One of the most important questions in business-to-business—or B2B—marketing concerns tone. Should your marketing communications be purely fact-based and devoid of the emotional appeals typically found in consumer advertising? Or, should they recognize that people are people, even in a business setting, and acknowledge their personal concerns? This conflict underscores one of the many ways that selling to companies differs from selling to consumers. The answer, experts say, is to address both their personal and business concerns about buying your product or service. The first step is knowing as much as you can about your prospect.
While a fair amount of business-to-consumer advertising involves brand building, B2B marketing is more concerned with generating leads, nurturing relationships, and educating the buyer until the sale is made. Building rapport begins with understanding how your target audience communicates with itself.
“You need to speak their language, to make sure you come across as someone who understands their industry,” says Bob McCarthy, president of McCarthy & King Marketing, a Milford, Massachusetts-based marketing services firm. “But don’t go overboard and make [your communications] incomprehensible.”
B2B marketing communications that make some kind of an offer—such as a white paper or webinar invitation—and then measure response are crucial for both online and direct mail efforts. The trick, McCarthy notes, is to come up with an incentive that moves them along the sales process. “It’s always a tradeoff: I will give you my white paper if you give me your email address. Then I’ll give you something else if you give me the best time I can call you,” he says.
For example, McCarthy recalls a B2B lead generation campaign that he put together for an engineering manufacturer. He created a short survey that was mailed to approximately 20,000 prospects in order to identify the key decision makers, their upcoming needs for the manufacturer’s products, and the best time to follow up. McCarthy tested two different premiums that were offered as incentives for completing the survey, and tracked the results. The campaign generated a 4.1 percent response—higher than the average rate for a typical direct mail campaign. The client was also able to use the survey results to customize future contacts with the prospects who responded.