Published: January 12, 2023
Business-to-business (B2B) marketing is often more complex and trickier than its B2C (business-to-consumer) counterpart. Not only are there longer sales cycles and smaller markets with fierce competition, but most B2B brands don’t have the same name recognition that B2C brands have, and often have to work harder to differentiate their products and services.
As the economic landscape continues to shift and become more competitive, B2B buyers’ expectations have also evolved radically. Now more than ever, B2B businesses must produce the same types of compelling content and engaging experiences that their buyers enjoy as B2C consumers in their personal lives.
Now that B2B marketers are reframing how they think about consumers, the big question is how to deepen their relationship and better meet their needs. One huge untapped market is helping companies advertise to small to medium-sized businesses (SMB). Many B2B brands need help selling to and serving small businesses due to their diverse customer base which requires unique positioning and messaging.
With these diverse customer bases, the approach to advertising also looks completely different when speaking to an individual or a smaller company versus a buyer group. With an enterprise company, there’s a larger group of decision-makers and typically three types of personas:
- Practitioners who are going to use the tool.
- Managers who want to ensure that the tool is going to make their job easier and more efficient.
- The executive who wants to ensure the tool is a good investment.
Marketing and selling to an enterprise company (where all three personas are part of a buyer group) can sometimes take up to a year of education and convincing them that it’s the right purchasing decision. With SMBs, you typically only have one or two decision-makers, making it possible to educate, inform, and make the sale within a week or even within a single exposure to the brand.
Despite certain challenges, this is an opportunity for brands looking for differentiation in an unoccupied space to build a niche and help companies advertise to SMBs, address the challenges of marketing to different segments of audiences, and devise a strong strategy to drive growth. While budgets may look different between enterprises and SMBs, the end goal is the same: to create engaging marketing and achieve scalable, sustainable growth.
We’ve identified four key challenges that B2B marketers face that tie into this overarching conundrum:
- Bridging the B2B creative gap.
- Silos between sales and marketing teams.
- Uncoordinated and disconnected marketing agency support.
- Poor data collection, management, and activation.
The good news is that B2B brands can overcome these difficulties by embracing growth marketing, implementing strong strategies, and utilizing innovative solutions to outshine the competition. So how do you get started with growth marketing in a B2B company? Well, the first step is understanding what growth marketing is, how to strengthen your growth marketing efforts, and how to identify the current opportunities and hurdles.
What is Growth Marketing?
Growth marketing involves a full-funnel strategy to maximize lead generation and sales. In 2022, 3Q/DEPT surveyed 400 marketing leaders about their growth marketing practices and philosophies. Our 2022 Growth Marketing Report shows the results of that survey, which focused on four industries: technology, retail, financial services, and healthcare. A sample size of 100 respondents per vertical was collected, and we ensured that half of the 400 total respondents practiced a B2B selling model. Only 31% of B2B marketers indicated that they understand the meaning of growth marketing – lower than the average across all respondents – and only 25% have adopted growth marketing within their organization. Because most B2B marketers do not understand what growth marketing is, of course, they will have difficulties putting it into practice.
Going beyond the basic knowledge and understanding, we developed a custom measurement and ranking system to dig into how respondents self-assessed their growth marketing capabilities. It’s called the 3Q/DEPT Growth Marketing Maturity Index™ (GMMI), and it evaluates a brand on six distinct characteristics, or “pillars,” each of which contributes to a growth marketing approach. There are five levels in the GMMI that range from Laggard (least mature) to Disruptor (most mature), and a brand receives one of those rankings based on how well it scores across all six pillars.
Based on the responses to our survey, the B2B sector is made up primarily of Performers (62%) and Transformers (32%). Companies in the “Performer” category have already prioritized and proactively implemented a combination of middle- and lower-funnel performance marketing activities. While they have established this, they will experience diminishing returns on their marketing investment if they don’t make improvements. “Transformers” are a bit further along in their journey to growth marketing excellence, as they have implemented various measures like a framework for a full-funnel investment approach with goals and objectives clearly aligned with the overall business strategy.
Interestingly, our assessment also showed that 6% of our respondents in the B2B sector scored at the highest level as a “Disruptor” and have more disruptors in this space than any of the four industries.
B2B Marketers’ Path to Growth Marketing
Let’s dive deeper into the challenges mentioned earlier and how B2B marketers can tackle them to improve their growth marketing practices.
#1 – Show the value of creativity.
We found that while B2B marketers’ growth driver investments are well balanced in creative, brands are failing to create compelling and engaging advertising assets that have the potential to distinguish themselves from their competitors.
While many of our respondents said they invest in creative, we’re seeing that creative still needs to be done more effectively by B2B brands. It’s a problem when brands spend the money they do on creative, but they don’t see the value in it. It’s easy to throw money at anything, but it’s a waste when it isn’t well executed, and it doesn’t drive outcomes.
A common complaint from B2B companies is that they want their ads to look and feel more like B2C. From lackluster stock imagery to overly-professional and robotic-sounding brand voices devoid of personality, B2B marketers have realized that they must be creative to get noticed.
Let’s face it: a B2B buyer is still a consumer who craves an emotionally appealing, entertaining, and engaging experience that connects and resonates with them.
There is no room for snooze-worthy content on platforms like Tiktok and Snapchat, where a boring B2B ad is quickly scrolled past and forgotten. One way to combat this and create attention-grabbing content is by building creative that is native to those platforms and teaching B2B creative teams how to take a more strategic approach to storytelling and humanizing the brand. Tapping into your consumers’ emotions can build awareness and trust and create brand loyalty.
It’s also important to note that B2B products and services are commonly marketed to a specific type of company and to a distinct segment of customers to fill a specific need, so it’s critical to target those users rather than a broader, more general audience. When you narrow your target audience, it also allows you to provide the right message to the right audience for a more coordinated approach.
We expect creative to be a big theme in 2023 and recommend that B2B marketers prioritize investing more intelligently in it to foster more authentic relationships with buyers and stand out against the competition.
#2 – Rethink your strategic approach to smash silos and drive growth.
We found that 66% of B2B respondents scored average to below average for strategy and planning. This tells us that their current processes aren’t working and that B2B marketers need to:
- Re-assess the level to which their marketing team has created a comprehensive, long-term game plan to achieve sustainable growth.
- Build a cohesive marketing and sales strategy that ties back to broader company business goals and that everyone is aligned with.
- Remove siloed responsibilities across the marketing and sales teams.
Strategic planning is the driving force behind a successful campaign and is a major factor in defining your brand. A weak strategy can lead to unintentional silos, poor decision-making, and inconsistent branding, not to mention spinning your wheels with no real destination or “north star” to drive toward.
Marketing teams need a carefully-crafted strategic approach that allows them to see the big picture, focus on what’s important, and make smarter decisions. Without a clearly outlined plan that aligns back to broader company objectives, they’ll also have a more challenging time prioritizing big-picture needs over short-term demands and knowing how to shift between the two.
It’s also important to bridge the divide between sales and marketing teams, which often live in silos. Silos can hinder a brand’s ability to execute strategy due to a lack of a unified vision. These organizational silos negatively impact your bottom line, waste valuable time and energy, and create an internal tug-of-war for information. Marketers can combat this by better aligning campaigns with sales efforts to not only drive more leads, but more effectively nurture those leads. Brands must align strategy, initiatives, and organizational structures to create a cohesive and connected environment where growth marketing can thrive.
To tackle organizational silos, marketing and sales teams must also figure out how to best work together to drive company goals and increase the bottom line. It requires marketing to emphasize quality over quantity of leads, and sales must give consistent feedback to marketing about what’s working and what isn’t. Find a good cadence and start regular touchpoint meetings for feedback to share insights between marketing and sales to optimize campaigns and processes. To improve in this pillar, B2B marketers must create a clearly outlined marketing action plan and establish priorities and goals for measurable growth that will positively impact the overall business’ bottom line.
#3 – Streamline and consolidate agency support.
The majority of B2B marketers (72%) scored their agency support as average or below average. To rank higher within this pillar, they may need to streamline their agency relationships or keep only one agency on retainer. Similar to the previously discussed silos between sales and marketing, this can drive better customer outcomes by ensuring data and strategic approach is better connected across all stakeholders involved.
Managing several different agencies across numerous different projects can lead to an uncoordinated strategy and execution. It also becomes more difficult to track metrics when they are scattered across different teams and multiple agencies. Not tracking and measuring your performance also makes it difficult to improve, since you don’t have a clear idea of what you should even be focusing on.
The solution? Consolidate agency support to improve data collection, tracking, and measurement success and ensure a coordinated, omnichannel media strategy. If multiple agencies are required, ensure all are working from one unified plan.
Brands need strategic and strong agency partnerships to stay competitive, remain relevant, and keep up with the rapidly evolving digital space. Like any relationship, it should be positive, collaborative, and sustainable.
#4 – Unlock customer insights with data management and activation and first-party data.
68% of B2B marketers scored themselves at either average to below average in the data management and activation pillar. B2B customers have higher expectations than ever, and B2B brands need to take a more holistic and concerted approach to improve their marketing efforts and overall customer experience.
Since customer experiences happen across so many different touchpoints, brands must collect and segment their data and analyze it in real-time. This data helps shape customer interactions and enables a brand to optimize outcomes throughout the marketing funnel to create a singular view of the customer and drive more personalized and seamless experiences, no matter what channel they’re engaging and purchasing on.
Many B2B companies are sitting on a wealth of first-party data in their CRM that could be utilized to strengthen their advertising. The difficulty is that many B2B companies either don’t have the internal resources to track, monitor, and connect the data, or are simply unwilling to invest the necessary resources since they don’t see the value and don’t know how to get started.
High-quality first-party data is critical, as it helps forge stronger customer relationships and deliver more personalized campaigns. First-party data helps marketers understand how every single consumer activity impacts behavior and enables them to more effectively tailor marketing campaigns in response to that. This is even more important now as brands adapt to a post-cookieless landscape and evolving privacy laws.
B2B marketers can’t just sit back and remain idle to stay relevant and drive growth. Standing out in a highly-competitive market requires optimizing your marketing across every touchpoint, investing in creativity, harnessing the right data, and breaking down silos. It’s time for B2B marketers to embrace the full-funnel approach of growth marketing that will guide your brand to long-term success. Download the 2022 3Q/DEPT Growth Marketing Report for a deeper dive into our learnings and what these insights mean for your brand.