The B2B buying journey is complex. Back in 2019, Gartner’s modern buying journey revealed that B2B buyers find new vendors, products, and services via a nonlinear buying loop that looks nothing like a funnel.
Gartner’s 2019 B2B Buying Journey
The pandemic accelerated this nonlinear buying trend, pushing B2B buyers to further embrace a self-service approach to buying that’s heavily reliant on digital marketing channels like marketplaces, social media, and peer recommendations to surface and explore new solutions.
Gartner predicts that 80% of B2B sales interactions between buyers and suppliers will occur on digital channels by 2025, but the buying journey remains a complex mixture of traditional and digital channels.
With so many ways for businesses to reach buyers, it’s important to ensure you’re leveraging all available marketing channels. In this post, we’ll list five top B2B marketing strategies to include in your 2022 strategic plan.
But first, we clarify the difference between a B2B channel marketing strategy and make the distinction between multichannel versus omnichannel approaches.
The difference between “B2B channel marketing” and “B2B marketing channels”
There are essentially two approaches when it comes to B2B products and services—the B2B channel marketing approach and the marketing channel approach. There are distinct differences between the two.
What B2B Channel Marketing?
A B2B channel marketing strategy is when a manufacturer or brand of partners uses first and third-party channels to bring their product or service to market. For example, a company that makes commercial mowers and landscaping equipment might sell their products directly to businesses via their website, through dealerships across the U.S., from third-party retailers like Home Depot.
Amazon Business is an example of a third-party digital marketplace that caters to business buyers. It brings buyers and sellers together via a platform that enables easy sourcing and procurement. There are also industry-specific marketplaces like LandscapeHub, an online marketplace for landscape professionals that enables them to search real-time inventory from hundreds of suppliers for plant material.
B2B channel marketing examples include:
- Manufacturer’s website
- Value-added retailers
- Retail sales agents
- Sales representatives
- Digital marketplaces affiliates
One of the main benefits of creating a channel strategy which allows you to sell through B2B partners is that it expands your brand’s reach. You benefit by gaining access to a wider audience. It also addresses the fragmented buying journey by including more touchpoints where buyers can discover and learn about your product or service.
What is a B2B Marketing Channel?
A B2B marketing channel is any offline or online medium that a business uses to reach their customer. This includes paid B2B advertising channels and inbound channels for B2B marketing(e.g., the company website, your email newsletter, etc.)
Gartner’s B2B buying journey, shown above, demonstrates that channels and content are deeply connected, with buyers learning about and exploring providers in a variety of different ways.
Examples of B2B marketing channels:
- Offline: Print, radio, TV ads
- Search: Organic search listings and paid search ads
- Social: Social profiles, organic social posts, paid ads on social platforms.
- Third-party content: Paid posts on third-party blogs, content sponsorships, thought leadership articles.
- First-party content: blog posts, sales sheets, demos, whitepapers
- Trade shows and conferences (either in person or virtual)
Each of the above examples comprises a single marketing channel, but most B2B plans include more than one of the above B2B channels using a multichannel or omnichannel approach.
These two different approaches are defined as follows:
Multichannel uses more than one B2B channel to promote a company, but treats each channel separately.
Multichannel strategies focus on reaching prospective or existing customers through various B2B channels and mediums like email, mobile apps, direct mail, trade shows, and search ads, but each channel is planned, tracked, and optimized separately. So there might be a digital marketing team and a direct marketing team with this approach.
Channels can be further broken down by tactic, touchpoint, ad type, and device. For example, the digital marketing campaign could include social, search, email, and display ads. A video campaign could include explainer videos, demos, webinars, video ads, and customer testimonials.
The overarching message may or may not be consistent in a B2B multichannel marketing campaign. The broad categories (e.g., digital, print, TV, etc.) operate independently of each other and tend to have distinct goals and metrics. This can present a disjointed and inconsistent brand experience for buyers who are navigating multiple channel, touchpoints, and devices when gathering information.
Omnichannel marketing takes a holistic approach to the B2B buying journey, treating each channel as part of a connected customer buying journey. This is becoming the preferred approach to B2B marketing because it allows companies to understand the entire buying cycle and provides the best possible experience for buyers.
There are many challenges that get in the way of implementing an omnichannel strategy that includes the most effective B2B marketing channels. There’s the misnomer that it’s expensive and time consuming (not if you have the right tools), that the analytics are too complicated (not if you have the right platform) and that customer habits are too varied to mount an effective B2B channel strategy.
The following image illustrates the difference between multichannel and omnichannel marketing approaches.
The omnichannel approach is much more aligned with the way B2B buyers navigate the buying journey. The typical B2B buying group consists of up to ten decision makers all armed with 4 to 5 pieces of content.
Per Gartner, the various steps of the buying process happen simultaneously, meaning buyers are navigating multiple touchpoints and channels at the same time. Omnichannel marketing is important because it connects the channels and touchpoints to provide a seamless buying experience for the customer, while giving you a holistic view of your buyer.
5 key strategies to include in your 2022 B2B marketing plan
Plans should include a strategy amplified by a marketing channel approach. This enables B2B businesses to reach buyers across the entire multi-faceted buying journey. With the right technology in place, marketing across various devices and platforms is simple.
Here are 5 key strategies to consider for your 2022 plan.
1. Leverage a marketing automation platform.
Automation is the friend of the modern marketer. With so many digital channels, the idea of a single person or even an entire marketing team trying to manage it all is impractical if not impossible.
To get the most out of your B2B marketing campaigns, you need to adopt a solid automation platform. There are many different automation tools that help to automate and scale repetitive marketing tasks, align sales and teams, track campaign performance, and optimize results. Top examples in the B2B space include HubSpot, ActiveCampaign, Oracle CX Cloud, and Adobe Marketo Engage.
Benefits to using marketing automation software include:
It helps you conceive and execute campaigns across each channel (e.g., video, email, mobile, social, search, and more.)
It provides valuable functionality and features to align marketing and sales teams including lead scoring/nurturing, analytics, ROI projections, and reporting.
It enables you to segment your target audience down to the individual, no matter how many channels you’re utilizing. This allows for greater personalization throughout the buying journey.
2. Create data-driven marketing campaigns.
Data helps eliminate sales and marketing silos by giving both departments the same 360-degree view of existing and potential customers.
Account-based marketing platforms like Demandbase and 6Sense use predictive analytics to identify where customers are in the buying cycle and automate the process of getting the right leads to the right people within your organization.
Benefits a data-driven approach to B2B marketing include:
More data signals allow B2B marketers to deliver personalized advertising campaigns to key stakeholders. This results in more conversions and greater ROI.
ABM platforms use data to identify buyers in multiple ways including what B2B channels they’ve interacted with (even if they’re offline), via intent, past interactions, and more.
Data fuels AI and machine-learning engines which enable companies to predict high-value accounts, reduce the sales cycle, and orchestrate dynamic, personalized, omnichannel campaigns.
3. Incorporate channel marketing into your larger B2B strategy.
B2B channel marketing can help you reach a wider audience and establish your brand within a given category. Channel marketing technology facilitates this process of B2B channel management by helping you identify, engage with, and manage partners, while integrating partner metrics with other initiatives.
Technology providers like Zift Solutions have created tools that help B2B businesses manage, locate, and sort channel partners.
Some benefits of channel partner management platforms include:
They integrate with your marketing and sales tools like HubSpot to provide a connected view of how channels, tactics, and content work together to drive sales.
They facilitate B2B channel management by allowing you to access B2B channel marketing materials from one central location and make materials available within your partner ecosystem.
They include partner enablement tools so you can create resources for channel partners like emails, portal pages, and microsites.
4. Develop an effective content-distribution strategy.
Content is central to B2B and sales enablement and there’s a cogent argument to be made that distribution is the most vital part of any content strategy. In a world where 7.5 million blog posts are published every day, it’s easy for your content to get lost amid the clutter.
That begs the question, then, what is the right B2B multichannel content distribution strategy for you? To determine this, you need to first understand the three different types of content distribution channels. These are:
- Owned content distribution (the content channels you are directly in charge of, such as your company website, blog, etc.)
- Earned content distribution (channels where third parties share your content, such as journalists, guest bloggers, review sites, social platforms, etc.)
- Paid content distribution on various advertising channels (pay-per-click advertising, influencer marketing, etc.)
Just like having a well-rounded stock portfolio means greater returns, you should make sure your content distribution strategy incorporates a robust combination of the above types of channels.
To get going on this, first research your target audience. Who is your ideal customer? Then select your content channels, decide what type of content you will be distributing (blogs, vlogs, webinars, ebooks, white papers, etc.), create an editorial calendar and adhere to it, produce the content, distribute it, and select the appropriate KPIs to measure.
To give you an even better idea of how you should be focusing your content efforts, consider that a good rule of thumb is to spend 20 percent of your time actually creating the content and the other 80 percent promoting it. This is the essence of the 80/20 rule.
We highly recommend using content management and automation tools to help manage, distribute, share, track, and optimize content, particularly social content. Many marketing automation tools have content distribution and management features baked in.
But there are also standalone tools that focus on a specific channel, like social. For example, Hootsuite and Sprout Social are social media management platforms that allow you to create and schedule social posts, manage social content from multiple platforms in one place, allow distributed teams to collaborate in real-time, plan upcoming campaigns, and manage social engagements (e.g., comments and messages).
Great B2B marketing strategies leverage all channels
A good B2B marketing approach sits firmly at the intersection of technology, data, and content. That means companies must go beyond building multichannel marketing campaigns and focus on creating seamless omnichannel buying journeys.
Blending a B2B channel strategy with an omnichannel marketing approach can help you reach the right customer at the right time.
Over 70% of B2B buyers use digital channels to collect the information they need before reaching out to a company’s sales team. Buyers are also turning to marketplaces like Amazon Business and UNFI’s Community Marketplace to connect suppliers with buyers in a given industry.
With the right tools and the proper application of effort, reaching your buyers across all channels isn’t a problem — the real challenge for B2B marketers lies in embracing this new high-tech reality. Is your operation up for it?