Inspiration can be found in many places -- and if there’s anything that requires some inspiration, some rejuvenation, it’s the B2B buyer journey.
Is there anything more uninspired, more tired, than this fractured, overly intricate, unintuitive process? That’s a rhetorical question but the answer is no. With some limited exceptions, there’s nothing more lacking in inspiration and energy than the way enterprise marketers sell their solutions to their customers.
Fortunately, there’s a blueprint -- a how-to manual of sorts -- that already exists. And most of us experience it ourselves firsthand every single day. It’s the B2C playbook: ease, convenience, digital and real-life experiences in a compelling blend, the power of personalization. Those same qualities will transform the B2B space -- and it’s long past time to embrace them. Here’s some perspective on the what and how of making the jump to a more modern approach to B2B marketing (and the implications for the function).
Connecting online and offline experiences
I was recently finishing up an outdoor lunch with a board member and saw the Starbucks down the street. It was a day packed with meetings and, pressed for time, I ordered via the app so I could pick it up and be on my way. The following weekend, I also went to Home Depot -- there’s just no way to survive a house project without a visit -- after pre-ordering some things I needed online.
Both cases illuminated how online and offline work so well on the consumer side. Whether you’re buying online and picking up in the store, or checking out what’s in a showroom and ordering online, B2C companies have this figured out. They’ve built multiple pathways that put consumers in the driver’s seat -- they choose when and how they interact, digitally, in person, or both -- but all these roads ultimately lead to the same place: the sale.
B2B marketers, do the same. Get inventive. Have digital take a larger role across the cycle; ideally, learnings from both digital and sales can inform and cross-pollinate each other and the process at every step. Ask yourself: How can your customers benefit from both self-serve digital mechanisms and more traditional sales interactions to kick the tires, experience your product, and enjoy on their terms? Think about using digital
Say it with me: recurring revenue. Subscription models aren’t new but the shift to fully embracing them is still happening. And moving away from the one-and-done, highly transactional model of simply purchasing a product or service is happening for good reason. For consumers, the “everything as a service” model delivers benefits; less friction, more seamless, and frequently more value in terms of less upfront investment, no associated maintenance or equipment upkeep, and a lighter-weight commitment they can exit when they see fit. Consumer companies are making this the gold standard -- for consumables like toilet paper and shampoo, for instance, Amazon defaults to offering you a subscription when you order. And they’re also working hard to eliminate thought and friction behind reordering -- for example, by having those Alexa-enabled buttons for favorite products you can just tap to buy again.
Companies are starting to take their cue from these consumer stalwarts and jumping on the subscription train; Cisco, for example, launched Cisco Plus to deliver hybrid cloud services -- specifically a network you install on prem that’s controlled by the cloud -- on a subscription basis. This is a wholesale business model change that shifts customers away from investing in the equipment itself. HP has printers that automatically monitor usage and reorder consumables (which is really what delivers for the bottom line). Ink as a service for B2B clients? Brilliant.
Perhaps beyond the revenue, what’s even more valuable is simply being connected in a more 360 fashion to the customer lifecycle (the intel you get alone from such an extended relationship is invaluable).
From shampoo that’s formulated for you by name based on quiz results to acne medication that’s created specifically to meet your skincare needs, we’re entering a new era of B2C customization. No longer is it enough to tailor what you see on digital properties to the customer -- that’s now table stakes. The smartest B2C companies are seeking -- and finding -- ways to shape their actual products and services so they feel incredibly personal, as though they were dreamed up just for you. There are no B2B marketing teams that have made this kind of leap at scale yet but there’s absolutely no reason not to. Empowering frontline marketers to micro-target customers in their region with unique approaches is the very first step on this path.
So if B2B marketers embrace the core components of the modern B2C experience -- personalization, subscriptions, an online/offline blend -- what’s the payoff? Primarily, it shifts marketing’s mandate from a myopic campaign, lead gen focus to become true orchestrators across the customer journey. It’s not about leads -- it’s about supporting a digital journey across all parts of the funnel, capturing new customer interest and ensuring the loyal retention of existing customers. It opens the door for chief marketing officers to claim a new seat at the table as they seize ownership of the process, activating sales and scaling up frontline marketers who create rich, personal experiences for prospects.
It’s a long overdue shift -- but for fast first movers, the rewards are ripe for the taking.