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Managing Marketing: The Transition Of B2B and B2C to H2H

Alexandra King

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Alexandra King (seated front), the co-Founder and Director (with her sister Stephanie King seated behind) of Ask Marketing. She returns to share her thoughts and insights into the changing role of B2B marketing. Traditionally B2C and B2B had often quite different strategy requirements, but how marketing technology has enabled both disciplines to target, engage and build relationships, especially in B2B in a much more human to human (H2H) way. This has also changed the balance between marketing and sales in these B2B businesses with marketing not just acting as sales support but providing lead generation and relationship management as well.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today I welcome back Alexandra King, Co-founder and director of Ask Marketing. Welcome back, Ali.

Ali:

Thank you. Thanks for having me again.

Darren:

Look last time we were talking primarily around the role of Ask Marketing and the sort of options available especially for SMEs as they are developing their marketing capabilities and the role that you played there.

I wanted to have another conversation with you because it must be interesting from your perspective on the way you work with Virtual Marketing Managers.

Do you see there is a big difference between placing your team in say a B2B organisation as opposed to a B2C organisation?

Ali:

The answer quite simply is no. I think ultimately the strategies are very different but the tactics often can overlap. Also from a digital perspective and that obviously is where I’m coming from and where my experience lies, is that it’s in alignment with what I just said.

As I was saying the strategies are very different in terms of where the business needs to go and how it needs to get to that place but the tactics used can often overlap. And from the digital perspective where I’m coming from is in alignment with that. The strategies are very different in terms of where the business needs to go and how it gets there. But the tactics used often overlap in the digital environment.

Darren:

A lot of people will say the role of marketing in B2B is quite different to B2C. B2C is primarily around driving awareness and consideration and then the sales component usually happens through a third party, either a retailer or online or some other channel where the sales are made. Whereas B2B is primarily driven by sales and marketing will have more of a support role rather than a lead role.

Do you think that is a fair assumption or a fair summary of B2B and B2C?

Ali:

Yeah, the realities are eCommerce within the B2B and B2C space is changing that. I think again from a digital perspective, brand awareness tactics, interest tactics, research and registration tactics all the way through to loyalty and reactivation, I think the tactics do and can remain the same.

However, I do think within the B2B environment there is this level of qualification of that marketing lead into a sales qualified lead that has typically till this point been in a business development type role.

Another thing that would be interesting to explore is that now that the qualification process from marketing qualified lead to sales qualified lead is sometimes happening by a piece of Martech or a tool.

Darren:

Well, that’s what I’ve read. Sales in B2B is increasingly becoming the responsibility of marketing.

Ali:

Correct.

Darren:

Because technology is allowing marketers to build relationships, nurture relationships through things like social selling and then actually having the fulfilment of the sale through technology. So where does that leave the role of sales in that particular model?

Ali:

I think social media and the digital world and the way that it is measured and I guess the access that we have to the reporting and the analytics and the insights we can pool from that, is so sophisticated.

We know so much about that user in a B2B or B2C environment but if we are talking B2B for a second, knowing so much about that business which obviously represents that organisation from the very outset. So from the point of converting them to a sales qualified lead, a lot of the personalisation is easy because we know where they have come from, what channel they have come from, and what their preferences are.

We typically might know a little bit about their demographic, we know what has triggered them to make their intent to acquire, how qualified their intent is based on their behavior and so the ability to then convert them can typically be a lot easier because we understand them more. We understand the journey they’ve taken to get to this place and so closing the deal can now be done I guess in a marketing realm instead of a sales realm.

Darren:

Look, the reason I thought this would be such an important conversation is that I attended late last year a breakfast briefing from one of the big accounting firms and they had about 50 CEOs from SME companies. When I say SMEs, they were 10 million to 50 million, so we are not really talking small companies but they were more medium-sized companies.

The thing that amazed me is, that there was a lot of talk about growth, that there was a lot of talk about sales and when I raised marketing almost all of them laughed and one of them said, ‘oh the colouring-in department’.

This is a complete anathema for most marketers. How do you react to being described as the colouring-in department?

Ali:

It infuriates me. Inevitably when I stepped into my first marketing assistant role within a B to B organisation in the tech space ten years ago, straight out of Uni, the first thing I learned was how to use InDesign. So if you look ten years down the track, and don’t get me wrong, I think learning and understanding and having an in-depth knowledge of how to use some of these software packages, Adobe and Canva and the like I think is obviously critical.

However, what I think is important to note, coming back to what those conversations were at that breakfast is the fact that I think these organisations need to understand and get excited about marketing and in particular marketing technology, if used correctly at the early stages at the top of the marketing funnel can make their job so much easier.

Not only are you finding out more about them but you are understanding what they want, you’re understanding exactly what they are interested in and at the point, the deal needs to happen whether that’s a transaction online, whether that’s for a service-based or product-based business, in any case, the sale is already done because that person has come through a journey that is easily trackable.

If you look at marketing tech tools for example like Typeform, like Intercom, like Yieldify, these are all marketing tech tools that essentially aid in the conversion of a sale because they understand where that user has come from and what their exact needs are. They understand what is going to motivate them enough to make that deal happen.

So that level of automation and technology has just made that sales person’s job so much easier if not done its job for them.

Darren:

And that’s what’s happened hasn’t it? First of all my observation of that breakfast is they were almost exclusively B2B. They were also almost exclusively very traditional businesses. They were in property development, they were in service industries, engineering, all of the traditional B2B type businesses. So I think what has not happened in the B2B marketing space is that a lot of organisations haven’t realised how far technology has come. Martech has come in actually allowing marketing and sales to be almost seamless.

Ali:

Absolutely.

Darren:

This idea that marketing just does the pretty pictures and then sales go out and get the sales and build the relationships. In fact, the relationship happens now seamlessly from awareness right through to the contract being signed or the purchase being made.

Ali:

Absolutely, and I think the more you can put through what essentially would be your marketing division as far down that funnel as you possibly can the better it is for the business.

It is obviously cheaper but I think it provides the user, whether it is the business or the consumer, but in this case, the business or the person within that business that’s the decision-maker with a better experience.

Often I think people are going to get a better experience from a well-thought-out process involving technology and an element of Q & A and an element of personalisation and then speaking to someone once they have nominated their preference, works a whole lot better than having ten conversations and going round in a circle that is obviously extremely labour heavy for that salesperson and potentially going nowhere and then realising they were probably not the right fit for that business or that offering.

Darren:

Do you find with Ask Marketing that more of your clients are B2B or more are B2C?

Ali:

It’s a real split however, there has been a tremendous growth or shift I guess in the B2B space. I think that is off the back of what we were talking about today.

Businesses who are more traditional service-based businesses for example in the consulting realm, from recruiting through to HR management through to management consultants, are realising that they can really use digital marketing and Martech so to speak, to really drive ¾ of their funnel or their lead pipeline.

Not just that, they can also leverage at the bottom of the funnel with regard to reactivating old clients and building loyalty and encouraging repeat business in a much easier and I guess sexier way than having a phone call which obviously is quite hard to do when they are so busy.

There has been a real shift and growth in the B2B side of the business which I think is not dissimilar to what you are saying.

Darren:

It will also be interesting with the impact of COVID and remote working, how that will impact sales teams. I know over the last several months I’ve read a lot of articles on how traditional face to face sales have been completely decimated by the fact that they are now trying to nurture relationships and close sales by using Zoom and phone calls and things and they are just really struggling with that.

What you are saying is that Martech and marketing, the strategy to apply that Martech in a B2B space is actually making it that marketing is the lead generator. Even warm leads, it is more likely to qualify those leads for sales than really just close on.

Ali:

Absolutely. That’s exactly it. A perfect example is a client of ours who’s actually a really large energy-reducing, carbon footprint reducing company and they are big business. The first thing we did before we built that strategy or in alignment with that strategy is built out what I would call an ecosystem for that business. That is quite simply a diagram. A Lucidchart, one of my favorite tools and it is essentially a diagram of how I would like their business to operate all the way through from brand awareness to reactivation and loyalty.

They are a big B2B organisation where the decision making happens within the C level team and we are basically ideating that the entire funnel all the way through to closing that deal is happening through Martech and digital marketing. And then after the deal is done and the work is completed which is obviously done onsite then again we are applying digital marketing strategies and martech strategies, in particular, to reactivate those clients in the form of secondary projects, referrals, other industry-partners and then the cycle happens again.

So what we are seeing there is the complete elimination of the need to have all of those sales people out on the road as people say because it can all happen so much easier.

Darren:

Now the other thing you said earlier was B2B and B2C can have completely different strategies but largely the digital tactics will be the same. But isn’t there also an element, and I know you believe this, where there is a commonality even in developing the strategy and that is we really are talking about people aren’t we?

Ali:

100% and I think B2B, B2C it is really human to human, H2H call it that if you will and that’s the reality of this. Businesses don’t make decisions, people do. So even in the case of a large B2B transaction you really need to connect with the decision-maker in that organisation.

It’s not the business. The business doesn’t go on Facebook, the business doesn’t see a bus going past, the business doesn’t go to a website, it’s the decision-maker and the people that surround that decision-maker within an organisation.

So whilst the strategies are quite similar you know the pathway to get there is really about understanding the persona behind that business and what the key target personas are.

Once you understand what they are, understanding the channels that are applicable to that person, and then applying the tactics to those channels. So for example Facebook and Instagram, same, same is completely not applicable for a lot of target personas at the moment.

LinkedIn is really presenting this incredible B2B space where that’s the perfect example of B2B versus B2C. It’s really the same thing, it’s human to human, two people within the LinkedIn environment can be having an extremely B2B conversation but it still requires that element of human connection.

Darren:

I would agree with you around Facebook and Instagram for traditional business people but there is a generational change, isn’t there in business? The idea that Facebook is purely for hanging out with your friends and family and not for business; you can build very good business relationships taking into consideration the environment through other channels can’t you?

Ali:

Absolutely. It really comes back to understanding the persona you’re trying to target and who is the key decision-maker that you’re trying to attract. If the decision-maker is a young 18-year old girl you now have tactics and channels such as TikTok, YouTube, and Pinterest.

Darren:

Don’t be so stereotyped; I’m a big TikTok watcher. But that’s my point, that we’re inclined to fall into the trap of thinking that young people are social media savvy and older people aren’t. In fact, everyone’s using some sort of social media and Facebook has become an older social media and TikTok, Snapchat has a younger audience but even then in business there are a lot of people in quite senior decision-making roles that have been born and lived in a technology era.

The millennials are now in their 30’s and they’ve always known technology and social media as part of their existence during their lifetime. This idea that you can’t build B2B brands on anything other than LinkedIn seems to be a bit narrow-minded.

Ali:

I agree with that. Obviously some channels suit some key personas and target markets better than others. But if we think about brand marketing (take digital out of the mix) it’s really about identifying and understanding well the channels that represent and align with your brand. You need to be open-minded to the fact that you could play on almost all of the digital channels and that’s the reality of where we’re at right now. But it’s important to not go all guns blazing into a strategy that encompasses every single channel because we know that the majority of people play on the majority of channels.

However, it is important to understand from a persona perspective where the majority of your target market are playing. The 2nd thing is understanding what channels and tactics align with your overarching brand strategy from a branding perspective. And thirdly is just testing.

We find this is the case with our own business. Do we have Instagram and Facebook? Yeah, we do. Why? Because I think it’s important that we stay up to date with those channels. Is it a lead generator for us? Absolutely not. It’s a brand play, that’s all it is. Where is our focus? It’s on LinkedIn. At different stages of the funnel, you can have different objectives in using different channels.

Darren:

You’ve mentioned all the social media but the technology you haven’t mentioned is messaging and email. Email is still considered the number 1 B2B business building channel. And now we’ve got WhatsApp—people are spending a huge amount of time and money communicating with their potential customers on WhatsApp.

Technology really has transformed so you can see why marketing, as a discipline, has become increasingly important in that B2B space. It is about understanding the audience, as you say, in a human to human way. What is the way you want to be communicated with by me to move you further into making a purchasing decision or developing the relationship?

Ali:

Let’s talk about email marketing for a second. I get asked this question on a weekly basis, should I even be doing marketing, I’ve heard it’s dead? The reality is that is not true. Email marketing still has an extremely important place within the funnel within most marketing plans.

And the human to human component within any B2B or B2C strategy is really fine-tuning and having this customer-centric approach which is the human to human component. And understanding from an email marketing perspective how you need to be looking at your data and setting up your email marketing strategy to identify different behaviors, preferences, and understanding and asking for and using those insights to further your campaign plans around how to understand that customer better.

If you look at Mailchimp; tagging, segmentation, groups, link tracking there are a number of different ways that you can utilise technology within email marketing now to better segment your emails on a campaign-specific basis. And then there’s an always-on automation perspective as well. Again, it’s human to human regardless of whether it’s a B2B or B2C transaction.

Darren:

The best salespeople work on a human to human basis, don’t they? So the more marketing can embrace that approach and then use the technology you’re talking about really just to mass customise the way they engage with that audience seems to be a winning combination.

Ali:

Totally.

Darren:

Some of the professional services that are coming to you wanting help; the traditional way for management consultants, law firms, and accounting firms, was for the partners to go out there and build their network. It amazes me how many of them aren’t really using LinkedIn or they’ve just started using LinkedIn.

How many of them don’t use content or inbound marketing? Perhaps this is what you’re seeing here; an awareness that there are all these opportunities that they’re missing out on.

Ali:

Yeah, and you bring up a really good point around content marketing. Every digital strategy we build starts from a content plan. What are the 2, 3 or 4 key pillars of content that are going to the fundamentals of that digital strategy? Videos, blogs, podcasts and then within that what can the business build-out? Case studies, testimonials, campaign, or seasonal-based things—the content really has to underpin everything.

Without the content, you have no strategy. Without content, you can’t connect with this human-centric approach. People connect with a story, whether that’s an educational or a branding perspective it’s the story they’re connecting with. Without content, you don’t have human to human marketing.

Darren:

I’ve found the most powerful content either educates, informs, or entertains people. Especially if you are a professional services company, people are coming to you because you have some sort of expertise and what better way of demonstrating that than actually sharing that expertise through the content that you share.

Ali:

Absolutely and you can do it in an indirect or direct way. From a brand awareness perspective, it often happens in a more indirect way not necessarily with a very clear call to action. Then typically further down the funnel, it can be in a more direct way once they trust you. They know your story, they understand your brand, your history, your credentials, the people you’ve worked with, and then the content can be a bit more pointed down the funnel.

Darren:

Especially when you then change the channel that you are using. That’s where email marketing can work particularly well to actually elicit leads to get that response beyond just building awareness that the content marketing did.

Ali:

Yes.

Darren:

So what type of companies, as a category, do you think, in that B2B space, are leading this change to embrace marketing? Is there one or is it just a more general change that’s happening?

Ali:

I think recruitment and HR services are really, on an international level, advanced in the way they think and utilise digital marketing. They are traditionally, extraordinarily face-to-face based businesses. They’re really starting to leverage the technological component of marketing in the outset from a brand awareness perspective which then does the selling for them.

LinkedIn is a huge part of that and recruitment and HR have a large component of online.

Darren:

They are both categories that are challenged or in demand. In some ways recruitment is under a huge challenge at the moment and HR is needed more than ever before.

Ali:

A few people in the industry have told me they’ve been inundated with roles in the past two weeks. People are really thinking about re-hiring again. We’re seeing this within our business with the influx of new businesses that we’ve brought on. We’re fortunate to have done that in the last couple of months.

Leaders within organisations have potentially for the first time in a long while had to really think critically about their people and the way they’re going to do things. Our business is fortunate enough to be bringing on new business because business owners and leaders are having to rethink how they do things.

Darren:

The new normal—what does it look like?

Ali:

Exactly and how do you build that? What does that even mean from a people, strategy, and budget perspective? It changes everything.

Darren:

We’ve been talking a lot about B2B in the framework of H2H (human to human). Let’s flick back to B2C (business to consumer) because there was a lot of talk a few years ago about the rise of personalisation—being able to use technology to communicate with consumers on a personal basis.

Yet, only a few months ago Gartner came out and said personalisation will be dead in the next 2 to 3 years because it’s just too hard. Do you see the same thing? Do you understand why the promise of being able to personalise communications to potentially millions of customers is starting to struggle?

Ali:

The technologies that are available now to businesses particularly in SMEs or the larger enterprise space, if you look at the technologies available and your strategic objectives for the business and where the opportunities are to close gaps or personalise the offering if you don’t get overwhelmed by the Martech and the tools used to personalise and you focus on the areas where you need to close that gap it’s not that hard to do.

I would suggest only biting off a small chunk to start. I spoke the other day to a number of business owners about how to use martech to improve your conversion rate and the first thing is to look at your overarching technology stack.

I would agree with Gartner that personalising from the top down on a broad spectrum is extremely hard. It’s a huge project and it’s going to be in the too hard basket for many businesses. However, if you look at your business and the way it operates and the technology stack of your business, the way it’s developed and the tools you’re using, if you pinpoint in alignment with that, areas you think could do with personalisation, for example, qualifying someone so that you can understand more about what they need to point them to the product you want them to purchase, then I don’t think that is unachievable.

A lot of martech tools, non-marketers can implement. There are a lot of native integrations for example between tools like Intercom and your website, which allows that live messenger (live or a bot) to do personalisation with very little development work.

Yes, personalisation en masse across the entire business from top to bottom is in the too hard basket for a lot of people but there are components that if implemented well can really move the needle and make a difference.

Darren:

Do you think part of the problem could be the B2C (business to consumer) space has traditionally been (from a marcomms perspective) a broadcast? It’s about talking to an audience rather than talking to individuals. And to move from that mindset to what you’re talking about (the human to human) is falling over because it requires a subtle or very defined approach.

You can’t just take one message and based on some data spin that a number of different ways. Human beings are interesting because they belong to tribes or groups but they’re also individuals.

Ali:

That’s an important thing you said about the subtle approach. To the user, the best cases are when it does feel subtle but the reality is there is no subtlety at the backend of this. The way you’re fine-tuning this personalisation or finding out as much as you can about this consumer is happening in an extremely pointed way with a very specific objective within their user journey.

I agree with you; I think it was broadcast and now it’s more pointed to, from our perspective, understanding what components of personalisation and a better understanding of that customer can we find at different parts of their journey in the most subtle way so that it feels natural for them, it feels organic, like there’s nothing salesy about it.

The reality is we know exactly what and why we’re asking and what that will lead to.

Darren:

More than a decade ago I was doing some consulting work for a direct marketer in a bank. They’d identified 140 different groups within the customer database and they had drafted different emails and they were AB testing on each so there were 280 different emails going out. They learned a huge amount about what resonated with particular groups and what didn’t by doing that testing but the agency at the time just couldn’t get their head around it. They just thought this was ridiculously fragmented.

But in one lot of emails, and we’re talking a couple of hundred thousand customers, they learned so much about the triggers that got people to respond. Technology now allows you to automate that largely but it still requires you to do the hard work doesn’t it to get down to that human level?

Ali:

Absolutely and there is a component of that in that testing always has got its place but thanks to technology there are ways you can ask. You can ask that user what their preferences are in terms of the information they’re receiving. And there are ways you can infer based on their behavior, things like the way they behave within an email, what they’re clicking on, spending time on, which pages of the site they’re visiting.

There are so many different ways now that you can understand what they’re looking for.

Darren:

Absolutely. I’ve just noticed the time and it’s been a terrific conversation. These are great because time just seems to fly by. Thanks for making time and sitting down and having a conversation. Last time we talked about the model you’re building. And this time we’re talking about the different approaches; B2B, B2C.

Do you see a point where marketing will become a strategic driver for business? Or will it continue to be a service to most small to medium enterprises?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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