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How the Internet is Transforming B2B Marketing

Business-to-business marketers are taking on an increasingly pivotal role in the Internet-driven transformation of the economy. In the next 12 months, we anticipate the pace of revolutionary change to accelerate as the Internet rapidly evolves to become far more than just another business tool.

Strategies and tactics are emerging in connection with the B2B marketing-driven revolution making it possible to more profitably acquire and retain customers. These changes are destined to radically re-shape almost every business process and create an entirely new way of conducting business.

A single factor is propelling B2B past B2C and is causing it to become the point of innovation and economic change – hyper-competition.

This stands in sharp contrast to the B2C side, where the impetus for the use of the Web is greatly dependent on the vagaries of consumer tastes and the perception of convenience offered by new technologies.

Instead, the implementation of new technologies in the B2B arena is being driven by compelling competitive considerations and by important bottom-line imperatives. Companies recognize that it is crucial to use the new technological capabilities to streamline and dramatically improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their business operations – and those of their customers and suppliers.

In fact, for more than a decade, the re-engineering of linkages between customers and suppliers already has been under way in more operational B2B arenas through such initiatives as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and just-in-time delivery. Already, these types of efforts have spurred major changes in the ways that activities such as manufacturing and logistics are executed. There has even been significant progress in areas such as collaborative product design and development.

Now, through the use of the Web, this paradigm is being combined with quantum leaps in Customer-Relationship Management (CRM) capabilities to re-shape the way in which traditional B2B marketing is conducted.

Full recognition of the importance of these marketing-driven B2B transformations was initially obscured by the flurry of early attention showered on B2B exchanges.

Online exchanges undoubtedly will play an important role in helping buyers and sellers execute B2B transactions. However, unlike the B2C marketplace, the B2B arena involves a much more complex web of interactions between prospects and vendors in which the actual transaction represents only a small part of the entire purchase process.

Too much of a focus on transaction-centered exchanges inevitably runs the risk of overlooking much greater opportunities that the Internet avails for B2B marketers – a new generation of Web-enabled, CRM-based, marketing initiatives that add enormous value to customers and prospects.

The strategies and tactics emerging in connection with this B2B marketing revolution are destined to radically re-shape almost every business process. It is a revolution that is triggering changes on a similar scale in such innovations as the use of interchangeable parts and the development of the assembly line and mass-production processes.

This leading-edge role in driving the adoption of new technology is not a new one for the B2B community; in fact, it represents the usual trajectory of the development of a new technology.

There are nine emerging trends in B2B marketing driven by technological and competitive developments:

1. Contextual Marketing Messages
2. Pervasive Touch-Points
3. Deep Targeting
4. Collaborative Purchase Decisions and Facilitative Marketing
5. Branding And Deliberative Purchases
6. Privacy
7. Primacy of Branded Content
8. Web-based Marketing Enables ROI Measurement
9. Wireless Ads

Contextual Marketing Messages

The business world has embraced the Internet, and now for-work users are embracing focus and task-oriented Web activities.

When business users are online, they typically have a specific task to complete or specific information to gather. Business users are likely to respond positively to online marketing initiatives that assist them in completing tasks at hand. On the same note, they are likely to be annoyed by marketing messages that they see as deflecting them from the work in which they are immersed.

The implications for B2B marketers are clear.

It is crucial that marketers be sensitive to the users work environment and the context in which those marketing messages will be received, especially when they try to reach prospects and customers via online media. The most successful marketing efforts will be those that create a contextual bridge that clarifies for the user that the marketer is providing useful, task-specific information that is just a click away.

Pervasive Touch-Points

The amount of time business professionals spend online has dramatically increased and is translating into an equally dramatic multiplication in the number of potential touch points between suppliers and customers. In fact, some customers might reasonably be described as online all the time. This means suppliers and customers can be thought of as being in virtually constant touch as well as open to relevant communication at any given time.

The Internet provides powerful new tools that make it possible for B2B marketers to use a combination of sophisticated CRM applications and Web-based delivery of advertising to effectively engage in on-going interactions with their customers.

The Web has made it feasible to connect with customers all the time, in real-time. A supplier can provide information, the customer can come back with a request for clarifications and additional details, and so on.

Instead of thinking of themselves as advertising to the audience, marketers will move towards a focus on encompassing on-going conversations with customers that can be activated at almost any time.

Deep Targeting

Be on the watch for a shift in B2B marketing activity toward Deep Targeting initiatives that use highly tailored advertising to reach the appropriate audiences. This will represent a significant move away from the approach that has characterized much of the early online advertising activity – a focus on large, broad-based business Websites.

Critical factors for successful deep targeting efforts include:

• The use of ad vehicles that not only can reach the target audiences, but also have sufficient standing and credibility with the audiences to get their attention.
• A rich understanding of the type of message content and format to which the highly specific audiences are most receptive and to which they will respond most favorably.

In the face of increasingly intense accountability and budget challenges, B2B marketers will seek out and employ more ultra-targeted online marketing tactics.

Collaborative Purchase Decisions and Facilitative Marketing

B2B marketers gain significant insight from their interactions with customers that can effectively position them to help customers streamline and improve their purchasing-decision processes. Web-enabled facilitative marketing programs represent an important new facet in which marketers can add significant value to customers – especially via valuable information at crucial points in the purchase-decision process. Web-based facilitative marketing can be thought of as emulating the role played by an experienced, top-notch sales team that helps prospective customers work their way through the buying process.

In order to do this type of marketing successfully, those overseeing B2B advertising and marketing initiatives will find it important to develop a much deeper understanding of their customers’ operations:

• What is the business process inherent in customers’ purchase decisions?
• Do they issue a Request for Information?
• What roles do Request for Proposals play?
• How and from whom do they get quotes?
• Who examines and evaluates those quotes?
• How does the internal buy-in typically proceed?
• Are customers buying online or merely using the Web to enable a sales transaction?
• What criteria does each influencer use to make a decision?

Based on deep understanding and insights gained from working with multiple customers, B2B marketers can go beyond helping facilitate the customer’s existing purchase-decision process and even suggest changes that could improve the process.

Branding And Deliberative Purchases

The B2B arena is largely void of impulse buys, therefore it is especially crucial for companies to stay in front of prospects via the Web. This also generates important implications for the value of B2B online branding initiatives.

The bulk of the B2B marketplace consists of “buyers in waiting.” These future purchasers are perpetually in the process of scanning the business environment for solutions and exchanging information with suppliers and colleagues.

Marketers need to keep their brand message in front of latent prospects. As well, marketers must utilize the Web as a platform in which they can build intimate relationships with prospects. It is important to remember that most B2B Web experiences originate with content pursuit and then evolve to a purchasing event.

Author: Bill Furlong

Read other articles in this issue:

How the Internet is Transforming B2B Marketing (part 1)
12 Tips for Earning Consistent Revenues - and Commissions - All Year Round
"I Have to Take Your Proposal to My Manager!"

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February 21, 2020

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