If you’re in a business that sells to other businesses, you know how difficult it can be. Whether you’re a small business or a global enterprise, the daily challenges of communicating can add up to quarterly headaches and annual recalibrations. But if you’re marketing as actively as you need to, then some simple rules can help.
For much of my career, I’ve been involved with businesses that need to convince other businesses to engage. From media companies to industrial businesses to distributors and exhibitors, I’ve seen the challenges of articulating compelling messages that resonate and drive response. B-to-b marketing is indeed a unique discipline, and it has rules that its consumer counterpart cannot even imagine having to navigate. However, that doesn’t mean that it has to be cold, or impersonal or the mother of all sins: boring.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to formulating business-to-business advertising or other marketing outreach:
DO talk to a PERSON
Despite what we may think about business-to-business marketing, we’re still in the persuasion business. And it’s critical to talk directly to one person, understand his or her needs, promise him or her benefits and build a case for your product or service. You can’t do any of that to “an organization.”
DO be willing to SELL
A fair amount of b-to-b advertising approaches will highlight some random case study about Bob, of Company Y, who increased productivity 400% while using Solution X. No call to action, no contact name, no direct connection. Now, in fairness, not all b-to-b advertising has to be direct response, but it should have an articulated point of view, and should clearly define what the value proposition is through some means. It should sell in whatever way works best for your brand and in whatever way makes it easiest for your prospect.
DON’T run a competitive ad unless you can back it up with verified third party data.
Your opinion of your competition means nothing unless there’s a tangible difference to your prospect. It’s okay to establish a clear difference between your brand and competitive offerings – but if you’re just beating your chest over a nominal difference in features, you’ll coming out looking mean. And nobody wants to do business with a meanie.
DO use a strong CTA
Someone I admire very much constantly reminds me of the phrase “don’t ask, don’t get.” While I’ve just said that all b-to-b advertising doesn’t have to be direct response, the best business conversations do include an appeal to interact. So propose a demo. Ask for the call. Heck, ask for the business! But do it in a way that makes the prospect’s life/business/daily challenges easier, and then ensure that at the end of the road, things get even brighter! Remember the important lesson that hope is not a strategy for success.
DON’T be afraid to be emotional
Regardless of the “professional” nature of b-to-b, every buying decision – whether it’s technology, or information or industrial steel – is an emotional process. The CEO, or the CTO or the procurement manager of a municipality still has to “feel” good about your offering, your pricing, your service guarantee. Don’t abandon this core principle. It could mean the difference between getting a response or not.
DO be visually arresting whenever possible
Advertising, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful forces in global business. We have the opportunity to persuade and entertain using interrelated words and pictures. Many executives agonize over the words, (because we all have opinions, whether or not we can articulate them,) but leave the pictures to an afterthought (because not everyone is a visual thinker or an artist.) When you can be visually arresting (in print or moving pictures,) you can elevate the corresponding language to a level that the words alone could not have achieved. Sure, use a chart or a graph to visually demonstrate, but make sure it’s designed to delight as much as it is to inform.
DON’T be blah
As mentioned above, it’s important to talk to a PERSON. Unfortunately, a lot of b-to-b advertising tries to sell to the whole organization, or a department or an executive team. But the only way to do that is to use generic, bland, SAFE language. I’ll remind you that generic, bland and safe do not compelling advertising make. Be excited! Be visual. Dramatize the benefit. Claim the highest possible ground for your brand and then differentiate the snot out of it. Get out of techno-speak for techno-speak’s sake…start using hard-hitting language that proves you understand the prospect’s challenges, proves your product or service can meet and exceed those challenges, and proves that choosing you will make that singular prospect feel empowered, excited and engaged.
Image source: DeviantArt
Great post Nader. I’ve heard some very respected people in the industry that B to B is no longer a relevant term (I do not necessarily agree 100% here) since developing business is done with people not faceless companies (business to business can seem as if it is directed at entities and not people but that’s a huge mistake as you so correctly point out).
The conversations and motivations in talking with businesses will be and should be different than when talking to individual consumers who are not acting in their capacity as a business manager or participant.
Thanks for the timely reminder.
Good points, Mark. I think the thesis here is that “the way things have always been done” is no longer a viable platform from which to continue, especially with b-to-b marketing.