B2B buyers are just like everyone else—they put their pants on one leg at a time and they expect top-notch digital experiences from the companies they buy those pants from. You know who else they expect those experiences from? You. The vendor who wants to sell them something.
Why then, are so many B2B companies still relying heavily on old ways of doing business? Because change is hard. And marketing is complicated. We get it. And we’re here to offer some ideas that might make it a little easier.
We’ve seen it many times: B2B marketers get tasked by leadership to keep their website looking good, or run their PPC campaign, or plan their next tradeshow, or worse, miraculously find an abundance of new SQLs to hand over to the sales team in a crazy-short period of time.
If you work in one of those marketing departments, we feel you. We don’t think you should be acting as support staff to your sales department. We think both teams should be working in tandem to get the most out their talents. For sales, it’s developing relationships. For marketing, it’s telling the world about your brand.
That’s where your digital transformation comes in. When done harmoniously within an organization, it’s a win for everyone.
In the first part of this article, we’ll touch on the stages of digital transformation and offer ideas to consider as you’re working through each one. In the second part, we’ll discuss the secret sauce for getting the most out of the mountains of data you’ll be buried in as your transformation morphs into your new normal.
PART 1: THE STAGES
Starting to plan
Congratulations. You’re about to undertake a terrifying monstrosity. But the result will be worth every second of it—assuming you’re doing it for the right reasons. This isn’t just about doing a few things differently to move your business ahead. The name says it all. It’s a transformation.
At the end of the day, if your CEO can’t say your digital transformation resulted in new business advantages or adaptability, they you really haven’t transformed.1
Start by thinking about who needs to be convinced this is the right thing and anticipate their objections. They’ll run the gamut from concerns about the chaotic nature of it all, the fear of a job change or elimination, concerns around learning new technology, or an attitude that change isn’t necessary.
Work to instill the basic belief that customers come first, and this is what they want. Some may argue the case, but most will agree. If it’s your salespeople with the biggest bark, remind them this could free up their time for other things (like nurturing relationships over lunch or on the golf course). Ensure them their roles won’t be eliminated. In fact, you’ll need them more than ever because new leads will be coming in (if your marketing is good…more on that in Section 2). In a nutshell, you’ll be empowering them to do their jobs better than ever before.
When devising your master plan, approach it like any other big project and you’re golden. Define the business goals that are driving the transformation (not your tech goals, but the big-picture goals—why you’re really doing this and what you’re trying to accomplish).
Then develop your strategy (this is where your tech goals come in). Figure out which tools you need: CRM, CMS integration, Marketing Automation, eCommerce, CPQ, product visualization, product demos. Do your research. Buy some subscriptions. Hire some vendors. Make sure everything integrates. Train your staff. And you’re done.
Okay, it’s obviously not that simple, but there are tons of articles out there that go into much greater detail on this. Go read those. And be sure to talk to your peers and/or use social media for recommendations on platforms that work for others. We’ve seen a lot of them in action and can offer our unbiased thoughts on their features and benefits.
In the thick of it
You’ve already started and you’re busier than the airport at Thanksgiving. But you’re taking a break to read this article, and for that we’re very grateful. Here are some things to think about before jumping back into the chaos that has become your life.
Keep the vision front and center by communicating early and often. Pretend the success of your entire business depends on it (because it does). Ensure everyone has a good understanding of where you are going, trusts they will be trained when the time comes, and believes they have an important role to play.
Continue to evaluate your progress against the business strategy you defined upfront, not just against the tech roadmap. Implement training plans with support from the vendors you hired.
Communicate your progress internally and externally. Now is the time to start talking about how your new capabilities will make you different (and better) than your competitors.
It hurts us a little bit to say this, but you’ll never actually be finished. (That doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate milestones). Think of this as the end of a big gnarly phase and then start building in systems to continue your technology evolution. Accelerate and strengthen your internal training—you want the right people to understand and make good use of the data they now have access to. Ensure any new processes are adopted and working the way they should. Look for ways to continually grow your new ecosystem.
Been at it for a while
At this point, you should be seeing some results from the changes you’ve made. You’re starting to reach your efficiency goals, your people are getting the hang of new ways of doing things, you’re seeing some initial growth, and your competitors can see you coming in their rearview mirrors. The machines are talking to each other, and they’ve produced all the data you’ve been dreaming about.
Celebrate a little more, while continuing to work toward your differentiators. Stay agile. Use your data to better understand your customers and prospects. Expand your ecosystem and build meaningful creative to further enrich their experiences with you.
How? We thought you’d never ask.
PART 2: DIFFERENTIATING WITH DATA
Jazz it up
As data starts flowing in from every direction and piling up in the corner, your in-house Data Wizards (that’s you—the marketing department) will work your magic. You’ll report on website stats, PPC rates, email opens, engagement numbers. You’ll test, do more of what works, and do less of what doesn’t. Then rinse and repeat.
But wait, there’s more.
This is where our friends Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning come in. When your data is fed into these systems, you’ll get so much more information than even you, a Data Wizard, can brew up. You’ll get actionable information about the behavior patterns, psychological drivers, personal values, and insights into choices your customers make.
The result is your data on steroids. This enriched data is the foundation on which to build your truly differentiating brand or campaign.
Throw some light on it
Through deep interpretation of your enriched data, you’ll learn things you didn’t know about your audience or things that challenge your assumptions. You’ll find out what makes them tick and what they care about.
You can model your preferred audience, build real customer journeys (not the ones you think customers should be taking, but the ones they’re actually taking), and most importantly, communicate with your audience in meaningful and memorable ways. Which leads to a much higher likelihood of consideration and conversion.
You already know that a B2B buyer’s #1 business goal is to contribute to the success of their company. Knowing the “why” behind the decisions they make (which are based on personal values and psychological drivers) is the key to your creative strategy approach.
Build intelligent creative
This is when things get really fun—when you get to build positioning and messaging strategies around the interpretations you’ve made. This is your chance to talk about more than just the features and benefits of your products. It’s your chance to develop a customer-centric creative strategy based on facts about your audience, rather than assumptions about them or how you wish they would respond.
For example, if you sell bearings and your buyer’s job is to keep the manufacturing process running smoothly by purchasing the most reliable parts, you’ll want them to know they can count on your products (aka Marketing 101).
But if you know they place a high value on having a good reputation in their workplace, then you can speak to that value and connect with them on a more emotional level. So, instead of leading with “our bearings will keep your machines running”, you say “our bearings are for customers with high standards”.
And if you know they value the freedom to be creative, then you know they’ll likely respond to themes of innovation, originality, or cleverness. This could result in content designed with visual cues, layout style, photography, and graphic elements that are crafted by your designers with these themes in mind (within your brand standards, of course).
People unconsciously respond best to their own affinity biases, so when your communications say “we value what you value”, they’ll more likely start a conversation with you.
As you activate your marketing against these deeply customized audiences, you can use the strengths of AI-enabled advertising and marketing to continue to reevaluate who your best audiences are and how to reach them. In the long run, this will strengthen your customer relationships by anticipating their needs and responding in the ways they prefer.
How it works IRL
Here are a few examples that show our approach to helping B2B companies differentiate themselves with enriched data and intelligent creative.
A product visualization company builds brand awareness
A bearing company successfully launches eCommerce
With digital transformation comes great opportunity…and responsibility. As a B2B marketers looking to survive and thrive in the Attention Economy, you must take every advantage of the data you’re collecting. Because if all that tech doesn’t make you better at convincing prospects that you’re the one they should work with, or convincing your customers that you’ve got their backs, you can’t call it a success.