B2B marketing is a fiendishly complex puzzle: here’s how to solve it

B2B marketing is a fiendishly complex puzzle: here’s how to solve it

It’s been said that if consumer marketing is a game of draughts, then by comparison B2B marketing is 3D chess.

That’s because B2B marketers have to overcome a myriad of complex challenges that consumer marketers rarely face:

  • The decision-making process is infinitely more complex for a business compared to a consumer 
  • B2B marketers have a number of buyer personas to satisfy to make a single sale
  • A B2B purchase is rarely impulsive: a client’s procurement process can go through several rounds, over several months
  • The client’s buying cycle can last years, not days
  • What you’re selling could cost £millions, not pennies
  • The total buyer audience can number just dozens, not millions

And yet B2B marketers are often tasked with meeting all the above challenges with a fraction of the budgets that FMCG marketers enjoy.

How best to take on that challenge?

There are two key frameworks the B2B marketer can utilise to help win this particular game.

Framework 1: The Extended Model of Business Decision Making

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The B2B marketer needs to understand the following of their prospective target audience:

  • What event or situation is / are the typical triggers for a prospect business looking for a solution which the seller can provide?

Competitor advantage? Operational inefficiency? New technologies making existing solutions redundant? Commencement of a buying cycle? Contractual breach by an existing supplier?

  • What sources of information does the purchasing company typically use when researching the solution?

Do they talk to a professional adviser or broker? Visit a trade exhibition? Ask their peers? Read the trade press? Ask their direct reports? Undertake an RFI?

  • What alternative solutions – competitive to the seller – might a purchasing company consider?

What are the attractive elements of the competition’s propositions? On what basis does the buyer draw up a shortlist of potential suppliers?

  • When deciding between vendors, what are the decision criteria that are taken into account, and what importance is attached to each?

Price is rarely the sole determinant: other factors may include supplier credibility in delivery; ease of solution integration with existing systems or processes; compliance considerations (e.g. re data security in the context of GDPR); and increasingly a company’s commitment to environmental & social governance.

  • Having appointed a vendor, did the supplier actually deliver on their promises?

Are the end users happy? Would that company appoint that supplier again?

Once the B2B marketer can map out these stages, they will have a framework they can use to develop a proposition (or more often, a series of propositions) that can take a prospect through each of the above stages, helping ensure that they win the ongoing business.

At each stage, they also need to understand how their competitors’ approaches / propositions are more relevant than their own.

Thus hopefully avoiding the situation where having done all the top-of-funnel work, a competitor inveigles their way onto a shortlist, and steals the business at the final turn.

The key question to ask therefore is: “What do we have to do / be / say / offer to come first at each of those stages?”

So far so good. But to be fair the above buyer decision making framework is equally applicable to a high involvement consumer purchase (such as a car, or a mortgage).

So why the 3D chess analogy for B2B?

What makes B2B marketing so much harder than consumer marketing is that even for a car or a mortgage, the “buyer persona” going through all the above stages is usually just one individual.

B2B sellers have to contend with the fact that there are often many different people involved in the ultimate decision-making process. (Indeed our recent research for Momentum ABM discovered that the average buying team for a $3m+ technology investment is 15 people*).

Hence Framework 2 – Buyer Personas:

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All the above personas will have varying levels of input to the purchase decision, at different stages of that purchase. Some input will be formal, some informal.

And they will often have conflicting requirements.

Specifiers may demand a solution beyond the budget holder’s means.

Users needs may not be fully taken into account at the purchase stage, resulting in dissonance once the solution is implemented.

Buyers – frequently Procurement – may counsel against an otherwise-suitable supplier because the supplier isn’t on the existing supplier roster.

And so on.

The B2B marketing strategy therefore needs to take into account the needs of each of the typical Buyer Personas in order to adequately mitigate their conflicting demands. And do it better than the competition.

Winning the game

So in order to win this game of 3D chess, the B2B marketer has to map out BOTH the client decision making process AND overlay that with an understanding of the roles and needs of the various buyer personas in order to develop a watertight proposition strategy.

If the marketer does it well, they should end up with a winning proposition strategy that is:

  1. Relevant to each of the buyer personas, at each stage of the buyer process
  2. Distinctive from what the competition are promising
  3. Demonstrably deliverable

No one said 3D chess was easy, but there’s no doubt of the scale of the intellectual challenge compared to a game of draughts. And the consequent satisfaction when the game is won.

Of course, market research can help B2B marketers put insight flesh on the bones of the above frameworks.

If you ever need help with B2B marketing strategy and want to pick my brains, please do get in touch via the contact details below.

Simon Hayhurst

February 2021

*source: https://wearemomentum.com/customer-buying-index/

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