• Max Bonpain

An intro to B2B digital marketing for startups and SMBs

It ain’t easy!

I work with many startups, entrepreneurs and small business owners and hear it again and again: my product is great, but how do I tell the world? I’ve tried to do “digital”, ie doing some search on Google, publishing some content on LinkedIn, maybe even tried a few ads but it “doesn’t work”…. In other words, they don’t get the results they were expecting (hoping for?!) and are not sure what to do next…

Some quit, thinking “there’s no demand”, most want to get help but don’t know how to select an agency, how to brief them, or get scared having to invest advertising money convinced the product should sell itself through word of mouth…!

Well, big news: it’s a crowded world out there, and your message is likely to get drowned in a sea of noise.

But there is hope

Digital Marketing works! It’s just harder than it looks, especially for B2B ;-)

This short article aims at giving you, the entrepreneurs and small business owners, a view of what you might have been doing wrong and how to get it right.

We’ll take you on a step by step approach to improve your digital marketing.

1 — Clarity of Objective

Most businesses try and manage short term (lead generation) and long term (brand awareness) objectives at the same time, from the start.

But building brand awareness is hard and expensive, and won’t pay back (you need brand preference to get chosen, not just awareness): focus your budget on lead generation in the short term and try and build your brand as a collateral. By this, we mean as an added benefit of your lead generation activity, eg: Speaking at a trade conference will build your brand as well as generate leads.

As a rule of thumb, you should be spending 90% of your marketing budget on lead generation in the first few years, gradually reducing to 40% (over 3–5 years) as your business generates more cash and you can afford spending more.

=>Be single minded: the objective is lead generation (which your investors will appreciate!)

The tactical activities bring in the cash to fund the strategic ones.

2 — Digital Strategy

Now you need to think about which digital assets and channels are most appropriate for your business and which role they should play in your lead generation: is your website the hub where you want to drive people for a demo? Are you building a database? Do you want them to download an app instead?

This is the overall process from lead generation, remarketing, nurture, etc.

Think about how people are searching, comparing and buying your product.

A B2B example:

3 — Understanding the purchasing decision journey

Your objective is to accompany your prospects along their decision journey by mapping your content and website to meet the demands of all stages and stakeholders:

-How do they decide?

-What are their triggers and barriers to purchase?

-Who do they listen to?

-Where do they find information?

-What are their decision criteria?

You want to create a matrix for the key stakeholders and the key stages in the decision process: a CFO might need a business case with an ROI, whilst a CTO might need to understand technical implementation and make sure it’s easy to integrate.

4 — The journey translates into a “sales funnel” or “pipeline”

*Your target is the universe of potential customers you want to reach, for instance all coffee shop owners in NSW or telco providers in Europe…

*The MQLs (marketing qualified leads) are the people who give you their detail in response to your activity (or sometimes proactively!). You need to “qualify” them to understand who to prioritise: are they the right type of leads (right role in the right company or industry), and where are they in their decision process (just browsing or ready to buy)? (See next step below for more detail)

-If they are the right type but not ready to buy, you want to include them in a nurturing CRM programme, likely to be through eDM for cost reason — in other words, keep them interested so when they’re ready to buy they think of you first!

-If they are advanced in their decision making process, they are handed over to sales and become SQLs (sales qualified leads) to do any technical test and draft the commercial terms and conditions: the relationship needs to be much more personal. From there, a number of opportunities will be generated and you’ll manage to close a few deals!

*It is important to capture, measure and monitor the interactions with your leads as they are good indicators of any move in the process. The ambition is to convert more, and speed up the whole sales cycle. You can use any of the CRM software — they are a few free ones. They include Zoho, Hubspot, Pipedrive or (if you’re bigger) Salesforce.

5 — Qualifying marketing leads

Qualifying marketing leads helps sales focus on the most promising ones and save time:

If you have done your targeting properly in your campaigns, you should only get the “right” type of leads. If you don’t, you need to update your criteria (and make sure they have been agreed between sales and marketing first!)

The tricky part is to understand where the leads are in the purchasing decision cycle: you know that by making sure your content is clearly addressing a single stage of the process, and that you have different pages and have tags / anchors / pixels on your website indicating what content they’re looking at:

  • is it some high-level thought leadership? They are likely to be early in the process…

  • Are they using your ROI calculator or checking FAQs? They are worth a phone call!

Tips for your website:

-Make sure you are easy to reach and capture leads contact details in your database

-Your web content should cater for all stages of the decision journey but be clearly defined

6 — Nurturing

Your nurturing programme (ie keeping leads warm until they’re ready to buy!) should try and take your leads along the decision journey: if there are 4 steps in their research and decision process and it takes 6 months on average to purchase, you might want a “4 monthly emails and 1 call” nurturing process, with content adapted to each stage and each target market.

Done well, nurturing helps you convert more and speeds up the whole cycle… and it’s cheaper (free if you use eDMs) than lead generation!

You can complement eDMs with ads, hospitality and other activities, but make sure you capture them in your CRM so you can analyse the efficiency of each activity (eg, did the business lunch generate new leads?)

7 — Your content matrix and calendar

By now, you should have a clear view of who you want to reach and where/how they are looking for information: LinkedIn, Google, your website, specialised magazine, trade conferences, all of the above?

Building on the “who” and the “where”, you need to add the “what”, ie the content: it can be anything from a video to a blog, to a social post, to a paid ad….

It is usually best to “repurpose and republish” your content: if you have an article, why not make a video out of it… if you have a long-form (eg thought leadership) paper, why not cut it into several short form (eg articles) papers…

Remember to cover all stages and all stakeholders with your content, which might just mean rewriting with a different angle for the CFO than you did for the CTO…

Don’t forget journalists, influencers, investors, suppliers and all other stakeholders, even if for a later stage!

Keep in mind your objective for each piece of content: you can use a white paper to generate leads (by asking for details to download) or simply create awareness (by distributing freely)

Your content matrix

Your content matrix helps you list all the content you need to generate, and what form it should take. From there, you can create a content calendar with the key milestones for each piece of content.

8 — Measure, measure, measure

You’ll need to set up a score-card for your key activities, tracking the main KPIs versus previous month and a benchmark (eg your last 3m average) to see whether you are improving or not.

Remember, absolute numbers are useful (how many visitors on my website) but conversion rates and costs are better as they give you an indication of how to improve.

The score-card will help you allocate your budget and improve your ROI. It will also give you arguments for your investors to show you can generate new business.

Include offline activities if relevant (eg amount paid for speaking / exhibiting at a conference and number of leads generated), to have a full view and compare all touch points.

Example of KPIs in scorecard

9 — It doesn’t work? Yet…!

If you’re just starting out, put small budgets to test and learn and build a benchmark.

If you’re not getting the results you’re hoping for, consider whether you have:

-The right message / offer: is your content attractive (is it being opened and read?!)

-The right people: are your targeting criteria too broad?

-The right place (channel and context): should you be on LinkedIn rather than Facebook?

-The right time: are you reaching your audience at the right stage of their decision journey

-The right price: is your budget well allocated and your bids competitive enough?

10 — Money, money, money!

For “new starters”, the big question (and related anxiety) is about budget: how much can I afford and how much should I invest?

Well, as long as you get a return on your spend, you should invest!

The good news is you can start with low budgets: blogs, SEO, LinkedIn invites are free and you can do low budget advertising tests to build your funnel and understand conversion rates and cost per leads.

Even though attribution models have shown that reaching target audiences through different channels delivers an incremental conversion rate overall, there is a minimum threshold of spend for efficiency, so my advice is to test a couple of things but then invest in the single most effective channel. You can add new channels once you hit diminishing returns.

Importantly, use your digital channels to amplify any offline activity: advertise that conference you’re going to speak at, make sure you put the leads you get there in your CRM system, and nurture them as appropriate.