The B2B marketing scene has changed dramatically over the last 10 years and has moved well beyond the simple client-company relationship many people began with early on in their careers. Today, the landscape is a lot more complicated, with new technologies and practices emerging all the time.

Traditionally, B2B marketing was a rather dull affair. Companies would try to build relationships with other firms, hoping that downstream enterprises would become dependent on their product or service. But B2B entities realised something: if they wanted to charge higher prices and make more money, they couldn’t just rely on this old tactic – they had to become more like a consumer brand.

It sounds strange to think of a B2B enterprise becoming more like a consumer brand, especially in the marketing space, but savvy companies in the industry have realised that they need to do just that. Just as in the consumer space, the company which comes to mind first whenever a particular solution is required is often the company that wins.

Marketing is more difficult in the B2B space. Your target audience is far less well-defined and can change from company to company. Do you target the CEO? The CFO? The company outreach team? Customer service? The board? Different stakeholders all have different questions and needs, and you may not be able to appeal to all of them with the same marketing message. CEOs for instance, are usually much more interested in the direction of the company and the way in which your product can help with their strategy. The board, on the other hand, is more interested in whether you’ll generate a real return for shareholders.

So what B2B marketing trends do you need to know about? And how can they help your business thrive?

Marketing And Sales Alignment

Firms like to separate both marketing and sales. Marketing is concerned with enticing new customers to explore more about the B2B business, whereas sales are focused on conversion. The problem for many companies though in the B2B sector is that these two departments aren’t working well together. Marketing messages are often at odds with sales advice, and vice versa.

Top companies now accept that if they are to provide an excellent customer experience, marketing and sales need to be on the same page. Sales, particularly, needs to understand the nuances of the marketing messages, so that they can speak to customers in a language they understand. Sales must adopt the tone set by marketing in their interactions, rather than setting their own agenda.

Automation Of Marketing

Technology is making the job of marketing a B2B business both easier and more complex. It’s a double-edged sword. For instance, new technology has meant that B2B companies must now sell their businesses through a broader range of channels than ever before. We’re not just talking PPC and radio, but also social media, live media, blogs, and live events. But technology is also making it easier to integrate all of these different channels in a way that is consistent and seamless for customers.

According to Marketing Sherpa, technologists are now developing the tools which allow companies to integrate both the marketing and customer management aspects of their business. The idea is to make sure that quality remains consistent but that customers get a more tailored experience when they interact with the company. For B2B businesses with more complex needs, this is an important innovation.

B2B Marketers Are Performing Better On Social Media

Social media used to be a poor channel for B2B marketers, for obvious reasons. In 2015, only around one in ten B2B businesses reported a positive ROI. But fast forward just three years, and that figure has jumped to an impressive 39 per cent. Why has this happened?
It turns out that companies in the B2B space have gotten better and turning their activities on social media into revenue. With the rise of so many company pages on sites like Facebook, B2B enterprises have a massive opportunity to capture new business in a way that wasn’t possible just a few years ago.

Social media, in many ways, is the ideal platform for B2B businesses. It contains a lot of information and allows companies to communicate with each other in a detailed way, not often possible with other forms of advertising. A B2B enterprise on social media can post pages and pages of content about its products without having to worry about advertising space, giving stakeholders in other businesses the space they need to consider their product adequately.

Visual Content

B2B enterprises rarely bothered with visual content in the past, especially on their websites. But if you view this page, you’ll see that some of the top B2B marketing agencies in the world now recommend that they do. The problem for B2B enterprises is the dryness of their marketing materials and presentation to customers. Yes, they might be working with businesses and professionals, but that doesn’t mean that the people they are targeting suddenly become as dull as their job titles. Customers, whether they’re at work or not, want a bit of excitement and engagement. And so visual content is becoming much more critical.

What does that mean in practice? It’s doing things like creating embedded videos explaining your product on your website, using new 360-degree VR immersive experiences to help customers explore your products, and including exciting infographics.

Using AI To Develop Better Marketing Strategies

B2B businesses, like most other firms, are grappling with AI, a new technology which appears to offer everything. Leading researchers have called the technology, “the new electricity” because of its potential to transform our lives in the way that electric circuits did at the end of the nineteenth century.

But what exactly can AI be used for in the B2B marketing space? A lot, as it happens. AI is already in use now to help businesses gain insights from disparate data. These insights can help with everything from improving the potency of advertising to figuring out which marketing channels should receive the biggest budgets.

Marketers also hope that AI will begin to not only offer insight but take action too, possibly in real time. For instance, an AI system could manage a PPC advertising campaign and adjust it as it experiments with new keywords. Rather than have a marketing executive optimise the campaign on a monthly basis, an AI could potentially update it every few minutes, looking for new opportunities to generate leads along the way, based on the data it receives.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing has been around for a while now – it’s the idea that companies should reach out to people who have pre-existing audiences and get them to advertise their product in some way. But for B2B enterprises, it’s almost entirely new.

B2B marketers can use influencers in essential ways to build their brands to the leaders of other businesses, just as consumer-facing firms do. There are often people, even in the business space, who hold a lot of sway and who are trusted by the firms you want to sell to. Seek these people out on social media and try to partner with them in some way. You could offer discounts through their YouTube channel, or post podcasts and interviews on their LinkedIn profile.

Developing Native Advertising

Native advertising came about because of the perceived failures of banner advertising. When companies looked at the data, they saw that the majority of people had developed psychological tools to blank out banner adverts and solely concentrate on the content they wanted to consume. Rather than give up, marketers came up with the idea of moving the advertising to the content itself, and native advertising was born.

Native advertising differs in important ways to regular advertising. For starters, it’s not overtly commercial or promotional – but it often contains links to products or B2B enterprises in the hope of making a sale. Native advertising works by providing customers with exciting content that is truly useful to them and seeks to build a trusting relationship. Through this relationship, marketers believe they can create a foundation to make a sale.

This form of advertising is particularly relevant to B2B businesses with complex products. Not only can they provide helpful information to their clients, but they can also educate people about what exactly is it that they sell – which can often be a mystery.

Many big players have already figured out how to utilise native marketing including IBM and Dell.

Becoming More Agile

Being “agile” is a slightly slippery concept and one that a lot of businesses throw around without much thought. But at root, being agile means having an open dialogue between various business departments, and adjusting according to new information. As discussed earlier, sales and marketing might not be talking effectively to each other, and so part of being agile would be those two departments working in unison. But a genuinely agile company integrates the entire firm and can make better-timed decisions.

Marketing in the B2B space isn’t easy. But with the right education, you can help your business succeed.