While marketing automation is typically used in a consumer context, B2B marketers are swiftly catching on to its benefits, too.
Marketing today is driven by data used to target and communicate with various people, based on how relevant the message is to their gender, interests, life stage and location. Marketing automation refers to the technology that helps companies to plan, manage and measure their marketing efforts in an automated way in order to increase both efficiency and revenue.
And it’s growing hugely in popularity: according to MarketsandMarkets, by 2019, the global marketing automation market will reach US$5.5bn.
But the form it takes in a B2B context is very different, especially because the buying cycle is much longer.
For example, say you searched for a particular type of shoe on a clothing retailer website but didn’t end up buying them. Then, when you log on to social media later, an advert for those shoes follows you around the web for another week until you either buy the shoes or simply ignore the ad.
Known as remarketing, this strategy can’t be done in the same way in a B2B context. Imagine you were the CTO of a large corporate and you needed to buy a new PABX/switchboard system. You don’t simply go online and buy it immediately, as with the shoe example above. You go through more phases in the process, including education, awareness, purchasing and then justification after your purchase.
In B2B marketing, automation also needs to cater for a longer buying cycle of months or even years. To do this, marketers need to create content that outlives the cycle; these ideas also have to have serious longevity, as political and economic changes may occur over these large spaces of time.
Although the CTO or CFO may make the ultimate decision or sign the cheque, there are multiple influencers that exist around the buying decision. In fact, the whole B2B buying process is not only longer than in B2C — it’s also a lot more complex. To market effectively, you need to create personae for the different B2B buyers and then target each of them.
The buying process is not as linear as in B2C, because it often depends on business triggers such as companies being able to afford to make the purchase. You therefore need to be able to push people towards the marketing funnel and once they engage, mark where they are in the buying journey, and then start exposing them across different platforms to different content.
Say you’re the CFO of a medium-sized business and a large bank wants to sell you an overdraft facility. Typically, the CFO will first realise that they have a cash flow problem and then Google “5 ways to bail my company out of cash flow problems”. As a B2B marketer, you would then tag this person as being in the awareness phase: they’re interested and could possibly take out an overdraft facility.
Next, this CFO may download a white paper about how overdraft facilities may help get their company out of cash-flow problems. As a marketer, you then might build an online calculator that they could use as an assessment tool, as they’re currently in the evaluation phase.
Depending on what piece of content they’re engaging with, marketers decide where they are in the purchase phase and then serve them the relevant content, automating the whole process. All this content created sits somewhere on the content hub and, as someone engages with it, they enter the funnel and are then served the right content, whether they’re on Facebook or reading a piece of news online.
To the end user, this whole process will feel serendipitous, even though, behind the scenes, the entire thing has been curated by the B2B marketer. It doesn’t feel invasive, however, because it happens over a longer period, and the content being served feels educational, helpful and necessary.
It’s worth understanding these differences in order to make marketing automation work for your B2B marketing efforts. Almost 11 times more companies are using automation than they were in 2011 so, if you don’t already use it, it may be something for your business to consider.