You’ve heard it countless times but I’m going to say it again: B2B companies are, by and large, terrible marketers. But before you snidely nod your head and say to yourself “Omg, yes, they really do suck,” let me lay down a little history lesson about why they suck.
Unlike consumer brands that have always sold and marketed their products to the masses via TV, magazines, etc., B2B did their business personally over the phone. As a consumer at home, you would never call up Colgate to buy a tube of toothpaste, but as a procurement manager at work, you couldn’t go down to your local store and buy 40 cases of zinc t-plates. You got on the phone with your sales rep every week, month, year, whatever, talked about your kids, chatted about the holidays, and placed your order. Over the years, you built a relationship with your rep—a relationship that was far more human than anything you ever felt for your favorite cereal brand. Your industrial supplier’s “brand” didn’t need a “personality”—as far as you were concerned, your sales rep was the brand.
Real human relationships is how most B2B companies still run today, but as those people start to leave their post and retire, a new workforce of decision makers and buyers are coming in. According to a Think With Google study from 2015, nearly half of all B2B researchers today are millennials—millennials who really don’t want to get on the phone and make small talk about the fam to buy 3,000 recessed lighting 4” high hat receptacles.
So how do you translate that phone call—and real human contact—into a relationship that can be nurtured and sustained in the digital world?
1. Flaunt your product catalog
As the creative director of an ecommerce platform that specializes in B2B, I’ve met too many companies who believe that in order to sell online, you just need to put up a website that gives you all the pieces of functionality typically offered in B2C. But the cost of entry isn’t that simple. My team and I can build your business the most beautiful, robust ecommerce site in the world—but if you can’t populate and furnish it, then it’s just a pretty shell. People might visit to see what’s up but they won’t stay for long and they certainly won’t come back again.
If you want to sell online, then you need to bring the experience of your product to the digital world. Do online what your sales rep can do on the phone—make the product real for your buyer with photos, specs, and descriptions. Then go to a place that your best sales rep couldn’t even dream of with video—demos, how-tos, customer testimonials, etc. Give users to ability to search and sort by including thorough product attributions. Don’t spare any detail and give buyers information they can really chew on.
2. Embrace your H2H heritage and do social right
As I said earlier, B2B has been doing H2H —building strong empathy and lasting relationships—forever, so social media should come naturally. Just like those relationships you built over the phone, social is all about talking, listening, and responding to your customers. At a massive scale. Every day. Several times a day. With dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of customers. On many channels. So if you don’t have the bandwidth for it, don’t even bother. Don’t sign up for Instagram just to check that box off your list. Do one or two or three channels really well—that’s all you need. Don’t be afraid of leveraging a channel to be your communication vehicle. Think Snapchat is just for kids? I don’t—I think Snapchat can be brilliantly utilized as a B2B channel for building one-on-one relationships with buyers through private photo and video threads.
And remember: Nobody likes talking to a robot. Too many B2B brands sound so stiff on social, it drives me nuts. Go stalk GE and get inspired to speak like a human, share what you’re passionate about, and always be listening.
3. Give your brand major love and the rest will follow
Back in the day, your customer didn’t give a damn about your logo. Maybe she noticed it once on an invoice. She said to herself, “well that’s an eyesore,” and never thought about it again.
But in today’s digital world, first impressions are 94% design-related. Your logo, colors, font choices, etc.—they’ll make or break you. If your website looks sketchy, nobody’s going to submit their company credit card number.
The most efficient and effective way to go about this is by crafting your brand—defining what you value, what you believe in, and what drives you and your co-workers to come in every day. Once you nail down your brand, it is so much easier to make decisions about what your logo should look like, what your voice on Twitter should sound like, and what kind of content you’re going to post on your blog. Your brand identity is your guiding star, so you better make it shine bright.
I am sure you have heard these top-level points before but spending the last 2+ years wrangling the digital integration into the long systemic B2B enterprise space is just not getting soaked in. You can’t sit and think it will evolve and the understanding will be there. You can’t just hire a few millennials to kick-start the process. It needs to be a top-bottom understanding and a bottom-up as well. It needs to be part of the company’s DNA. Full end-to-end implementation. If you can embrace digital with all the care you currently put into a more traditional mindset, you will continue to be successful and find wholes that apply new growth for your B2B. Don’t be scared, try, fail, and repeat until the combination is a winning formula. Good luck and hit me up via Twitter to start the convo, curious of your thoughts!
Photo Credit: Amazon Warehouse via Business Insider