Serving the digital B2B buyer in a post Covid world

Digital Transformation

Preparing a conference for 500 marketing professionals at 3M I remembered my early days on the “Web 2.0” working on online content and B2B marketing with clients like Oracle, Sanitas or Telefónica. At that time, succeeding on social media had to do with being useful to your community. How to convince users to subscribe to your blog or follow you on different social networks when buying fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter was not even possible. Our mantra: it’s not about you, it’s about them, your clients, their challenges.  

Back to the 3M conference, I realised that B2B marketing also has to do with 3 Ms: moi, me, myself. This type of marketing is generally too focused on the product itself. Instead, we should be focusing on the new digital B2B buyer. We need to see the world through their lenses. We could imagining them asking these 4 questions, that would then connect with 4 realities in a post Covid world:

  1. What do I want? – Self Service (Content + eCommerce)
  2. How do I want it? – Consumerization (UX/UI + Creativity)
  3. When do I want it? – Ad Hoc Experience (Phased Content + Automation)
  4. Why do I want it? – Advocacy (Human Centred-Organisations + Social Media)

1. Self service

As millennials have taken over, we have seen a big change in the B2B Buyer in the last few years. Covid has undoubtedly accelerated this trend. As this recent piece of research from McKinsey shows below, two thirds of B2B buyers declare to prefer remote interactions, eCommerce and self service through the procurement process.

Recently we were approached by a world-renowned manufacturer of handling equipment. The pandemic had impacted their sales and they didn’t have a proper eCommerce strategy in place, as conflicts with distributors made it especially difficult. However, with Chinese competitors selling directly through sites like alibaba.com, they had finally decided to follow a D2B -Direct to Business– approach. We worked on their strategy through 5 key points: 

  1. Solving conflicts with distributors by integrating them in the project, so that final customers receive an adequate service. But as the eCommerce operations are handled by them, the margin is split between the manufacturer and the distributor. 
  2. Getting ready to tackle significant amounts of end customer data.
  3. Moving from a transactional CRM mostly aimed at distributors to CRM aimed at automating marketing messages to thousands of end customers. 
  4. Moving from brand marketing (such as events, roadshows etc.) to digital and performance marketing.
  5. Undertaking a big cultural transformation.

2. Consumerization

Consumerization of the B2B experience is unstoppable. B2B buyers are expecting the same experience when it comes to hailing an Uber, buying on Amazon, or chatting on Slack. It leads us to the importance of UI. At Good Rebels, this is our fastest growing team at the moment. However, together with UX/UI we also try to integrate creativity in our B2B communications. 

This was seen in our work when we got hired to help a Dutch industrial manufacturer of ingredients for bakeries, to launch a new range of products set to surf the vegan trend. We realised we had a few challenges to tackle: 

  • How do we solve the B2B2C conundrum and help bakers sell through to the end consumer?
  • How do you get 20 European countries on board? (Campaigns may speak differently in other markets)
  • How do we tackle globish and local languages in European markets? (Having truly multilingual and multicultural support can help)

Strong creativity helped us get the countries as well as the bakers onboard. Using vibrant colors to promote tasteful ingredients was a key insight. We started mobile and social media first – Imagining how these visuals would move on Instagram stories. Then we moved backwards to more traditional channels, like posters and stands for bakeries, or sales representatives iPads. 

But creativity alone is not enough. Our B2B buyer experience is impacted by many touchpoints and we have to improve the overall experience, avoiding pain points and creating wow moments. One of the key artefacts in UX are Buyer Personas. We used them when we were approached by TEVA. the pharmaceutical company, to increase effectiveness of their communications with pharmacists. We defined different archetypes to differentiate the way we approach and communicate with them – setting the tone or defining the overall omnichannel experience.

3. Ad-hoc Experience

In a world with less ubiquitous salesforces, B2B buyers discover products at their own pace. We need to create different content for the different stages of our buyer’s journey. Not pushing product details too early when clients are still understanding the nature of their problems.

We have worked on several projects with Telefónica to help them create compelling content and position it on Google. DestinoNegocio, a new site for business clients in the whole Latinamerican region, was probably the most complex, but the challenges were similar in many of the other projects we worked in with Telefónica (AunClicdelasTic, Contunegocio or ReporteDigital in Colombia):

  • How do we create compelling content so the readers want to recommend it? How can we even co-exist with trade media?
  • How do we localise the content?
  • How do we make sure that we create “staggered content”, and be able to deliver it at the right time?
  • How do we create mobile first, UX friendly, SEO ready content?
  • How do we involve the sales force of more than 15 countries?

Over the years, we ran several workshops to define the Customer Journey of the company’s clients, identifying pain points and wow moments, which in turn helped us develop our content planning strategy.

These were some of the solutions we implemented in the different projects: 

  • Mixing external bloggers with internal Subject Matter Experts, teaching them to write, negotiate time off with their managers.
  • Organising physical and online events to raise awareness.
  • Spending big on SEO and getting obsessed about UX.
  • Designing mobile first content and experience (that was revolutionary in the early 2010s).
  • Combining anonymous browsing with premium content that required sign in to push data acquisition.
  • Connecting logged in visitors with Salesforce, so that sales representatives could have opportunities to contact their prospects. Also, involving sales people to participate in editorial plans and even write! Lots of engineers learned to blog with us. 
  • Automation email interactions and setting specific campaigns with incentives to wake up silent users.
  • Using look-alikes on Facebook and retargeting. 

4. Advocacy

The new digital B2B buyer is not asking for certificates just as a bureaucratic step in the procurement process. They genuinely believe that businesses can be a force for good. They even want their suppliers to be more human-centred, not just for themselves and for their families, but also for the planet. 

At Good Rebels, we explain that Human-Centred Organisations obsess about 3 journeys: the customer, the co-worker and the citizen journey. The ethos of a company matters more than ever. It’s about balancing the interests of all stakeholders, not just maximising shareholder profits. This is one of the reasons why workers feel compelled to become true advocates of their companies. Becoming a human-centred company and communicating our purpose is more important than ever, so that employees want to share professional content related to their work and their employers’ on their personal social media accounts.

In their latest Trust Barometer, Edelman talked about the rising tide of employee advocacy. And what is the best place on earth to foster advocacy? On social media. Employers are a trusted source of information and people want to connect with real people, the people working for the companies we buy from.

Coca-Cola Europacific Bottling partners approached us with a very specific request: “we know our employees are our best advocates, but we need help to boost the initial strategy and activation to amplify their voice”.  They wanted to connect on LinkedIn with their B2B community and the challenges were many:

  • What will push our employees to share corporate content on their personal accounts?
  • How do we convince our executives to lead by example?

We have been engaging networks and working with communities for more than 15 years now. We have created specific methodology to get it right. You’ll need editorial plans, gamification strategies, creativity, community management… and a twist of technology. Using a content sharing platform for internal and external communications will help spread the word more efficiently. Identifying super users, training them and running events to create a feeling of belonging and recruit more advocates. Attractive visuals and videos for social media are created to spread the word, and a set of rules are created so that people feel safe about what to share.

But how do you engage C-Level executives? After working with many of them in big corporations, I’d say that commitment from the CEO is crucial, but continuous direct support is the way to go. But, how do we allocate a budget for employee and executive advocacy programs? Well, it’s all about results. From our direct experience, in some specific campaigns the impact will be multiplied by 100 thanks to the push of the employees. And the impact increases over time, with more and more employees on LinkedIn, sharing better content and boosting their colleagues’ posts. 

100 times more impact. I cannot think of a higher return on investment.

Covid has been one of the biggest digital accelerators of B2B marketing. Digital self-service and eCommerce is exploding, phased content is becoming more personalised and marketing automation is key to scale the ability to reach our buyers when they most need it. Overall, B2B marketers should focus more on their B2B buyer experience, not so much on praising their product qualities. It’s not about moi, me, myself anymore.

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