We live, breathe, and sleep B2B, so we’re always digging into the research, chatting with our peers, and hunting for fresh inspiration to apply to our day-to-day work. So after hearing John Hickman (Managing Director of TBWA\Chiat\Day’s new B2B unit PlexPod) on the On Strategy Showcase podcast, I was inspired to catch up with John to hear his thoughts on why brands are struggling, why the industry is changing, and why agencies struggle to keep up. It was a hugely insightful conversation, and there were three main takeaways I’ve been thinking about ever since.
If you’re a B2B SaaS marketer in the trenches, keep these tips in mind as you adjust your strategies now—and in the future.
1) The line between B2B and B2C is blurring—marketers need to act like it.
B2B buyer behavior is changing significantly, in large part due to the pandemic. If B2B marketers want to relate to their audiences, they need to change their strategy accordingly.
- B2B buyers want interactive digital experiences. B2B sales often requires hand-holding from a sales rep, but as buyers are becoming increasingly familiar with immersive web experiences, they’re expecting all brands (even B2B) to curate engaging channel experiences. But according to the Sana 2022 B2B Buyer Report, 50% of e-commerce sites are not fully meeting buyers’ expectations.
- Brands need to talk to B2B like people. The more that B2B buying experiences begin to reflect B2C experiences, the more marketers need to treat a B2B audience like B2C. Although B2B sales take more time and include more stakeholders, the customer is still first, which means that emotion, community, and relevancy drive their decision. B2B marketers need to start investing in their customer experiences (and their targeting and attribution) from the very start, rather than scrambling to fix them retroactively right before IPO. (Note: According to Sana, 84% of B2B buyers would buy from a supplier who they had a great relationship with—even if the terms of business were less preferential. This is why it’s crucial to engage one-on-one and nurture that relationship at every touchpoint.)
The fix? Create human-centric marketing. Break down walls and treat people like people. Don’t get caught in an internal echo chamber of messaging ideas. Take the time to interview your buyers and A/B test in effectiveness campaigns. Instead of gatekeeping deep funnel information, lead with informative content and position your brand as a helpful resource to navigate that information, provide feedback, or help B2B buyers convince their fellow stakeholders. (Learn more about changing buyer behavior—and how you can adapt.)
2) Investing in your brand is the key to success.
B2B is changing rapidly, and B2B marketers are facing an uphill battle. Whereas SaaS companies used to get by with innovative products in smaller markets, industries are cannibalizing each other, copying everything from product features to content ideas. Even with breakthrough products, they have to lean into their brand to define differentiation and create a protective net. For many B2B companies, investing in brand development is more of an afterthought or a last-mile push when awareness and credibility become a sales obstacle (or months before IPO).
3) Cultivate these five key traits to succeed.
Having grown TBWA/Chiat/Day’s B2B division, no one knows more about how to build a successful team than Hickman. While every marketer needs stamina, especially in B2B where you’re playing a very long game at times, there are specific ways to nurture and inspire your team to succeed.
Hickman calls out the key traits, and we can confirm these are absolutely present in the most effective B2B teams we work with.
- Excitement: You want to design your teams around people who find genuine excitement in solving complex marketing problems through brand development tools. Empowering your team to go deep into a niche market/audience with first-timers energy is key to long-term momentum and success.
- Passion: We choose clients who have a palpable devotion to their product and brand. As extended partners of their team, we have to share and communicate that passion through our work.
- Curiosity: Being complacent is a death sentence for creativity. Not only do you need to be curious about the work at hand, be curious about the ways you can grow and adopt new ways of thinking. (Find out why we encourage marketers to think like designers.)
- Patience: Most B2B companies navigate tough internal politics that span across disciplines. Sometimes, we have to help marketers PROVE the value of their work to the very top. This work is sensitive, but if carefully executed, it’s the recipe for a fruitful long-term partnership.
- Fearlessness: Our partners are best-in-breed experts with very little time and a ton of responsibility. They need to be fearless advocates for their brand and audience (and they need us to think of their best interests too).
Note: If you’re looking for some inspiration to help your team connect and grow, here are 15 ways we build bonds even though we work remotely.
How to Succeed In B2B SaaS Marketing
SaaS marketing can be a long, slow struggle. But there are concrete steps you can take to break through the noise, outshine your competition, and convert your audience into lifelong customers.
- Align your strategy. See our free guide to build a B2B marketing strategy that gets measurable results.
- Choose the right format for your content. Some formats can tell your brand story more effectively than others, depending on your goals. Learn about different types of B2B content and how you might incorporate them into your mix.
- Choose partners with the right expertise. In B2B, it’s tough to find agencies that really “get” your brand. See our tips to find and vet the perfect partner for your agency.
If you want to start your hunt with us, we’d be happy to chat. Find out more about how we tackle brand development and content strategy, or hit us up directly. We’d love to help you reach the right people.