The Ultimate 4 Step Business to Business (B2B) Marketing Plan
Do you feel overwhelmed with the prospect of B2B Marketing? There’s certainly one hell of a stigma attached, and there’s no end to fear-mongering list posts on why B2B Marketing is so much harder than B2C. If trying to come up with a high-level B2B marketing strategy stresses you out, you aren’t alone.
Once we peel back all the fear and anxiety that’s been piled on top of B2B marketing, putting together a solid strategy is as simple as knowing the right questions to ask.
So…let’s start with, why is B2B Marketing so much harder than B2C marketing anyway?
Short answer: it’s not!
Slightly longer answer: Because you’re making it harder. What you need to do is reframe that fear.
There are many people…and I happen to be one of them…that believe business to business marketing is actually far easier than marketing to consumers.
Convincing someone to purchase your product or service when you can tie it directly to their bottom line (or their promotion) is a piece of cake. Of course, you’ll need to find the people who are actually committed to improvement…but once they’ve started receiving value from your company, they have a vested interest in providing feedback that continues to improve their experience – it only makes their job easier.
Your buyer should have clearly defined goals – they are ultimately either trying to increase cash flow or establish brand recognition for the long term. You do need to put in the work upfront to know what these goals are, but once you do, the job of your marketing is simply to deliver value and demonstrate authority in that space.
Actually, let me make that even simpler. Your marketing has one job: prove you understand your customer and that you know how to solve their problems.
Marketing doesn’t have to be hard – in fact, you most likely know everything you need to know to optimize what’s already working in your business.
In this article, I will take you, in 3 simple steps, through establishing a marketing strategy, implementing that strategy, and iterating until it works.
You’ll learn the exact questions you need to be able to answer about your business and your clients in order to create a winning strategy.
This article is going to be super helpful for you if…
- You’re selling a product or service to other businesses and you want to scale or automate your marketing efforts
- You’re just getting started with a product idea and you have no idea how to turn it into a business
There’s no magic bullet or secret technique – it’s just learning to understand the true purpose of marketing, then putting a system in place to make sure you know where to focus your attention.
Once you really take the long view on your marketing efforts, you’re not going to have to worry so much about your day-to-day marketing decisions. With a clear plan defined, you’ll know what the best next steps are no matter how your campaigns go.
Stop Making B2B Marketing Harder – Plan First!
Look, I get it. This isn’t the sexy part of business – you want to see all kinds of bar charts and graphs with exponentially increasing numbers of social shares or likes.
[example of a useless graph – number of people who think our cat’s with construction equipment pictures are cool vs. actual sales]
But if shares and likes don’t correlate to purchases, you’re wasting your time and possibly headed towards burnout and the end of your business.
So our absolute first step…as in, do not pass go, do not collect $200…is coming up with a solid strategy that you’ll use to qualify your decisions every step of the way.
But before we do that…let’s make sure we’re on the same page. Not everybody has the same understanding of what marketing is, and I define it quite broadly. Kinda like this guy:
“Marketing is not only much broader than selling; it is not a specialized activity at all. It encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of the final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise.” — Peter Drucker
Caption: So Peter Drucker agrees with me. No big deal.
The long and short of it is, your B2B marketing strategy should inform what you sell, how you sell it, who you sell it to, and how much you charge them. Marketing even informs your customer service and how you implement feedback from users.
But everything relies on building a solid strategy as the framework…
Step 1. Develop a Strategy
Yes, every single article on marketing starts with “first, let’s put together a strategy.” But let’s be honest…every how-to article ever should start with this advice!
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”
And yet I still talk with business owners and clients who want help fixing a non-converting ad or an opt-in that no one is downloading. That conversation usually goes something like:
Me: So tell me about what you’re trying to accomplish with this feature.
Client: Well, I want people to learn more about me. And also to get a sense of what our product can do for them, and how it works, and how it will save them time. Wait, should I be offering a coupon in that first email or is that too desperate?
Me: Wait, hold on…you need to prioritize those goals. What’s the number one thing you want your visitor to do?
Client: Well, they’re all important!
Me: Of course, but what’s the first thing they need to do before they’re ready to buy your product?
Right, so…that’s not going to get you very far. We have no idea…
- What the potential buyer is supposed to be doing at this stage of the buying process.
- How to measure the success of the campaign.
- How to tell if a successful campaign will actually result in increased revenue.
And it’s not uncommon! Smart Insights reveals that “47% of businesses are doing digital marketing without any kind of digital marketing strategy.”
1a. There’s No Way To Fix A Problem Without Knowing Why It’s A Problem In The First Place
The first priority when setting a strategy is knowing your goal. A problem is only a problem that needs fixing if it’s preventing you from reaching your goals.
As you can already tell from the above example, you need to know a good deal about your sales process before you can start identifying those goals.
In sales and persuasion psychology, it’s been long established that getting people to say yes to small things makes it easier for them to say yes to increasingly bigger things.
So your sales process is very much a series of small conversions.
Neil Patel explains it this way: “When [leads] respond affirmatively to the first request, they will later agree to the larger, because they want to justify to themselves that they are indeed the type of person who responds ‘yes’ to such requests.”
On top of this, for most businesses, the purchase comes down to a key decision that’s made during the sales process – sometimes much earlier in the process than you’d expect.
As an example, I had one of my clients (a startup architecture firm) look back over all her contracts for the previous 24 months. She found that the clients who were happiest with her work – and, not surprisingly, who she most enjoyed doing work for – had come as references by several heads of construction companies in her network.
The goal became to optimize that one step: make referrals from those connections the focal point of her marketing strategy. She now operates with a constant waiting list, to the envy of many of her fellow architects who’ve been in business for decades (who’ve factored the ‘lean times’ into their yearly projections).
So, how did we get there? You can follow this process:
- Identify your top outcome goals (e.g. identify the offer your market responds best to, move leads from cold to ready-to-buy, get people registered for an event, etc.)
- Prioritize those goals (it may not make any sense to generate lots of traffic until you have one or two solid ideas for the offer you want to make, for example)
- Propose solutions that would help you achieve your goals (e.g. facebook ads to test Call to Action headlines and lead magnet offers, content marketing that addresses the biggest concerns that stop your market from buying, publishing pieces in trade publications, etc.)
- Determine the best way to deliver your intended solution to your audience (e.g. attending conferences, running ads in trade publications, hosting an event, an autoresponder series, etc.)
- Break that down into a minimum viable solution (try out your presentation for a 100 with a small group of local business owners over coffee, test out ads for your webinar before ever writing the script, etc.)
- Set campaign milestones (e.g. 10 new opt-ins daily, 50 scheduled demos per week, etc.) so you don’t label something a failure that’s actually succeeding
This whole process is incredibly powerful, and literally every successful business on earth is doing this. Ryan Deiss goes one step farther and actually calls this whole ‘funnel’ process Customer Value Optimization.
So the best way to develop a successful strategy is start looking at the sales funnel you already have in place (and if you’re just starting out, don’t worry…I’ll explain how this whole process can work for bootstrappers at the end of the article).
1b. Marketing Strategy Starts With What’s Working Right Now In Your Business
Your sales funnel is the process a potential customer goes through in order to become a buyer. The primary function of your marketing strategy is to scale the funnel that’s already working for your business in order to optimize the value of every customer.
Some of you will have already put a lot of thought and prep into your sales funnel, so if that’s you, bear with me while I introduce a couple of key terms we’ll need as we put together our strategy.
But, real quick, if you’re one of those people who likes to say that you don’t have a funnel, stop right there.
If you have customers, you have a funnel. In fact, if you have a list, you still have a funnel, it’s just not monetized.
Every sale started with a potential customer who was learning about your company and solution for the very first time. Someone told them about you, or they found you on google, or your niche blog post answered one of their nagging questions. Those are your traffic sources, which is more of a digital term and isn’t always used to refer to offline sources for leads, but they all serve the same function for our the purposes of our strategy.
Next up, every sale you’ve ever made went through an initial conversion process…in other words, they said yes in some small way. Maybe it was to get on a phone call, or to download a white page, or to view a demo. Most likely, no money was exchanged.
Once money has been exchanged, even if it’s just paying $1 for some small asset (commonly called a tripwire in the digital marketing world), they become much more than a lead.
Nurturing From Lead to Buyer
Don’t think that tiny purchase is what you’re going to rely on for business income. As Bryan Harris bluntly puts it, “There are a lot of reasons to sell a product for $5.99, but making money isn’t one.”
Psychologically, the power of tripwires relies on human’s many, many cognitive biases. We can’t get into all that here, but the short version is: the sooner a lead pays you, the sooner they will buy more.
Ryan Lee makes a solid case that ‘tripwire’ sounds a lot like we’re tricking a lead into becoming a customer…. So if taking advantage of common, irrational mistakes made by human beings makes you feel a bit icky, just remember – it’s up to you to make sure your product or service is truly beneficial to your target market. If you know it will help make their businesses and lives better, than marketing becomes a moral imperative.
Any good marketing strategy is going to involve lots of follow up. And not just after the sale, but after every yes you get from the potential buyer. Each step is an invitation to a greater relationship between your business and theirs.
Think about this. What does a funnel look like if you looked down instead of across?
Each time a potential customer says “yes” to you, they are letting down their guard and asking to come closer to your inner circle. And your marketing strategy needs to honor and respect that level of trust.
So while there’s going to be a good deal of “lead nurturing” in the early stages, and more follow up and quality assurance in the later stages…it’s helpful to think of all these conversion moments in terms of conversations that build a relationship with your leads and customers.
1c. Conversations That Build Relationships
Brian Clark calls building “real relationships with those who can help get the word out” one of the three most important things he’s done to build his online business. You need to figure out:
- What kinds of questions are your leads asking at each stage of the buying process?
- How can you anticipate and automate the answers to those questions?
- What does a lead absolutely need to hear/see/know/believe at each stage before they’re ready to move on to the next?
When you know the answer to the above questions, you’ve got the bulk of your marketing strategy. Here’s an example:
John has a SaaS app that helps local service businesses set appointments more easily. Most of his customers contacted him after seeing his presentation at the local chamber of commerce. A few customers joined after being referred by his other customers. His site gets a decent amount of traffic thanks to mentions in a few online publications specific to his industry.
His churn rate is higher than he would like, but after talking to some other business owners, it sounds like it’s within the normal range. So he’s not going to prioritize that.
Ultimately, he wants to focus more of his time learning from users and creating even more value with the features of his software. At present, he spends most of his time answering pre-sale questions by phone and email, and then with onboarding. Therefore, his marketing efforts will focus on:
- Generating content that answers his leads’ most common questions right as they arrive on the site
- Creating copy that walks a site visitor through the same sales process John goes through with buyers over the phone
- And creating an autoresponder sequence that walks users through the first 14 days of using the software, making the onboarding process mostly automated
1d. The Next Step is To Think Bigger
At this point you’ve established a prioritized list of goals to achieve with your marketing, and you’ve identified how you’re already achieving those goals (to some extent) in your business. Now we’re going to look at how we can expand that into something much bigger by doing what already works at scale.
Before we actually go bigger, we need to set some milestones that allow us to measure the success of our efforts and the progress we’re making toward our goals.
We want to avoid this scenario that Seth Godin points out: “When you measure the wrong thing, you get the wrong thing. Perhaps you can be precise in your measurement, but precision is not significance.”
In our example above, John’s going to be predominantly measuring the success of his efforts by seeing how often his new content is being accessed, how well the sales copy converts compared to his sales phone calls, and how the total time on site is affected by switching to the autoresponder onboarding sequence.
Once the numbers seem adequate – and a lower conversion rate than his old method might still be okay, since it will allow John the time he needs to focus on feature improvements – John will decide to either optimize his organic traffic or run Facebook ads to test how well his funnel converts with paid traffic. Either way, he will pick one source of traffic and scale it fully before moving on to another one.
Step 2. Put Your Strategy To Work
We want to be systematic in how we implement this strategy. You’ll notice everything that’s gotten us to this point is basically just prep work.
Well, we’re not done getting ready yet.
Remember when I said we wanted to start with the minimum viable solution? This goes for everything in marketing.
As Pamela Wilson over at Copyblogger points out, when you start with a solution in mind instead of your audience, you are building your business backwards.
There’s no reason to put all of your time, budget, and energy into a campaign before you know if it can convert.
That means testing:
- The method of delivery (is the webinar the right format, would it be better as an ebook?)
- The length of the content
- The title or headline of the content
- The offer for the content
- The way you offer the content (a button on your home page, a sidebar ad, article specific calls to action (CTA) in each blog post, in person, over the phone, etc.)
Ultimately, you’ll also want to know how people convert at every single step of the process. For example:
- How many people who came to your website clicked to opt-in?
- How many of those people actually opted-in?
- How many opt-ins confirmed their email address?
- How many then downloaded the content?
- How many actually consumed the content?
- How many follow the CTA in the content?
And so on. As you can see, there’s an infinite number of things you can monitor and test, so let’s lay out the absolute basics:
- The less things you are testing, the easier it is to find the problems. In other words, don’t split-test multiple headlines, white page lengths, brand voices, etc. all at once. Just set it so that half of your visitors see one CTA headline, and the other half see a different one. (This is commonly referred to as a split test.)
You’ll probably have numerous customer avatars that you’re trying to appeal to, so you can write a CTA for each of them and see which convert the best.
- Let’s simplify that some more: if there are two possible free offers you could make, you can split-test each of those using the method we just laid out. Half of your visitors would get an offer like “The Best Times to Reach Out to PR Connections”, and the other half would get an offer like “The Best PR Email Template”.Since we’re going “minimum viable” here, don’t write either of them until you start getting opt-ins. Prioritize the one that gets more requests.
- And hey, we can simplify even more if we want. Turn your website into a landing page that has the bare minimum information the lead needs to get to the next stage of your product. Maybe it’s simply a site with a quick explanation of your product, and the only options are to either opt-in for a free resource or to schedule a demo call.The less options a visitor is given, the better. Psychologically, they are more likely to not feel overwhelmed and actually go where you want them to…and from a testing perspective, you get a much better sense of how enticing your offer is when there’s only one.Note: From an SEO standpoint, this may not be the best long-term solution…good thing we have a prioritized list of goals to see where organic search traffic fits in!
A few things to keep in mind:
- Does your site answer the main questions your target market is asking…in the right order? In other words, is the first thing a new visitor sees something that doesn’t matter until much later in the sales process?
- If you can speak to the customer in their own unique voice and explain their problem better than they can, they will trust you. So the copy on your website needs to be written for them and not for you.
That’s it, pretty much. If you get distracted by the latest marketing craze or your supervisor starts demanding an updated explainer video, you can go back to your prioritized goals and see how this new concept fits into the strategy.
If it doesn’t, it’s an easy No.
Step 3. Iterate and Improve Your Strategy
Keep iterating and improving until you’re getting good conversion rates at each step. Then fully optimize a traffic source before you move onto the next one.
For example: Let’s say every $5 you spend on facebook ads results in a $200 sale. You can keep increasing your budget, but since you are targeting a very specific list, eventually you’ll milk this avenue dry. This isn’t B2C, right? You have a limited number of potential customers in your targeted industry and eventually all of them are going to see your ads on one channel. So the next step would either be to try another ad network or to see about improving the conversion rate on the purchase.
Charles Ngo spent 6 years struggling to turn a profit online, but once he picked one traffic source (facebook ads) and focused specifically on that, he was able to replace the income from his job in just 3 months.
Once you’ve hit your milestones, you can start all over again with a new strategy that takes into account your current business needs.
For example: Sales might now be coming at a decent rate, with a highly effective funnel and onboarding sequence. You could now focus on making sure your current customers’ needs are being addressed. You can create content, email sequences, and webinars that make them feel important to your company, and direct them to under-used or brand-new features.
But now that you know how to effectively strategize, what if you’re stuck starting a business – or launching a new product or service – from scratch?
Step 4. Marketing Strategy When You’re Just Starting Out
You now have a good sense of what to do once your business is rolling. You know how to leverage what you’re already doing well and market it into a super tight and profitable business.
But meanwhile, you might still trying to decide on your logo, brand colors and fonts, and website hosts. You don’t even have a single client. How can you put together an effective strategy?
So first of all…STOP. You have everything you need right now. Remember when I said in the beginning to take a look at the solutions you already provide to customers, turn them into evergreen materials, and test them as minimum viable solutions?
Let’s take a look at Amir Khella’s Keynotopia product. He turned a solution he created for himself into a super popular product.
It’s an old story at this point – Amir launched Keynotopia back in 2010 and wrote-up the whole thing on his blog – but I can’t think of a better example of how simple it is to use a basic marketing strategy to create something entirely new.
So let’s break down his strategy here and see how it applies to the framework I laid out above:
- Amir wrote a blog post about a successful solution he used for himself
- He offers to share the minimum viable solution in exchange for email addresses
- This allows him to directly ask for feedback on the usefulness of the potential product
- After collecting the feedback, he published another blog post that explains how he and others have used the solution (case studies) and includes a link to buy a more complete solution
How freaking simple is that? And six years later, people are still buying the product.
It’s not even a complex marketing strategy. Granted, Amir already had traffic when he implemented this, but traffic isn’t hard. If you don’t have people you are regularly talking to, then that’s simply your first step. There are plenty of articles out there on how to start building an audience but to keep it simple, you need to be able to answer these questions:
Where are your potential customers? What are they doing? What are they watching, reading, listening to?
If you know the answer to those questions, traffic is a breeze, because you know where to target them and what kind of mood their in (which informs the tone of your delivery).
An old aphorism goes, “If I had 5 minutes to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first 2 and a ½ sharpening my axe.” That is the essence of why we spend so much time strategizing, and the rest of the time just following the plan.
I just want to make the following crystal clear:
If you go in with a plan, consistently improve along the way, and keep your priorities in sight, you will succeed.
Success might mean finding out your proposed solution isn’t the right fit for your target market…but that just saves you the time and money to go try another solution.