B2B marketing is more challenging than ever, thanks to the proliferation of competition, a turbulent economy, and (in many cases) a marketing mentality that has yet to evolve. But there is hope for savvy marketers—a recurring theme that came up in my recent conversation with Jon Lombardo, Head of Research at The B2B Institute at LinkedIn, a think tank that researches new approaches to B2B growth.
I recently chatted with Lombardo to get his insights on the state of B2B, and our conversation was both enlightening and eye-opening, as we discussed the ways that B2B marketers are currently failing, as well as the many opportunities they have to improve. Many of the challenges we covered are things we have faced at Column Five, both in our client work and our work to position our agency, so we thought we’d share Lombardo’s insights to help other B2Bs win their markets, too.
5 Ways B2B Marketers Can Improve
If you want to help your brand, here are five key things Lombardo says that all B2B marketers can do to get better results from their work.
1) Partner with the Finance team.
In B2B, marketing is often a murky and mysterious arm of the business because most businesses are not built with a marketing mindset. They’re led by product, engineering, or sales. (If you look at the board of directors of the Fortune 500, almost none have a marketing background.) This is often why, when things go south, marketing is the first thing to get cut.
To bridge this gap, Lombardo says marketers need to do a better job of partnering with finance to understand the ins and outs of the business plan—and ensure their marketing strategy is optimized to support it. For example, LinkedIn brought a company in to train their marketing team about finance so they can have better conversations with the finance and sales teams. This sort of education is crucial to keep both teams aligned, help marketers work more effectively, and strengthen the overall health of the business.
Tip: If you want more insight into the way finance and marketing can work together, check out the book Marketing Is Business Is Finance.
2) Focus on positioning to pave the path for segmentation.
Good content marketing requires relevance and repetition. Unfortunately, many marketers generate too much content with too little focus, and their audience segments are far too niche. Because their messaging isn’t particularly clear or consistent, it doesn’t resonate with any of their audiences—and is thus very ineffective.
If this is a challenge you’re currently facing, it’s time to reassess your positioning, then refine your audiences.
Tip: Lombardo offers a simple solution to fix this core problem.
- Use the Category Entry Point (CEP) framework to identify your biggest opportunities to establish your unique positioning. Start by brainstorming up to 30 category entry points, based on the following questions:
- Why are they buying from the category?
- When are they buying from the category?
- Where are they buying from the category?
- With whom are they buying from the category?
- With what are they buying from the category?
- From there, narrow it down to 5, and pick 3-5 positioning statements to become your core brand messages.
- Put your key messages in front of a broadly targeted audience and focus on consistency, clarity, and differentiation.
When you do this, you will expand your brand reach and recall with wider, fresher messages that engage your audience. (If you need more guidance here, find out how to build a CEP roadmap in the B2B Institute’s Category Entry Points in a B2B World guide.)
3) Invest in research.
Data is a marketer’s best friend, yet many marketers do not take advantage to the level they should.
While there may be a bit of a historical reason for this (in that solid marketing research has been much more available to B2C brands than B2B brands), that is changing. Case in point: the work Lombardo’s team does at the B2B Institute.
By diving into research, you can better understand what matters to your customer—and understand how your brand’s products/services meet a range of different customer needs. This is especially helpful when you’re trying to determine category entry points (see above).
4) Use a recession to make big moves.
In uncertain times, most companies keep their expenses lean—primarily by cutting innovation. But a recession is often the time to double down (not only in R&D but in branding and marketing).
Instead of focusing on caution and reduction, Lombardo says this is the time to be offensive rather than defensive.
Tip: Experiment more, focus on getting more from the content you create, double down on what’s working, and trim what’s not. This is another reason data can be so helpful; it will give you the confidence to back up the decisions you make.
5) Be flexible and adaptive.
Beyond market conditions or the availability of data, one of the biggest challenges B2B marketers face is their own intransigence. Whether it’s driven by fear, laziness, or uncertainty, the refusal to change is the biggest Achilles heel for any marketer—especially senior-level marketers. As Lombardo says, “When they’ve always done it a certain way and they’ve built their entire careers on [it], they’d have to say they were wrong to change and grow.”
Lombardo says this is especially common in industries with more regulation. (The more regulated an industry, the less likely they are to change.) Frankly, it often takes a new, enlightened, or emerging leader to make meaningful changes and come up with new creative solutions.
Note: If your marketing department has experienced turnover recently, there may be a silver lining. People who are newer to the job are often more open-minded and eager to contribute their ideas.
Tip: Incentives are one of the best ways to get people to change or try something different. Data is also a powerful force for buy-in. If you can create simple, concrete experiments tied to measurable ROI, you will be able to see the real results of your efforts. Not only does this give you helpful insight but it can eliminate emotional resistance from the decision-making process—and make it easier to get your team on board.
How B2B Marketers Can Win Long Term
B2B marketing is continually evolving, and though the conditions may change, there are always surefire ways to keep your team aligned and focused on what really matters.
- Reassess your strategy. Strategy is not a set-it-and-forget-it thing. You need to regularly reassess and revise. Use our free B2B marketing strategy toolkit to get your plans on paper (and adapt as necessary).
- Know your market. Understand how B2B buying trends are changing—and how to cater to different types of buyers.
- Stand out through content. See our tips to tell marketing stories your competition can’t.
- Rethink your content mix. More isn’t always better when it comes to content marketing. See our tips to do less (but better) thought leadership.
Of course, you also need a solid infrastructure to bring your marketing strategy to life. If you need extra support for any part of it, look for an agency partner with the right expertise or start your search with us.
Above all, remember: you can stand out in consumers’ minds and win market share with the right mindset, team, and tools. The more you strengthen all three, the more you’ll continue to succeed.