B-to-B Marketers Must Remember to Target the Humans Behind the Brands

It’s time to wake from the slumber and get to know your customer segments

The challenge

The broader marketing world seems to be moving faster than ever. But the b-to-b world tends to be stuck working in a mode of legacy; a sort of slumber that rests on the satisfying feeling that things in b-to-b just move a little slower.

B-to-b marketing and sales teams tend to approach their work in a very linear fashion. Marketing paves the way by moving target audiences through the upper funnel and turning them into leads.

These leads are then passed on to sales teams who typically close the loop through face-to-face interactions, be it IRL or virtual. As b-to-b marketers, we tend to be focused on removing friction from the process, especially at the crucial handoff from marketing to sales, where scaled marketing turns into a more personal client engagement.

This way of thinking, however, can oftentimes ignore broader consumer trends that impact b-to-b buying cycles, as we tend to forget that b-to-b decision-makers are also consumers. In reality, the evolution of b-to-b buying is driven by the growing dominance and ubiquity of digital channels.

Pre-pandemic b-to-b buyer research from Gartner shows that b-to-b stakeholders spend just 17% of their time actually meeting with potential suppliers. This means all prospective suppliers, so your company likely gets a fraction of the 17%. Compare this to 45% of time spent conducting independent research, 27% of which is happening online. 

This changes not only how sales teams need to think about the time they get to spend with clients but how b-to-b marketers end up shouldering even more responsibility when it comes to reaching and influencing target audiences. B-to-b marketers need to step up and lead the way in solving the information challenge for their customers.

The process

In order to meet the growing audience need for scaled digital information, b-to-b marketers must scale information across more touch points and channels than ever before. 

It’s clear that a b-to-b marketing strategy needs to be built around a clear understanding of the target audience and their behavior as consumers of information. But perhaps not as obvious is that a clear value proposition that informs all marketing and is based on rigorous customer segmentation must be at the center.

Publishing stat-heavy white papers with stock photography of people in business environments will no longer suffice. The creative canvas is so much broader, and the days of overly rationalized b-to-b marketing are gone. 

LinkedIn recently launched an integrated approach to its b-to-b marketing efforts that highlight its new tagline, “Make b-to-b everything it can be.” The platform unveiled a renewed look and feel that spanned blog posts and out-of-home ads, as well as seven-second videos perfect for platforms like TikTok and Instagram. It’s a simple but effective example of a fully integrated, creatively led approach that met its target audience where they were spending time and with custom-built assets specifically designed for these spaces—in this case, short-form vertical video.

Consumer behavior is mobile-first and pivoting to short vertical video-led formats (a lean-back experience) on one end and deep discussion threads centered around topics (a lean-in experience) on the other. Messages and content need to be memorable and communicated at a higher frequency across a larger number of channels.

Owned channels, such as corporate websites, should be at the center of everything. The website needs to be a one-stop, easy-to-use storefront for businesses. It is the source for content, both long and short, that cascades across owned, earned and paid channels.

Knowing customer segments means content can be aligned with customer challenges. It should answer the top-level questions that audiences face at every stage and is so much more meaningful than blasting them with stats without rhyme or reason.

The takeaway

B-to-b marketers that are in tune with their audiences are faced with a great opportunity to differentiate. The creative bar in b-to-b is still very low. Remember, you’re talking to businesses and brands but also to the humans behind them. Injecting more emotion into the otherwise overly rational can yield huge dividends and allows a b-to-b brand to differentiate itself in a sea of sameness.

More than ever, successful b-to-b marketing needs to be audience-led. Knowing both our customer and their segments means marketing solutions are challenged at their core. Reaching more customers in more places while differentiating your own brand puts the marketing org in a position to better serve sales teams. These teams typically find themselves in a tighter squeeze to get valuable face time with clients in an increasingly fragmented work environment. It’s time to wake from the slumber.