Whether your online marketing strategy caters to consumers (B2C) or businesses (B2B) makes a huge difference. While it is possible to implement the same channels for both, the method used often requires a (very) different approach. When it comes to B2B marketing, which this article concentrates on, one needs to understand these differences and apply the right methods at the right stages.
Hard and soft conversions in B2B
In B2C, the road to conversion is usually shorter than that of B2B. It nearly always requires more time and energy to achieve a ‘hard’ conversion in the B2B segment. Hard conversion requires an intention to buy and often relies on phone calls, contact form submissions and, on occasion, trial sign-ups. ‘Soft’ conversions, on the other hand, come from the client’s interest being piqued, without the intent to buy.
In B2C, the person who sees your ad is usually the final decision maker. This is not the case with B2B. The person who comes into contact with your message will almost definitely need to discuss this internally. During these discussions, questions will come up that need to be answered before any decision can be made. This makes conversion an altogether longer and more drawn out process. So how do you turn a soft conversion into a sale in B2C?
Determine your end goal
As with most advice when it comes to any aspect of any business, it is always important to determine the final goal. However, in the case of B2B determining the ultimate goal is totally insufficient due to the length of time it takes for a company department to come to a decision. This offers your marketing department an opportunity to set multiple goals along this trajectory to make the conversion to intent to purchase smoother.
Before you determine what happened in the process preceding the final goal, you need to know what your company’s definition of an actual conversion is. This is not the same for all companies but is – on the whole – the conclusion of an agreement for the purchase of the service or the purchase of products that are on offer. The signing of a contract or the purchase is the hard conversion. The request for a quote or the brochure request is the soft version, yet both are important and in B2B usually co-dependant.
It’s all in the numbers
Take a closer look at your website. What actions can your visitors take?
1. Click on a telephone number
2. Register for your newsletter
3. Fill in a contact form
4. Download of a brochure, whitepaper or e-book
5. Register for a webinar that concerns your product or service
Your visitors may be able to carry out significantly more actions when on your website. Those listed above are simply examples. By turning visitor actions into goals in Google Analytics, you can see how often these actions are carried out. These goals do not have to be the end goal but are often crucial in the customer journey. Google Analytics will show you which steps are working, which are not. You can then make amendments as necessary. After all, in B2B you are in for the long-haul. There is no quick fix.
It is up to you to ensure that the follow-up after a successful conversion is made as simple as possible; however, after soft conversion has been achieved, the next step is not to pounce on the hard conversion. In B2B, the following goal might be to make an appointment with the representative of a potential business customer.
Determine your intermediate soft goals
An employee or business owner might have stumbled across your site when researching a solution for a challenge within their company. Obtaining that information is not intent to buy. This information is merely being collected in view of a discussion with other team members. Furthermore, they will also have taken note of the information from your competitors’ websites. If your information shows that your service or product fulfills the company goal, a second visit to your website or a move to contact your business will be their next step.
Any business decision process starts (or at least should start) with obtaining information. This initial soft conversion in terms of B2B does not, therefore, have to be too much of a challenge if your marketing department is up to scratch; you simply make the relevant information available about your product or service and advertise yourself on as many relevant channels as possible. It is then possible to make the potential customer take another step towards hard conversion by setting up a conversion point – the visitor requests a brochure about a product in exchange for their e-mail address, title and position within the company.
Within the e-mail and brochure attachment, this visitor subsequently receives, you are then given an opportunity to set up another step in the conversion journey. Give the visitor details of a personal contact person should they require further information and link this information directly to the email. This will make the contact process as simple as possible.
Using the brochure request example, your business is now aware of a company’s interest in your product or service. You know this because your brochure has been requested. It is worth approaching the person who requested it – perhaps not immediately – to ask them if the information contained within the brochure was of use to them, or if certain points require more clarity.
Using the right channels
A website is usually a means to communicate with potential customers and generate leads. Communication also needs to happen at the right time – you should be offering the right information at each step of the journey. To ensure that you do not misjudge such opportunities for personal communication, your website or your marketing department should be making noise at different points in time. This is done by determining the goal of each channel separately. This translates into sending the right message to the right target audience at the right time.
In B2B, brand recognition is not concentrated on a single person. Your brand needs to be recognised by a team. When a business requires a product or service that you just happen to offer, your company logo and branding can make a big difference – in fact, the entire team might be familiar with your name at the first meeting if you often take full advantage of display campaigns.
Display campaigns via Google Ads and social media are extremely worthwhile. With these channels, you can implement targeted advertising according to interest, position, company, and sector. Social media is no longer a personal platform, it is a business park.
Another way would be to offer how-to’s or professional videos via YouTube and other similar channels. Developing image or video material with a strong, catchy message in which target group attention is drawn gives a very visual and immediate effect – if done well. If your B2B soft conversion already knows who you are, the chances of this becoming a hard conversion during a shorter customer journey are very much higher than that of an unknown newcomer, however wonderful the service or product.
Advertising your business, service or product means introducing people to them and then bringing them further along so that they first discuss the information and then pick out the product that solves their challenge. This means making people enthusiastic about clicking on your website and keeping them there with quality content that isn’t confusing. This applies to B2B as well as to B2C.
Organic channels such as search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine advertising (SEA) can generate significant traffic. A strong foundation to your website (logical hierarchy, correct keyword focus, technology) is essential. This allows you to create strong landing pages for a Google Ads campaign – the perfect channel for providing an immediate answer to your target’s question.
Ultimately, it’s all about achieving the hard conversion goal. Your visitor has been given the opportunity to recognise your brand, has searched for an answer to a specific question via Google, has viewed your landing page and downloaded your brochure. You then get in touch on a more personal level one or more times and, at (long, long) last, get that hard conversion. Through social media and Google Ads remarketing, you can ensure that the visitor returns to discuss the opportunities you have on offer. B2B marketing strategies mean it is time to prepare for a long dive, and your business will probably need to take a very deep breath.
Whether you discover a treasure at the end is up to your marketing department, your service or product, as well as the way in which your visitor responds to each step of their journey towards hard conversion. Whether and how you guide those steps will have a lot to do with the end result.
When dealing with B2B online marketing, consider the end goal carefully, but realise that other shorter-term goals are just as important. These all contribute to the achievement of your ultimate goal. By using the right channels at the right stages, you can create a healthy mix of marketing that will only add to your online presence in positive and productive ways.