number of consumer marketing concepts have analogs in marketing to businesses, it’s not a simple translation from targeting “Joe” to targeting “Joe’s Discount Auto Parts” with 28 stores in five states.

That’s certainly true in search marketing.

On March 22, at Day 2 of SES New York 2010, Patricia Hursh, Tony Wright, and myself will present at the session Advanced B2B Search Marketing. In our brief hour, we’ll cover search marketing methods that are purely about reaching and converting businesses.

In particular, we’ll focus on three dynamics that are unique to B2B marketing.

First, B2B buying is a group activity. For purchases of any significance, a number of people will weigh in on the decision, often from several departments. Internally, there can be a mix of collaboration and competition in this process – everyone wants the business to succeed, but everyone wants to look good in their particular job too.

B2B marketers must strive to subtly shape the composition of these groups and make sure that the interests of each participant – as well as the overall interests of the group – are well served.

Second, the buying cycle in B2B is often lengthy, with relatively distinct stages. The research and evaluation phases in particular are usually quite substantive – both because the products and services are more complex than consumer offerings and because of all the different stakeholders in the decision process.

Lead generation is therefore not black and white. Early in the cycle, a prospect may be reluctant to reveal much. But that doesn’t make them an unqualified lead, simply an early-stage one (and one probably not ready for the sales team). Nurturing that relationship over time, across a number of different searches, may be the most important and challenging mission that B2B marketers face.

Third, the risks involved in B2B purchases play a huge factor in the minds of buyers. If you buy a coffee maker and it doesn’t work, you can just throw it out; if you select an enterprise CRM (define), integrate it for $20 million, and then discover it doesn’t work…your career is in jeopardy.

B2B buyers are therefore extremely sensitive to signals of trust, reliability, and suitability for purpose. While price is important, it usually doesn’t resonate as deeply as avoiding fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). In this environment, marketers must be careful to balance tactics intended to acquire new leads and accelerate them through the buying cycle with practices that build confidence – which often can’t be rushed.

All these dynamics impact B2B search marketing – in SEO (define), PPC (define), landing pages, and deeper conversion optimization.

While this complexity may seem daunting at first, there’s a tremendous opportunity here. As with consumers, business buyers are turning more and more to self-empowered research and validation of vendors online – which shifts responsibility for the outcome more from sales to marketing.

And, because it is complex, not many organizations are great at it. This means that savvy B2B search marketers can deliver a major competitive advantage by helping their businesses get it right.

Come to our session at SES, and we’ll show you how some of the best businesses we know are getting it right – and how you can do the same.

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