There is lots of buzz and debate about digital marketing and its impact on B2B markets. It is an overwhelming, and ever-changing, topic. Nonetheless, B2B marketers must determine how and where digital marketing impacts their businesses.
Digital marketing manifests itself in many ways, but broadly speaking, I define it as the adoption of digital technology by customers (e.g., Internet of Things, cloud computing, and RFID), the impact of that on marketing (e.g., new services and altered customer relationships), and the use of digital technology for marketing (e.g., digital channels for sales and promotion and Big Data).
When pundits talk about digital marketing, they overwhelmingly talk about B2C markets and occasionally mention a B2B example. Not surprising given the differences between B2B and B2C markets. But make no mistake, digital marketing applies to B2B, but its impact will, or does, vary by individual market given the heterogeneity of B2B markets.
Waiting to see what happens really isn’t an option, but then again rushing headlong into creating some new digital marketing strategy is also unwise.
I advise the following 4 actions:
1. Re-visit and re-evaluate the customer’s journey – This is the foundation for truly understanding the role and impact of digital technology and channels for your business. Without it no digital marketing strategy can be effective.
This means understanding each step of the journey from needs identification to the ultimate purchase, including awareness, consideration, and evaluation of various solutions. And it covers not only the criteria for selecting the solution but also the different players involved, their roles, information sources, channels (digital and traditional), competitors’ offerings, and key decisions made during the journey.
A key issue is the role of purchasing. For many B2B markets, the “actual user” (e.g., engineering, operations, and maintenance) has been the primary decision-maker, but now purchasing is often playing a greater role, and this usually means digital channels have a bigger impact. An interesting wrinkle is the ability of B2B companies to track and understand the customers’ online behavior via digital tools à la B2C markets.
2. Re-visit and re-evaluate your channel strategy and policies – Digital channels can wreak havoc on your channel strategy and policies. Rather than react to a rising volume of complaints (and ultimately channel partner defections), be proactive and develop strategies and policies to manage, or even capitalize upon, this trend.
Unlike B2C, the role and impact of digital channels vary for B2B markets. For certain markets such as small equipment, supplies and parts that can be purchased more easily online, digital channels play a greater, and more impactful, role in the purchase process. For other markets such as capital equipment and high-level services (e.g., construction and outsourcing) that are more difficult, maybe impossible, to purchase online, it still plays a role but not as great.
The value of creating and sharing useful content cannot be overstated. Successfully and consistently implemented this enables B2B marketers to develop trusting and mutually beneficial relationships with customers, moving from transactional to that of a valued partner.
3. Consider if and how to be an Internet of Things player – Where applicable, this is a really challenging issue. Companies that can establish a leadership position in the Internet of Things space (a.k.a., the Industrial Internet) will naturally reap the rewards, and incur the risks, and those that do not must play within the constraints set by the leaders.
Does your company have the market reputation, resources, and risk profile to try and attain a leadership position? If not, then what is the most effective strategy for the Internet of Things space? Taking this step will likely transform your business, as illustrated in this article on John Deere, From Farming to Big Data: The Amazing Story of John Deere.
4. Improve your data analytics, Big Data or not – The definition of Big Data isn’t crystal clear, and those companies that truly access and use Big Data know it is a daunting task. At a minimum your company should work (or continue doing so) to improve the access and analysis of existing data sets before going in search of Big Data. Once accomplished, you can then consider accessing and integrating new, external data sets, which could be Big Data.
By getting ahead of the digital marketing curve vs. lagging behind, your company can gain a competitive advantage, and the starting point, as always, is the Customer, particularly the customer’s journey and the role of digital technology and channels.