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The biggest opportunity in B2B marketing

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If you feel that your B2B brand:

– Isn’t getting enough leads
– The leads that you’re getting are not great quality
– Loses out to competitors who are often more expensive…

…this could signify that you are not following or fully aware of the 95/5 rule.

Research performed by The B2B Institute has shown that the vast majority of a B2B audience is not ready to buy at any given time. Meaning, up to 95% of your audience will be “out of market”.

The lesson to take here is that there are far more future buyers (in the next quarter, next year, in three years etc.) than there are now.

Is this something you are deliberately catering for?

While the statement about future buyers sounds obvious and logical, the amount of effort and attention put on the 95% who are out-of-market is minuscule compared to those in-market.

So, the biggest growth opportunity in B2B is ensuring that you are getting the right balance between reaching and priming that vast ocean of people “out of market”, with capturing the demand from those who are “in market”.

A home truth we need to embrace…

One thing we have to accept as marketers is that marketing does not move an audience from being “out-of-market” to being “in-market”.

Their needs are what drive this change.

E.g. If you sell cyber security, if a prospect just bought a solution from a competitor, it doesn’t matter how good your offer is, their need no longer exists. But that doesn’t mean we should forget them.

They’re out of market now, so they just need to be served in a different way.

In fact, thinking of your audience as either “in-market” or “out-of-market”, is a much more useful, customer centric approach.

This shift can help you to better understand their needs given where they are and in turn create more effective experiences with your content.

There are so many positives to building your B2B brand – but in my experience, not enough B2Bs do this well enough, consistently enough or deliberately enough.

Having a strong, well known brand enables you to:

– Come to mind in key buying moments
– Increase your quality of leads (i.e. leads from people who want to specifically buy from you)
– Provides price elasticity
– Ultimately, makes selling easier

A lot of businesses are leaving a lot of money on the table by not being more deliberate about building their brand. This presents a HUGE opportunity for those that commit to this.

After all, the very reason we build a brand is to make selling easier.

Given pressures to perform on a quarterly basis, the over valuing of ROI as a metric of success (yes you read that correctly) and a general mindset relating to short-termism are some of the reasons why most B2Bs are not building their brands and thinking long term.

To be clear, it’s not about ignoring that 5% that want to buy now. It’s about a healthy balance that not only will help you to become known, liked and trusted at scale, but also help you get a larger portion of future sales.

The first step is to rethink your strategy

If you want to capitalise on this opportunity, the first step is to rethink your approach towards long term brand building.

I know that buy-in can be difficult when it comes to brand building as it can seem “soft” to departments such as finance and even the CEO.

So over the years in meetings as an agency owner who helps brands to grow, I’ve learned to initiate a conversation that often leads to buy in. A simplified version goes something like…

Me: Do you expect to be in business in 1-5 year time?

Them: Yes, of course.

Me: OK, so why are you not thinking and acting along that same time frame?

Them: …

Me: Most of your buyers exist in the future – up to 95% of your market are not ready to buy now. So why not engineer it so that when they are ready to buy, your brand is one that they remember AND prefer?

We do this by building your brand!

There is very robust data that supports that right balance of brand building grows sales. In fact, the data shows that the stronger the brand, the better sales activation campaigns perform.

Check out Les Binet and Peter Field’s The Long and Short of It for more information. They also did a B2B “cut” of the data that the B2B Institute published. Both are well worth reading.

Not every business has a massive budget, but you genuinely do not need to. This is why you need to plan so it’s a sustainable investment.

Consistency is your ally when it comes to building your brand – keep this in mind.

So, it’s about being strategic with who you’re focusing on, strategic with your distribution, and then knowing what you’re measuring and why you’re measuring it so that you can see that meaningful progression over time.

Establish a brand and messaging that stands out.

The next thing you have to do is shift your mindset on creative and messaging.

In-market and out-of-market audiences have very different needs, so your creative and messaging have to match where those different sets of people are.

Out-of-market folk do not have needs strong enough at this time to engage with your brand in a way that could lead to a sale.

This means if your content is heavy on product/solution specific themes, case studies, testimonials etc that carry strong calls to actions, it’s possible that you could benefit from optimising this area of your content mix.

Why? Simply because it has no relevance to the largest portion of your audience (i.e. those out of market).

The key is to focus on being a mix of the following; entertaining and/or useful. Here’s what I mean:

Entertaining: Brand storytelling about the value that you bring or the change you make, but in a creative and distinct way that can only be true to YOUR brand. This takes some work, but is worth it because you will stand out and get a lot of attention.

Useful: Through your content, generously solve specific problems that are highly relevant to your audience. This doesn’t just have to be a PDF or video – it could be software, such as a Chrome extension etc.

Do you see how with both of the above, even if the prospect has recently purchased an alternative to you and won’t be ready to buy for months, can still engage with your brand in a meaningful way?

In turn, this builds a relationship where most other B2B brands would not be. Done at scale and over the long term, this is a winning approach to being remembered and getting a lot more future sales.

Another element of your content is that you must be distinctive. That is, you cannot look like anyone else in your category – you have to look distinctively you.

What branded assets do you have that you can leverage across your content, over the long term? Fonts, colours, shapes, patterns etc. are all examples of useful brand assets that you should be leveraging in a creative way, consistently.

Yes, I know, a lot of what I have talked about in this section is very different from what most B2B brands are doing. And that’s entirely the point.

People often think that standing out or doing something different is a risk, but in reality, it’s more of a risk not to do those things.

If you’re not being different – standing out, then it’s much harder for you to be noticed and be remembered.

If you keep doing what everyone else is doing, you will be white noise – invisible to your audience.

Go broad on your distribution

The next building block to getting this right in building your brand and taking advantage of this 95% rule is the distribution of your out-of-market content.

The key principle here is to go broad.

Do not only target your ideal persona but also the people that surround them in terms of the buying process.

One of the key differences between B2C and B2B is not only the complexity of sales and longer buying cycles, but also the number of stakeholders involved in a sale.

Selling to IT managers? Then it’s likely that the CFO will need to sign off and maybe even the CEO/founder will be involved.

But imagine if when your sales team goes into a meeting, not only does your immediate contact know who you are, but the CFO has heard your podcast and the CEO has seen your quirky ads on LinkedIn.

What kind of advantage might that provide you over your competitors?

So do your research and understand all of the people/roles who it would be advantageous for them to know your brand.

As a side note and for completeness, when you are focusing on those “in-market” that’s the time to go narrow and focus on the buyer. But that’s another topic for for another blog.

OK, now that you’ve got your content and distribution aligned with the needs of those out-of-market, you have to make sure that you’re measuring the right things as well.

Simply, are you reaching a critical mass of the right people? And are you reaching them regularly?

If you do both of the above, on a consistent basis – with the right kind of content, then you are making progress.

Conclusion – Strong brands sell more

Up to 95% of your market are not ready to buy now. So if you’re not reaching and priming them, with the right kind of content on a regular basis, simply put, you are losing out on future sales.

A brand is heuristic, it’s a mental shortcut, and often, the brand that is thought of first is the one that is bought, and this can be engineered.

It just takes the right strategy and the right amount of time, consistency, and commitment to make it happen.

And if you’re one of the few B2B brands that do it – the rewards will be substantial.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you have any questions, feel free to chat to me on LinkedIn

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