Small B2B businesses face complex problems in today’s marketplace. You’re dealing with stiff competition from global importers who drive down prices and, at the same time, trying to get a foothold in an industry full of well-established and anchored domestic competitors. If you can’t offer the lowest prices or the lightning-fast service of big, high-volume operations, how will you compete?
Every B2B small business can carve out a niche, even in tough industries. It’s just a matter of finding what resonates with your customers—then making that bit of gold work for you—so you can nab more sales and grow your B2B business.
#1. Find Your Shine—and Share It
Consider what you have to offer and define what makes you stand out. When you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can craft your corporate image, branding and marketing in an honest and unique way your customers will love.
Remember that old Avis campaign? “We’re number two, so we try harder.” It worked because of its fresh and honest approach, not to mention its hardworking appeal to the average American—their customers could relate, and gaining that ground was worth millions.
If you’re an SMB, you may never be #1, but you are most certainly unique. You’re not trapped in layers of corporate hierarchy, so find your angle and own it. Show your customers what you’re passionate about. Be fresh. Be honest. Drive your point home.
Maybe you can’t deliver tomorrow, and maybe you can’t offer the lowest prices on the market. Those are powerful incentives…but not necessarily as compelling as other things you can offer that giant “faceless” companies simply can’t match.
Here are a few areas where smaller B2B companies can deliver more—and shine:
Share your expertise. Make knowledge your top selling point by hiring and training well-qualified employees and giving them enough autonomy to address each customer’s problem on a personal level. Your people should be able to listen and respond with real solutions, not canned responses.
Focus on quality. Your customers want to feel valued. Stress the importance of custom solutions built from the ground up. Build your reputation on precision and quality construction and/or service. Small businesses have a reputation for caring more about their customers. Capitalize on that feel-good feature.
Cut out the middleman. If you can cut costs by, for example, shipping directly to your customers, consider doing it. If you can offer your B2B services without relying on a third party, consider going for it. Distribution channels add costs you may be able to eliminate…thus lowering costs without lowering quality.
#2. Bring Your Team Together—and Collaborate
After you’ve defined your best selling points, you need an actionable plan to build your brand story and establish your corporate culture. It must be a top-to-bottom marketing solution with every member of your team on board. Management, marketing, sales, product experts, and customer service reps should all be in the know and ready to go.
To put your vision to work, sales and marketing need to coordinate and collaborate. Marketing needs to know how to identify hot leads and sales needs to follow up every step of the way. Treat your existing customers like the old friends they are and offer support and information no matter where they are in the buying cycle. Give your team the tools and information they need to succeed.
Visual presentations, recent testimonials, detailed case studies and industry-specific product and services comparisons can help you communicate your value to potential B2B customers. Appealing content includes slideshows, photos, and even video—not just endless streams of text. Your customers deserve better. If your customers need technical specs, present them in a fact sheet with easy-to-scan bullet points, instead of a headache-inducing jungle of words.
#4. Get Clever—and WIN
Sungard AS won big a couple years back with a clever marketing ploy. They did something pretty unusual in B2B…created an infographic that harnessed pop culture while addressing a common IT concern: it compared “moving to the cloud” to surviving a zombie apocalypse. Yes, you read that right. The infographic went viral, and Sungard ran with the concept, building out more zombie-themed informational content. And guess what? Yep, their target market LOVED it.
You’ll close more deals if you work to understand both why your business is unique and how you can best meet and exceed your customers’ needs. Pinpoint your customers’ pain points and create targeted content to draw in new customers and keep your existing customers happy. Answering your customers’ and prospects’ questions and concerns while educating them about your small B2B venture—now that’s always win-win. Tie it all together, collaborate and get creative and you’ll nab more sales than ever.
For B2B, nurturing existing customers is even more important than in B2C. Your business depends on recurring business—and oftentimes from fewer clients. You need a revenue stream that flows every month…you’re not just luring in random new customers with “The Biggest Sale of the Year.”
The customer retention danger zone? Complacency.
Assuming your customers are happy is a dangerous. If you’re sitting on the status quo, confident your customers are secure because you’ve been working with them a long time, it’s time to take a look at just how much things have changed…and how these changes have brought us full circle, back to personalized human-to-human customer service.
Excellent customer service isn’t a new concept, but it got lost to technology for a long time. Automation killed the personal touch and with nowhere else to turn, customers put up with it. There are some perks to automation, like reminder triggers and easy ordering, but customers today want more: They want a deeper understanding of your company and the products and services you provide.
Here are 3 ways you can deliver more than expected and retain more customers:
#1: Open the Doors of Communications
Achieving primo customer service starts with communication. Don’t accidentally mistake advertising for communication. Advertising is telling customers why they should buy your product. Communication is asking your customers how you can improve, and then responding with meaningful action.
Bill Gates may have put it best years ago when he said,
Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
Here’s a great B2B example:
Hootsuite is a set of tools for social media monitoring. After launching a new update, they responded to customer complaints about their “terrible” new interface by channeling a Jimmy Kimmel show bit that’s become a cultural meme: “Mean Tweets.” The important thing to understand is Hootsuite’s response. They acknowledged the validity of the criticism (despite the curse words) and redesigned the UI for a cleaner, prettier, and more useable interface.
#2: Encourage Customer Loyalty
Everybody loves swag—and customer loyalty programs are remarkably effective. IBM does B2B customer loyalty exceptionally well, even offering deals you can offer to your customers to help build your business. Their incentives don’t stop at completion of the initial sale, they continue throughout the business relationship. Well done, IBM.
#3: Create Helpful User Tools
Gordon Food Service is a food distributor that goes well beyond its purpose to help business working in the food-service industry. On their website, restaurant owners can find menu planners, cost calculators, a staff scheduler, and much more. By investing in technologies designed to help customers effectively run their business, GFS competes against some very formidable businesses.
We all know B2B is all about developing long-term relationships, your customers’ expectations go far beyond what’s on sale today. They want to deal with businesses they know and trust. Careful consideration goes into that decision to work with you, and it’s up to you to deliver on that promise of service. These three approaches can help you deliver more than expected helping retain customers and increase sales.
No matter what industry you’re in, the competition is heating up, so traditional marketing methods simply aren’t enough anymore. Check out these five B2B case studies and learn replicable marketing strategies from leading manufacturers. Get this step-by-step guide for creating a workable content and social marketing strategy for your B2B company. Get ahead of the curve.
Each prospective customer has different needs as they progress through their buying journey. In the world of “BIG TICKET” purchases for items like houses or cars — or costly products like enterprise business software — buyers move through a natural cycle of educating themselves about the item before making a decision to buy.
Someone just becoming aware of your product or service may only be looking for some basic information, like a short video or an infographic. Contrast that with the needs of a CEO about to make an expensive company-wide software upgrade, who is looking for proven ROI data in a case study or detailed peer feedback in customer testimonials.
As marketers, we need to understand that at EACH stage of the buy cycle…
…your prospective customers are trying to educate themselves — through the content YOU offer them — until they feel comfortable enough to make a purchasing decision.
So, check your company’s site: Are you giving your prospects self-service access to educate themselves about your product or service? You should be.
At Cultivate Communications, we call this process of mapping content to prospects’ needs throughout the buying cycle “Growth Cycle Marketing.” This marketing process allows you to provide that extra nudge at every point in your developing relationship, ensuring that you remain “top of mind” when your customers are ready to buy.
More than 90% of B2B customers conduct some form of online research on a product or service before they engage with a sales person (Source:Salesforce, 2013).This means that most potential customers have initiated their buying process before they ever even talk to your company reps. In fact:
On average, the B2B customer has independently completed about 60% of the purchasing decision process by researching solutions ONLINE before ever calling a sales person (Source:CEB Marketing, 2011).
You read that right — a whopping 60%! Imagine how many touch points your sales team would have to make to get a person that far along in a purchase decision. That could take days, weeks, and maybe even months.
Marketing automation platforms automate the delivery of these touch points while listening for demographic and behavioral clues left by prospects as they engage with the content you offer on your website. Such clues could be clicking a specific link on a landing page or email, or filling out a form to download a piece of premium content (e.g., a case study). These are strong behavioral indicators of the type of content your prospects are interested in. This data is then used by marketing automation tools to move people into pre-set nurture campaigns that send triggered emails over time designed to further educate your target audience and get them to that 60% mark FOR YOU.
Desirable behaviors like visiting pricing pages or completing short forms to be able to download premium content allow marketing automation tools to apply scores to any leads entering your system. On the flip side, if a behavior is detected such as a competitor visiting your site or someone simply visiting your Employment page, a negative lead score can be applied for that lead interaction with your website.
Game Changer, Force Multiplier, Your Secret Marketing Sauce… Call it what you want: Marketing automation enables best-in-class companies to drive more qualified leads into the funnel that can be worked faster by sales teams. It’s no easy task, though. So if this is the year you plan to dive into marketing automation, talk to us about conducting a Readiness Assessment for your business, processes, and team.