Unifying B2B Marketing and Sales
The business-to-business (B2B) sector presents marketers with a number of challenges not found in other sectors of our economy.
In this article we'll explore several aspects of both B2B marketing and B2B sales:
Each of these areas has a part to play in the process of attracting B2B prospects and turning them into B2B customers.
We'll see that only by using a customer relationship management (CRM) system based on a unified marketing and sales approach can a B2B company fully understand their customers and generate the maximum revenue possible from serving each customer.
B2B Lead Generation
For many years trade magazines were the dominant source of inquiries for most B2B companies. Large B2B companies advertised in the trade magazines to generate inquiries, while small B2B companies relied on editorial coverage of new products to generate inquiries. This worked well in good economic times with long product development cycles. Advertising could be planned months in advance and timed to the release of new products.
Direct marketing consisted of renting mailing lists from trade magazines and similar B2B lead sources. Reply cards were mailed back to the B2B vendor, which then mailed printed literature taking weeks to fulfill a request for information about a B2B company's products. Inquiries from B2B prospects could be processed over weeks because B2B sales took months to close.
As B2B companies started selling to a global market, and many print trade magazines either disappeared or do not reach the B2B company's global market, it has become important for B2B companies to turn to the Internet for more of their B2B lead generation activities.
Two Internet-based techniques work well to generate inquiries for a B2B company:
- Targeted advertising on content-based Web sites targeted at B2B readers.
- Search engine optimization that generates traffic to the B2B company's Web site.
But how does a B2B marketing manager know how well their lead generation techniques are working?
Unlike the consumer sector, B2B marketing managers have tools available to determine the source of every lead. This is done by tracking every click from ads on content Web sites and clicks to the company's Web site from search engine results pages.
This means a B2B marketing manager can determine the ROI for all B2B lead generation techniques.
B2B Campaign Management
The life of every qualified lead for a B2B company can range from 6 to 24 months. It's important for a B2B company to maintain top of mind awareness with qualified leads over this period in order to be assured of an opportunity to be on the "short list" of vendors considered for a purchase. It's impractical and cost prohibitive for the salesforce at a B2B company to contact every prospect every month, so a marketing communications campaign needs to be implemented to maintain contact with these qualified B2B leads.
The best approach is to use a customer relationship Management (CRM) system that uses data collected by the B2B lead generation system to send appropriate marketing messages to each qualified lead. Since the CRM system already knows the source of each lead, the B2B campaign management system should select which message to send based on profile data and the source of the each lead.
The two approaches to B2B campaign management are:
- E-mail newsletters to prospects and customers interested in the B2B company's products.
- Mail post cards and multi-piece direct mail pieces to qualified leads.
Both campaign techniques should promote returning to the B2B vendor's Web site where a profile form allows the prospect to describe their needs data that's used to qualify the prospect.
The CRM system should monitor the responses from each qualified lead, whether they come back to the B2B company's Web site via clicking on a link in an e-mail or in response to a offline direct marketing campaign. Tracking each of these responses is important for a B2B marketing manager to be able to calculate the ROI for the marketing campaign activities.
For people who have not been directly involved in B2B sales activities, the sales process looks simple.
You would think that a single small book could teach the steps of learning what a prospect is looking for and showing the products that meet those needs. However, B2B selling turns out to be very complex because the product evaluation and purchase process used by B2B customers is complex.
Because the purchase of many products is so complex, affecting many parts of the B2B company, representatives from every department within the company participate in the product evaluation and purchase recommendation committee.
This means every aspect of B2B sales, from product demonstrations and proposals through contract negotiations and closing, requires a professional, experienced team to close the sale.
Large B2B enterprises frequently have plants and offices scattered across the country and in other countries. This frequently means that sales activities need to be handled by a team of salespeople lead by an account manager who can draw upon resources from throughout the company.
This also means that a great deal of information needs to be gathered and shared with the sales team and with sales managers.
The software tools used by salespeople have gone under several names over the years, such as "contact management" and "salesforce automation" software. Today, these tools are called "customer relationship management" (CRM) products. When B2B sales was done by individual salespeople calling on a single location, standalone salesforce automation products (such as GoldMine and ACT!) worked well.
Now that teams of salespeople in multiple geographic locations need to work together a new approach to CRM is needed. A B2B salesforce needs a hosted CRM service from a company such as Salesforce.com or Coravue to capture information from the salesforce and provide sales managers with a real-time view of their company's B2B sales activities.
One aspect of B2B marketing and sales that has not fully developed is the area of B2B ecommerce. While ecommerce for business-to-consumer sales continues to experience double-digit growth rates, B2B ecommerce requires different software and systems to fully satisfy B2B customers.
The reason for the complexity in B2B ecommerce software and systems is that many B2B customers have negotiated special quantity pricing for many products sold by a B2B company. In addition, many of these products are not stocked in inventory, and the payment terms for each B2B customer can vary widely.
As customer relationship management (CRM) software systems grow to include B2B ecommerce features, we will see B2B companies including B2B ecommerce on their Web sites. This will have a dramatic impact on reducing the cost of sales and increasing the profit margins for these B2B companies as they take advantage of the efficiencies of B2B ecommerce.
B2B marketing and sales techniques need to reflect the complex needs of B2B customers.
It is becoming increasingly important for B2B companies to better understand what attracts inquiries, how to move qualified leads to become qualified prospects, and how to improve the effectiveness of B2B sales organization.
Since B2B prospects have a unified view a B2B vendor from seeing the company's advertising through to issuing a purchase order for the B2B company's products it's important for companies in the B2B sector to adopt the same attitude toward their prospects and customers. This means having a unified view of potential customers from their first response to an advertisement through the purchase cycle through to issuing a purchase order.
Only by using a customer relationship management system based on a unified marketing and sales approach can a B2B company fully understand and serve their customers.
Cliff Allen is the co-author of the book One-to-One Web Marketing; 2nd Ed., published by John Wiley & Sons, and has consulted with companies on strategic marketing for 20 years.