‘Good’ B2B marketing doesn’t have to be so bad.

By: Mary Fearon

Try something for me? It will only take a second. Google “boring B2B marketing.” Let me guess – over 300,000 results turned up? That’s what I found when searching from our agency where we’ve specialized in B2B marketing for more than 100 years. That’s right, a century of B2B. In fact, some of our current client relationships date back almost that far. Financial services, transportation, manufacturing, construction, mining – we’ve done it all. And, no, we haven’t always gotten it right. But we have learned.

So why does B2B marketing seem to have so many people falling asleep at their laptops? It’s a problem that goes back to the dawn of businesses selling to other businesses. A challenge of finding ways to share complex, technical and often dry aspects of their business in order for customers to understand their true points of difference – a real reason to make the switch.

There seem to be a million reasons why we suck the life out of all things B2B. It’s technical. Our customers are already experts. It’s all about the product. Our industry is highly regulated. Our legal team said so. And so on, and so on. Sure, all of these things may be true, but we can still avoid the common pitfalls of boring B2B. Because if we don’t, our customers avoid us, too. And, let’s be honest, they already do.

Today, if you live in a developed country, you’re literally just a click away from virtually anything you want to know. Your expectations have changed. If you’re going to listen to anyone about anything, they’d better understand you, what you need and engage you on your terms. Otherwise, someone else will.

And B2B customers are no different. After all, they’re people, too.

Most B2B marketing fails to respond to this new environment, but it’s not for a lack of trying. B2B marketers know what they’re up against, but continue to fall into the same common traps. Here are just a few:

  • We fail to put a stake in the ground. In an effort to appeal to the broadest customer base possible, we avoid doing or saying anything that might – and I mean might – alienate any potential customer. As a result, we stand for nothing and are known for nothing.
  • We think being different somehow equals being wrong. We say we want to take risks, but we don’t actually do it. We tend to look around the industry at what everyone else is doing as a way to validate our own thinking, when we should be looking at where the crowd is and doing everything we can to go the other way.
  • We’re afraid to be bold. Our proudest moments and strongest claims scare us. They expose us to criticism. We plan for the worst-case scenario instead of the best. We dilute our message until it’s no different or better than the rest. So we all say the same thing, in the same boring way.
  • We forget that B2B is ALL about people. Businesses don’t buy products or services – people do. And, they buy from people they know, like and trust. On average, B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers: B2B companies tend to have emotional connections with more than 50% of customers while B2C brands can go as low as 10%*.
    Why? When people make purchases for their business, it’s their career and livelihood on the line. The impact of these decisions can be broad, expensive and deep. Trust and relationship are key, and connecting human to human is critical – even more so with so much communication occurring virtually.
    In an effort to be professional and have the broadest appeal possible, we’ve lost the humanity in our communications – the humour, the sarcasm, the wit – the personality that makes us likeable, interesting and different.
  • We wrongly assume it’s all about our products. “If they only knew how great our products perform and how much better their business would be as a result, they would buy. All we need to do is tell them.” What B2B buyers really want is help. The brands that figure that out are the ones who sell more products in the end.
  • We plan and edit by committee. And, it shows. We want to be inclusive, consultative and collaborative. We want input from operations, sales, technical, regulatory and corporate communications and by the end of the process, we’ve lost the intent and impact altogether.

These pitfalls exist in every B2B segment we’ve worked in and almost become a part of the company culture. If you’re a B2B marketer, you’re certainly not alone. When our clients come up against these common traps, we bring it back to three guiding principles:

1. B2B is about people helping people.

2. Focus on what your customer cares about.

3. Own your differences to make your business unique and your voice heard.

So, you see. You can engage your B2B customers without trading the humanity, the intrigue or the personality to make your point. You can do it all. You just need the courage to be different and the trust that your true customers will get it. And, you may find it feels good to stand out from the pack.