Demystifying B2B Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide for CEOs

NIM demystifying B2B marketing and marketing strategy

As a B2B CEO, when you’ve reached the point when you know you need to invest more seriously in marketing, choosing the marketing model, approach and methods that are best for your company is not an easy task. 

Why? Because B2B marketing today has become so complex and there are so many marketing options to choose from. The reality is that in order to make the right marketing decision for your business, you need some more information. 

After working as marketing leaders and Fractional CMOs in the B2B marketing world for more than 20 years, we’ve identified the six most important pieces of information you need in order to identify your right marketing approach and model when it comes time to build your first marketing team or invest more seriously in marketing. You can read more in our comprehensive guide for B2B CEOs.

What does a best practices B2B marketing process look like?

The first important piece of information you need to help you make your best decisions around marketing is to know what a best practices B2B marketing process looks like today, along with the steps you need to take to make this ideal process a reality. 

This information will help you to assess the types of marketing skills, background and expertise you need to invest in first, as well as the marketing approaches or skill sets that should be considered as later or next-step investments.

From random acts of marketing to a sustainable B2B marketing system

When you’re at the $3 to $10 million revenue stage it means that you’ve likely installed some very effective systems and processes in your organization, including product development, manufacturing, quality control, sales, customer training/success, and finance. So why not treat marketing as an important business system as well?

When you move from random acts of marketing to treating marketing as an important business system, it changes everything. You gain a deeper understanding of your customers and marketplace, connect to your company’s true core difference, and apply your core difference in a way that positions your business competitively instead of sounding just like everyone else. 

A powerful B2B Marketing Process is all about turning your marketing into a system, and includes the following elements:

  • B2B Marketing Strategy
  • B2B Marketing System 
  • B2B Sales Enablement
  • Thought Leadership Content Marketing

Once you have this B2B marketing process set up and in place, you’ll have a sustainable marketing foundation that will not only attract and convert leads in its own right but will serve as a launching point for any number of other specialized marketing campaigns you choose to run in the future – both online and offline. 

One thing that’s very important to note is that having this foundation in place is essential to the success of your future marketing campaigns because every campaign you run will connect to your marketing system.

When you run ad-hoc marketing campaigns without first having this foundation in place, you risk wasting valuable time, money and effort and often never really know if the campaign worked or not. This can lead you to think the worst thought, and that is “Marketing doesn’t really work for our type of business.”   

Let’s take a look at each element of the B2B Marketing Process in more detail: 

B2B marketing strategy

A B2B marketing strategy is a comprehensive plan that outlines how you will reach and engage your ideal clients to achieve specific marketing goals (which are tied to your higher level business goals). The marketing strategy does not stand alone, rather it requires a deep dive review of your business, products and services, clients, partners, competitors and marketplace.

An effective marketing strategy should not be based on the internal assumptions of a few company executives (like most marketing strategies are). Instead, a strong marketing strategy needs to be built around what your ideal clients perceive, want and need. This requires conducting extensive client, partner, and internal team interviews. 

Only then will you really understand:

  • How do your ideal clients prefer to buy and engage with your company
  • How your ideal clients search for and evaluate companies and products like yours
  • Why do your ideal clients buy from you and stay with you 
  • What do your ideal clients believe is your core difference, and what makes you different from your competitors

This is the information you need in order to create the right messaging, positioning, and educational information to attract, convert and retain your best customers. Without conducting client interviews, you’ll only ever be making your best guess – and will be missing out on valuable insights about your company and products.

It’s important to also note that these client insight interviews yield benefits that extend well beyond marketing to impact your business in other ways. 

For example, one HealthTech company we worked with was in the process of transitioning from a one-to-one client success format to a ticketing system. During our client interviews, we uncovered that their customers chose them and stayed with them because they had a dedicated customer success person who really understood their business, while the competitors all had ticketing systems. This was, to the customers, the company’s main core difference.

Following the client interviews, we shared the results with the CEO and they not only scrapped the new ticketing system, but embraced having a dedicated customer success person as their core difference and adjusted their positioning and messaging. This enabled them to stop competing on features and price, made the sales process much easier, and increased their market share.   

Your B2B marketing strategy should be insightful and highly actionable:

A B2B marketing strategy is not meant to be a theoretic exercise or sit on your bookshelf collecting dust. Instead, your B2B marketing strategy should be highly actionable and give you valuable insight into your business, products and customers. 

The deliverables of your B2B marketing strategy should include:

  • A summary of insights from your client, partner, and internal team interviews (note that these insights may extend well beyond marketing to impact your business in other ways, for example – perhaps the way your support team handles tech calls is outstanding.)
  • A competitor and marketplace review
  • Insights into what your ideal clients see as your core difference, and recommended changes to your positioning and messaging 
  • Practical ideal client personas
  • An outline of your ideal client’s buyer’s journey, including what information, materials or actions are needed at each step. Your buyer’s journey extends into sales, so this outline should include recommended materials and actions to support and enable your sales teams through the journey
  • Recommendations for the best marketing channels to reach your ideal clients
  • A content plan and calendar
  • An action plan outlining how to bring your marketing strategy to life in the real world, including detailed steps, budget and resource requirements. 

*Quick Wins: A key part of your B2B marketing strategy should also include identifying some quick wins and low-hanging fruit – so you don’t have to wait until your entire strategy is implemented to start taking action and seeing results. Quick wins would include any quick changes to your marketing that can be set in motion right away with a high probability of seeing some shorter-term results, while the rest of your strategy is being installed in the background. 

B2B marketing system

Your B2B marketing system is the manifestation of your marketing strategy in the real world and becomes the foundation and backbone of your marketing. 

Your marketing system includes all the marketing, sales and educational materials needed to move your ideal clients through every step in their buyer’s journey, all linked together through your website and marketing and sales tech stack. 

Installing a marketing system will help you stop doing random acts of marketing in fits and spurts, and instead create a powerful marketing engine that, once set up, will continuously work for you in the background. You can leverage your marketing system for all future marketing, sales and customer retention campaigns. 

Setting up a strong marketing system is the key to future-proofing your business and providing the support your sales teams and channels really need. 

B2B sales enablement

When your B2B sales process involves larger buying committees and long, complex sales cycles, it’s essential to make sure your marketing and sales functions are aligned, and not operating in silos. 

In addition to installing a powerful marketing system, an integral part of your B2B Marketing Process should include focused sales enablement activities. This usually means that your marketing function partners with your sales teams, customer success, product design and channels to identify and create the marketing, sales and educational materials they need for client acquisition, retention and upselling. These are the materials that will help to change sales conversations and more quickly convert qualified leads. 

Sales enablement isn’t a one-time activity. It requires talking with sales, channels and customer success on a regular basis to really understand what’s working, what’s changing and what new materials or activities may be needed. 

Thought leadership content marketing

With your new messaging and positioning in place, your powerful marketing system converting leads in the background, and your sales teams equipped with the materials they need to more quickly and easily acquire customers – you’ll be ready to begin your ongoing marketing, which today is all about quality content delivered through the right channels to reach or draw in your ideal clients. 

While many B2B companies use inbound and content marketing, it’s important to take it a step further and infuse powerful thought leadership into your content marketing. 

Thought leadership is a content marketing strategy where you position individuals in your business as thought leaders and experts in your industry. This helps to gain the trust of your ideal clients and positions your business uniquely from your competition. 

Essential to this approach is identifying several subject matter experts within your organization (from senior leadership, sales, customer success, product development, engineering and more), and empowering them to be thought leaders in their own rights. This expands the authority and reach of your messages, content and marketing.  

Thought leadership is a powerful foundational strategy, and you’ll see results not just in client acquisition and retention. By empowering your teams, you’ll improve employer branding and increase employee retention. 

The B2B marketing foundation you need to power your marketing campaigns

By installing the best practices B2B marketing process we’ve outlined previously, you’ll already have a powerful marketing foundation that will help you attract, convert and retain ideal clients. 

Best of all, you’ll have the marketing foundation in place you need to run future specialized marketing, sales and customer retention campaigns. Every marketing activity and campaign you run, both online and offline, will tie back into your marketing foundation to better ensure its success. These future campaigns could include anything from trade shows and account-based marketing to online and social advertising.  

How to align marketing resources with a best practices B2B marketing process:

How does a better understanding of the best practices B2B marketing system help you when it comes to building your first marketing team or choosing the right marketing model?

First, it gives you an idea of the skill set and level of experience you need right off the bat. A junior marketing person or an agency specializing in content, SEO or Google AdWords is not going to be the right fit to create a business-focused marketing strategy and build your marketing foundation. These would be skill sets you’d want to consider after your strong marketing foundation is in place. Instead, the first person you need to engage is a senior level marketing leader with deep experience in strategic B2B marketing. This could mean hiring an in-house CMO or VP of marketing, or outsourcing to a Fractional CMO. 

Second, it gives you an idea of where different models of marketing might fit in. For example, most marketing agencies specialize in tactical areas, such as content marketing, web design or SEO. These specialty areas are needed after you have a marketing foundation in place, so outsourcing to a marketing agency may not be the best place to start. However, Fractional CMOs do specialize in creating your marketing strategy and getting your initial marketing foundation in place, so if you’re considering outsourcing, this might be your ideal first step.  

Next Steps: The CEO’s Ultimate Guide to Building an Expert  B2B Marketing Team in Today’s Complex Marketing World

To help you make important decisions around your B2B marketing investment, we’ve created a comprehensive 33-page eBook: The CEO’s Ultimate Guide to Building an Expert B2B Marketing Team in Today’s Complex Marketing World

In this eBook, we walk you through the six most important questions B2B CEOs need to answer in order to build their first marketing team and choose the right B2B marketing model for their stage of business:

  1. How Do You Know It’s Time to Invest in Marketing? 
  2. What are B2B Marketing Best Practices?
  3. How Has B2B Marketing Become More Complex?
  4. What Are the Top Challenges in Getting Started in Marketing?
  5. What Does a B2B Marketing Team Look Like?
  6. Should You Hire In-House or Outsource?

You can download the eBook RIGHT HERE

If you have any questions about this blog post or the eBook or would like to schedule a consultation with myself and Jen Kelly, NIM’s Founder and one of the Fractional CMOs to get more guidance around your next steps in marketing, you can send her an email or book a consultation time.

Nicole Croizier is the lead FractionalCMO at New Initiatives Marketing Inc.  Take charge of your marketing success today with us as your Fractional CMO + Marketing Team.  Since 2009, we’ve been supporting mid-size b2b businesses worldwide through effective implementation and execution of marketing strategy. Not ready? Sign up and learn from our monthly newsletter. 

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