B2B Marketing Consultant

Almost all supply chains involve Business-to-Business transactions even if the final step in the chain is the Consumer.  The nature of the transactions vary widely – consignments of stationery perhaps at one end and joint development agreements in aerospace consortium at the other.    In most cases, SMEs will be somewhere in between and the transactions will lie within a more limited range of complexity and frequency.

  • A more complex decision making unit – many people and a process are involved
  • More rational – you can’t buy something you “just fancy” with other people’s money
  • Products are more complex – they have to meet wider needs
  • Fewer customers  – perhaps tens who buy regularly instead of thousands who buy occasionally
  • Fewer segments – these fewer customers will have similar buying behaviour
  • Personal Relationships between members of organisations – salespeople will spend more time with high value / regular buyers
  • Longer Term buyers – Business customers tend to choose a supplier and work with them until things work well
  • Innovation is slower – innovation goes with risk and so it is more carefully controlled
  • Packaging is less important – the guys at ‘Goods In’ remove it
  • Increasingly, most purchase research is done online before the need to purchase is public; RFIs and RFPs are about gathering information to confirm a decision that is practically made already.

B2B buyers are more demanding and more rigorous in their approach. They are spending someone else’s money and they have people above them who are checking that they doing the right things in the right ways.  Risk is to be eliminated by the purchasing choice.  B2B buyers usually have the expertise to recognise what they want when they see it and expect you to adapt your product to their needs if they want you to.

What does this mean for the B2B marketer?

You have to meet all the needs of all customers, whether they are senior executives, users, implementers, purchasers, health and safety or anyone else.  These people will need (a variety of) information at each stage of the buying process – a process which is designed to screen out risky products and risky suppliers.  Your online presence must be universal and the content you publish must satisfy them that your solution exceeds their needs and expectations  Wherever your client looks for information on his problem he finds your solution

You need content of all types, in all formats (text, image, audio and video) designed for use a t every stage of the buying cycle and then they must be shared on as many sharing platforms as you can find.  The content may be

  • Executive Briefings
  • Use Cases
  • Buying Guides
  • White Papers
  • Interviews with key customers
  • Technical Briefings
  • Webinars
  • ROI Calculators or Benefits Metrics

If your product is an inherent part of your customer’s product and thus the corporate income stream, you can expect more attention from executives and users than if you’re selling paper clips.  Your content should reflect their different perspective – quality and availability rather than price!

How do I reach my audience ?

Share your content, but try to persuade your audience to engage with you in the process, by following you on LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter, by joining your email list or by attending your webinar.  However you do it, grow the trust gradually and try to turn it into a one-one conversation initially online, but eventually in person.  Increasingly, as large organisations use online research before going public, SMEs need the help of an online marketing consultant

Producing content on this scale is a large undertaking and the syndication must be targeted carefully.  A degree of automation is possible and it helps to engage in the online conversation for a particular niche. This builds your Google Authority and by hanging around with recognised experts online, the reflected glory becomes yours !

How does the B2B Marketing Consultant help ?

A B2B marketing consultant will be familiar with marketing to large organisations, probably more familiar than the SME’s ovner or staff Having seen many different organisations, he will havea wider view of what “success looks like” and will be up to date with the way buying decisions are being made.  B2B needs a different set of techniques to B2C and The B2B marketing consultant can help you to choose those most suitable for your customers and your business.  BRB marketing means:

  • influencing customers over a long period, perhaps while you are unaware that they are researching a purchase
  • demonstrating expertise by producing high quality content consistently
  • building Authority in your market (without giving away your intellectual property
  • building relationships of Trust with customers at all levels.

A B2B marketing consultant can also help you to create a lead generation stratey and plan, build your lead generation system and by providing an external point of view on the quality of your content.

For some help with B2B marketing, please get in touch; SMEsOnline has much experience in promoting small high tech companies.

Online Marketing Agency

There is often some overlap between online marketing agencies and other marketing agencies, but looking through websites which rank for “online marketing agency”, the emphasis seems to be on promoting websites rather than building them.  On the other hand, digital marketing agencies work it the other way and prefer website design and build to promotion.  There are many ways of promoting websites  and many customers will not be aware of all the techniques; some of them contravene the terms and conditions of search engines or social media sites and should therefore be avoided.  In due course, your site may be de-indexed and in some cases Facebook are now suing individuals who have flagrantly abused the site.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

The technique most customers do know of is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and although many regard Google as the only game in town, Bing and Yahoo are very similar and YouTube is searched more than both of them.   SEO is about choosing keywords, which searchers use to find sites like yours and then doing everything you can to make your site the highest ranked on the search engines

It is getting harder to manipulate the search engine ranking of your websites but the most important thing is to publish interesting stuff, add a relevant picture or video.  On your own site, you can do a number of things:

  • structure the pages so that search engines can determine the topic of the website
  • optimise each page by ensuring the keyword appears in key places
  • use internal site links to show search engines the topic of the page

Recent search engine algorithm changes give more emphasis to social signals (which are harder to generate automatically).  Backlinks remain important (they can’t change the search engines completely overnight), but the search engines are getting better at detecting automatic link building (not allowed) and will de-index the worst offenders.  An online marketing agency will have skills in this area and may even have certificates to prove it !

Paid Traffic – PPC

Online advertising is also a well-known service offered by online marketing agencies.  The most often used is Google AdWords which places small ads next to the search engine results for your chosen keyword, if you have bid more than others who wish to advertise for the same term.  Google will also place similar ads on relevant websites and gmail using the Display Network.  Yahoo and Bing have similar services.   Online advertising is also known as Pay Per Click or PPC.   You can quickly spend a lot of money if you do not manage your campaigns carefully and having an agency working full time on your account will prevent this.  They will quickly turn off advertising for search terms that don’t convert and they know how to test keywords before scaling up campaigns

Facebook Ad’s

The search engines aren’t the only places you can advertise. Whereas you target a keyword on the search engines, you can target a demographic profile on Facebook, and Facebook has lots of tools to help you set up a profile that will respond to your ads.   Facebook Ads tend to convert at a lower rate, because Facebook users are there for fun, not shopping.   Managing the ads performance is similar – test an ad, before scaling up.

Media Buying

For more specialised advertising, there is Media Buying.  Many sites sell advertising space through media buying agencies and you can choose on which sites your ads will appear. Again you can spend a lot of money quickly, but once you match the right sites and ads, traffic is practically unlimited, except in very small niches.

Conversion Optimisation

Another service that online advertising agencies offer is Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO).  This is about increasing the number of visitors who respond to your calls to action, whether it is opting in to your email list, downloading a PDF file or buying something.

Tracking and Analytics

Each of these techniques demands the use of suitable Analytics which track every visitor, page view and click, where it came from, and how often they are converting.  Getting this right is probably the key to successful paid traffic generation.

Social Media

Social media can also be used to generate traffic to your site and build relationships with potential customers.  Customers (of agencies) need to be involved in this if it is supposed to reflect the personality of the business.  B2B businesses will normally operate on LinkedIn or Google+ with B2C businesses using Facebook

Online marketing agencies hearts tend to lie in the traffic generation and conversion rather than the design and programming of website design (favoured by digital marketing agency)

Digital Marketing Agency

Digital Marketing agencies vary in their range of services – some restrict themselves to website design and build while others also include online advertising, search engine optimisation (SEO) and conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and just a few deal with content marketing.

In writing this page, I have found it interesting comparing the websites that I have found searching for the three terms “b2B marketing agency”, “online marketing agency” and “digital marketing agency”.  While the sites of B2B marketing agencies are based in marketing and business, the websites of digital and online marketing agencies are based on technology. Perhaps that is not so surprising, but I have found that digital marketing agencies give more prominence to website design while online marketing agencies emphasise their online advertising and search engine optimisation services.  Naturally there is quite a lot of overlap, but it goes to show that the intention of buyers is reflected in the search terms they use.

Let’s talk a bit about website design.  A website design should go through several stages although the customer may not see all of them:

Information Gathering Project Planning


Listening to and learning about the customer and his needs
  • Purpose
  • Goals
  • Audience
  • Content
  • Competition
  • Planning Brief
Defining site requirements, timescales and business case
  • Pages
  • Page Structure
  • Purpose of each page
  • Estimates
  • Site Map
Translating Requirements into a Specification
  • User Interface Design
  • Branding / look and feel
  • Extra functions
  • Website Spec’f’n


Testing & Go Live


Implementing specification in chosen platform
  • Choice of Website platform
  • Security
  • Building on a development domain
  • Development website
Test delivered website against requirements and transfer to live domain
  • Functional testing
  • Mobile testing
  • Legal checks
  • Standards  compliance
  • Live Website
Keeping the website working well and securely
  • Backups
  • Software updates
  • Performance optimisation
  • Comment Spam

Especially if the Digital Marketing Agency is building a large website, these stages reduce the risk of building the website that you want.  In bold, the stage product is picked out.  The better these intermediate products are, the better the website will suit your business

If the ‘digital marketing agency’ essentially delivers websites to client’s stated requirements, then you will need to work harder on two areas:

  • Linking your marketing strategy and plans to the website design
  • Ensuring that you think of all your requirements  – do some research on the Internet where generic requirements are available

Many website designers don’t like doing the kind of the work needed in the Maintenance stage and so will invite you to find a maintenance partner.  This may suit larger organisations, but a small organisation should not underestimate how much work is involved in maintaining a website.

Many digital marketing agencies also do the paid traffic and search engine optimisation, but their heart lies in website development and you may achieve better results using another partner.

B2B Marketing Agency

How is B2B different to B2C ?

For all kinds of reasons, B2B marketing is different to B2C and therefore the B2B marketing agency takes a different approach to the market place.   The key differences are:

  • Every B2B market is a niche with relatively few customers.  You must know the industry jargon and understand your customers’ businesses
  • Business is buying a relationship as well as a product – any resulting contract may last years, so the sales lifecycle is also longer
  • B2B customers want to be educated and consume masses of information before they even contact your business – so your business and marketing information must be out there and easy to find.
  • The procurement process (not the purchasing) is set up to remove risk, to cover all angles and to prevent corruption
  • Consensual decision making  and risk aversion now requires you to convince almost every individual customer in a company that your business  / product is the right choice

This means that the B2B marketing agency will also work rather differently with their client.  Building longer term relationships in smaller markets means that some techniques become less important and some just don’t work very well.  For example, while Facebook users love pictures of cats and captions contests, has anyone tried sending pictures of kittens around LinkedIn ?

Especially for a small organisation, it can be hard to gain entry to a large organisation.  Networking can work but takes time; making use of all contacts is effective and any networking groups with customers in them are worth getting involved with.  However, procurement behaviour has changed – large buying organisations do their research online and have practically made up their corporate mind before they go public with their procurement intentions.  It is then very difficult for a small organisation to shape the procurement or coach their customers.  Increasingly therefore, B2B marketing is going online.    There is still a place for trade fairs, exhibitions and conferences in B2B marketing as they can help you find you customers in one place and allow them to see you amongst them.  Attending a conference as a speaker gives you and your organisation Authority.  Some B2B Marketing Agencies can help you to find the right events to attend.

Given that the sales lifecycle is longer, your website need not be as carefully optimised as a B2C site and Paid Traffic is unlikely to give a return on investment.  SEO is worthwhile as buyers in the early stages will look at the high ranking websites, but if your product is new technology, then there may be very few searches for your keyword.  For these reasons, a strategy combining social media with content marketing is currently the approach which is most likely to generate leads at the right stage in the sales cycle.

Thought Leadership

As well as using different social media, B2B marketers can and should address those with a longer attention span, by using:

With content marketing you can start to influence how your customer thinks about the problem, positioning your business to win the contract.  But your business needs to have a content marketing strategy and a content marketing plan which will include:

  • Your business (not content) objectives
  • Your brand positioning
  • A description of your target audience
  • A summary of the story you are telling
  • How your content marketing  will work with channels to market
  • The process for creating and publishing content
  • The content media
  • Measuring success

Like some online marketing agencies, your B2B marketing agency will be able to help you with a content marketing strategy and plan and may be able to draft some content for you.  It is usually better to create content internally as it then rings more truly.

B2B marketing videos need to be produced to a high standard – a small business may not have the skills and equipment to do this.  Some B2B marketing agencies can provide this capability, while others will use video production partners.  Video is easier to promote because fewer videos are published than page; it is also likely to be more convincing to your customers who want to find the Authority in the marketplace and to build a relationship of Trust with that company.  Given that most communication is non-verbal, video shows your faces and voices and so customers can engage more easily than with White Papers or Powerpoint PDF files.  A B2B marketing agency will help you plan your business’s video campaign and produce or project manage the production of videos and their promotion.

Relationship building

AS well putting innovative ideas into the mix, you need to build relationships with customers;  Without meeting in person, there are several ways you can do this.

Webinars are a great weapon in the B2B armoury.  They are the next best thing to a face-to-face meeting, but easier to arrange – after all no-one has to travel.  Nevertheless, customers have to make a space in their schedule and sign up.  They see you as An Authority, before you even start and after an hour or so they should understand your company and its products and services.  Perhaps they are also beginning to think of you as The Authority and worthy of Trust by the end of the Webinar.  However webinars aren’t quite the same as an offline seminar.  (It is less embarrassing to turn off your webinar than walk out of a meeting).  And the follow-up needs to carefully integrated with your email marketing.   Your B2B marketing agency will develop a Webinar Strategy and Plan and can also help you with technology platform choices, promoting your webinars and facilitating the webinars themselves

As available data capacity increases / becomes cheaper, more people are subscribing to Podcasts which they listen to whilst in traffic or waiting for a train.  Relatively few businesses publish a podcast so it is still relatively easy to get high visibility.

Email marketing is best used in highly segmented way – using different lists for people in various roles, sizes of organisation and stages of engagement.  Although a B2B marketing agency can help with email marketing and segmentation, this is one task that a customer needs to take a hands on interest in.

Like their B2C marketing agency cousins, B2B Marketing Agencies can take on many of your lead generation tasks.   Small businesses don’t often have a huge budget for marketing, but spending money on this specialist area is worthwhile if carefully controlled and measured.  Your agency must bring you leads that will eventually buy from you and not create lots of interest in the wrong place.

Brand Positioning

Some small businesses say that they don’t need brand positioning – we say, you need it more than big businesses who have practically unlimited resources to achieve it and your customers will position your brand whether you like it or not and they may position you somewhere you’d rather not be !

Brand positioning is about differentiation – making your product especially attractive to a particular market segment.  Positioning is relative to competitors.  Differentiation isn’t the same as different –it means different in a good way or relevant way.  The implication of brand positioning is that there are customers whom you do not set out to attract /sell to (you don’t send them away, you just don’t let them dilute your positioning)

Often markets split up by two factors – it may be price and novelty or it may be B2B v B2C and Price/Luxury

Positioning Examples

Think of the global travel industry:

Some companies specialise in business travel:  Hyatt, Marriott Hotels are good examples; others are set up for tourists  – Holiday Inn.  If you look at the Accor Group, it has hotel brands at several levels – Sofitel, Pullman, Mercure and Ibis; each of these groups is designed to attract different groups of guests.

Similarly, airlines have different positioning – EasyJet and South West Airlines aim for discount, no-frills travellers and short haul /regional routes, whilst British Airways and Emirates consider themselves to be luxury class and perhaps also prefer the long haul traveller.  Having got the big differences in positioning out of the way, each company only has to compete with those who have chosen a similar positioning.

For local businesses, geography is bound to be one of the positioning dimensions.  Taking global or national companies head on isn’t a recipe for success.  However focusing on the location and your relationship with local customers can be effective and it is quite possible to establish your business as “Oxford’s finest pen shop” ?  Unless people are visiting London or New York anyway, they are likely to buy proper fountain pens at only one shop in Oxford (ball point and gel pens don’t really make it as graduation gifts!).  If your business is in a large city, then you can claim “West London’s cheapest locksmith or even “Westminster’s best fish restaurant” and eliminate most of the competition in your customers’ minds.

Search engines are the same – when your website is initially indexed, the search engine has to decide what it is about.  This is why choosing keywords which are (and the search engines view as) relevant and close in meaning.  This is the online equivalent of positioning.  Once the search engine regards you as a <business type> in <location>, then you only have to out rank the other businesses of that type in that location.  This means your search engine optimisation task becomes much easier.

Of course, the downside of choosing a small location is that searches for the same business type in neighbouring locations are less likely to find your business.  The next town may only be a few miles away and a customer might be more than willing to go a few miles out of their way to buy something.  For this reason, it may be better to cast your net a bit wider even if achieving the ranking takes longer.

To outrank other local businesses, you may still have to think about other positioning dimensions which will put you in a unique place in customers’ minds as well search engine indexes.

How to position your small business

EITHER With some colleagues, brainstorm:

  •  how you wish various parties to see you (investors, employees and suppliers as well as customers)
  • Create an honest assessment of your “unique value proposition” – (is it unique ? of value?, etc)
  • List the positions you wish to avoid  ( eg burger restaurant not fast food)
  • Think about your competition’s positioning

Then when you’ve processed the results, develop your positioning statement and the related messages.  A positioning statement looks like this :

We are the only <type of business> that <meets a customer’s need> <in this unique way>

The customer’s need should be unmet currently and the unique way is your differentiation

Ask employees and then customers whether this positioning statement flies.

OR invite some customers for couple of hours, and:

  1. Ask your customers to name the top 10 brands in your category (don’t force them to name you)
  2. Ask them to rank those brands
  3. Ask your customers to list the most relevant factors in the category
  4. Ask the customers to rank each brand against each factor

With your colleagues, evaluate whether you still have a proposition and where your business might best be positioned.  Write the positioning statement.

So in summary, brand positioning is even more important for small business as it focuses all resources on the differentiating features of the business’s brand.    Positioning is about putting clear water between your business and its competition and online positioning is about showing search engines where you fit.   Once your business is positioned, brand development effort will help to reinforce the positioning.

Brand Development

Once you have a brand and a positioning, it will take customers time to realise how lucky they are to have such a wonderful brand and to understand what your brand means.  In consequence, you’ll need to sustain both the talk and the walk for months and even years to achieve the full benefits of branding.  These benefits accumulate and accelerate if you keep the momentum going.  This article is about how to drive home the benefits of branding.

Here the main principles:

  • Be distinctive – what is that your business does that no-one else does ?  Keep reinforcing that message in all formats, online and offline.  Have a clearly recognisable logo and name and spread it around online putting it on all your own sites and any of the business listings that you can.
  • Deliver great products /service – nobody gets excited about mediocre and you won’t create any buzz or trust or relationship with your customers by being good enough.  If you want people to write about you or give you a good review, you need to go above and beyond.  Think about the emotional benefits of your service.  As I write, my not so young anymore parents are moving house – they are finding It much more difficult than last time (20 years ago) every unexpected event is causing panic instead of mild irritation !  The removals firm that spots this will get the job and probably a very good review.
  • Keep your promises – not just your contractual promises, but your brand promises, which are probably more difficult to keep.  They are also probably more important to your business because they will reinforce your brand and inspire loyalty in your chosen customer base.  Customer retention is at least as important as finding new customers
  • Be consistent – everything to do with brands is about consistency -the same messages from all channels in all modes and walk the talk !  In online terms, this means treating all channels in the same way – Skype’s official web site has a very lovable feel even though Microsoft now owns it and it doesn’t change its feel on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.  If you’re serious on your website and playful on Twitter, that’ll be confusing to customers.  This consistency is part of what the familiarity and trust.
  • Grow your community – The most popular brands have a community around them – Apple have iPhone bores, Mac Bores and loyal App developers; none of them resist any temptation to pass on the virtues of Apple products to the rest of us.  One of the reasons for iPhone’s success is the App, which allowed Apple to hand over development to lots of other people whilst creating a market for their skills and in the process creating a huge group of brand advocates.  On a smaller scale, it is possible to create something similar for your target clients.  A restaurant might dedicate first Tuesdays to “dining club members”, a financial adviser might invite favoured clients to special briefings (investment opportunities / tax changes or whatever) and referral schemes can reward those who generate new customers for you
  • Stand for /against something – Body Shop /Anita Roddick seemed to be against everything (animal testing, greenness, whale hunting) and became very successful.  As part of running the business, Body Shop offered products that solved the problems against which they campaigned.  Apple have done well by “not being Microsoft” and are probably the most successful example of a challenger brand.  Firefox (browsers) also took the ‘not Microsoft’ position.  The “Dollar Shave Club” is challenging Gillette and all its blades.  Zipcar’s car sharing service is standing against car ownership for a whole range of reasons and will appeal to many who live in a large city and don’t use a car often and some who think owning a car is a bad idea for some of the reasons Zipcar talks about
  • Find your voice – As well as what you say, there is how you say it – or “your voice”.  I think Skype’s use of speech bubbles and informal, non-technical choice of words for key messages is very effective.  On the other hand, GE uses lots of photographs of precision engineered things and isn’t scared of using technical jargon.
  • Empower your customers – Your customers are the real custodians of your brand – after all it is their beliefs about your business that compose the brand.  Some of these guys will be brand advocates or evangelists and their testimonials will be far more powerful than anything you say or do

There’s quite a lot to think through in making this happen and I think the brand voice is a particularly vaguely understood area.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much time for your to perfect your brand development act.  Think before you act !