Swyft has been helping B2B tech companies of all kinds and sizes with marketing for nearly a decade in Austin, and nearly five years in Houston and Denver. That doesn’t include what our individual marketing professionals have done prior to joining Swyft. In other words, we’ve been playing in the B2B tech marketing game for long enough to learn, improve, and optimize many of the tactics involved in nurturing a brand from startup to maturity.
I challenged our marketing agency to come up with a list of items every B2B tech marketer should know as they seek to grow their B2B tech companies. Here are 12 we came up with:
Ready, fire, aim: think strategically first
Many B2B tech marketers have a tendency to get caught up with the transactional side of marketing rather than focusing on strategy. While not every marketing activity needs to have a strategic vision attached to it, they should nonetheless support the overarching marketing strategy. How else can you make sure your marketing campaign is targeting the right demographic with the right message, the right offer, and the right timing in the buyer’s journey?
The options to reach and communicate with target prospects is vast and more than a bit overwhelming. At the end of the day, the name of the game in B2B tech marketing is to know the most important needs of your key buyer personas and how to articulate your solution as the best answer to those needs.
The approach we have seen many B2B tech startups take is to focus on features ahead of benefits. They often think they know what their prospects want based on anecdotal accounts provided willy nilly. Often, however, they lack true insight about the needs and demographics of their key buyer personas (more on that below). Worse yet, they fail to focus on main customer types (based on industry, geography, application of solution, etc.) and instead cast a wide net using a highly generalized message in hopes it will reach more interested prospects. The results are almost always disappointing.
Better to understand your top three customer groups and focus your marketing activities around them. You can then create more personalized content and offerings while using the marketing communication tools and resources that best suit their needs (e.g., email, webinars, landing pages, social media, CPC campaigns, etc.). B2B tech marketing is part science, part creative experimentation, so it’s wise to plan, execute, and measure everything until the best-fitting formula emerges.
And be prepared to tweak and pivot your B2B tech marketing strategy and activities as needed given new technologies and trends. Speaking of that…
Stay on top of trends, not ahead
One temptation for every B2B tech marketer is to jump on the latest trend and new tool that comes to your attention. While there is something to be said for being an early adopter, rarely does it make sense to be ahead of the curve. That’s because the majority of your prospects and customers will themselves be in the early and late majority bucket. As such, it makes more sense to use the tried-and-true technologies and practices to continue reaching out to them. Once a new technology gets closer to critical mass, you can evaluate the new trend or technology for ways you can ramp its use to still be early enough in the adoption curve to maximize your reach and ROI.
Account-based marketing – is it right for you?
Speaking of hot trends, account-based marketing (or ABM) is about as hot as they come in the world of B2B tech marketing. What makes ABM so unique, and effective, is how it combines the best practices of inbound marketing with highly customized outreach to key accounts. Rather than broadcast demographic specific content through social media, PPC campaigns or public relations campaigns, a B2B marketer uses ABM to create and curate content specifically for key accounts a company is targeting.
A company’s sales force takes an active role in ABM as they ‘own’ the relationships and are in the best position to send highly personalized content, offers for white papers and webinars, and invitations to events like trade show parties or VIP dinners. It’s a very white glove approach that eschews the spray-and-pray approach often associated with general marketing.
Account-based marketing works best for technology companies with a smaller sales volume but larger deal sizes approaching six and seven figures. Think SaaS solutions to Fortune 1000 customers with a million dollar + price tag.
Marketing automation — friend or foe?
Many technology marketers utilize some form of marketing automation, whether they realize it or not. MailChimp and Constant Contact provide many of the marketing tools found in more advanced marketing automation solutions like HubSpot, Pardot, and Marketo. Swyft prefers working with HubSpot in no small part because it’s packed with features designed for SMB organizations to run practically out of the box without requiring a HubSpot specialist on staff.
Marketing automation solutions can vary greatly in look and feel, and run the gamut from free to thousands of dollars to buy and set up. At the end of the day, the solution that works best for most B2B tech marketers is the one that accomplishes the most of what they need done with the greatest efficiency at the best possible price.
Sounds so easy, right? Shopping around for the right marketing automation solution will involve more than just a quick run-down of the top 10 solutions or a referral from a friend. You’ll need to poll your key stakeholders in your company — CMO, executives, sales, marketing colleagues — to determine what their needs and expectations are.
For instance, will your sales team want a more sophisticated analysis of leads based on levels of engagement with marketing collateral before they get handed off to sales as a sales qualified lead? If so, then you may need a marketing automation tool that allows for more advanced lead scoring and highly customizable workflows that track lead engagement from landing pages, emails, social media, etc. If your stakeholders want seamless integration to a robust CRM tool like Salesforce, then your options will naturally become more limited. Pardot, Hubspot, and Marketo all integrate with Salesforce; but since Pardot is owned by Salesforce it has the best integration to Salesforce and its rich application ecosystem — but it also happens to be among the priciest option available for SMBs.
Quality content still rules
Content is king. Always has been, always will be. Creating great content applies to all aspects of B2B tech marketing: website, blog, campaign landing pages, press releases, social media, webinars, videos, infographics, etc. The average B2B company will not be adept at creating such a wide array of content at an expert level. That’s okay. As long as the right talent is close at hand, whether on staff or in a 3rd party agency, then the content creation is manageable.
It should be noted that there are two unique challenges to content marketing. First, content creation must be in alignment with your marketing strategy and appeal to your key buyer personas. It must be well written (or produced in the case of videos and podcasts), reflect your brand voice and personality, support your SEO strategy, and align with your key marketing messages. Second, content must be distributed, or otherwise, it will fail to reach the intended audience and drive the desired outcome — more traffic, leads, and sales. The good news is, once you solve your content creation conundrum, the distribution side of the equation is far easier to manage with a marketing automation solution like HubSpot or Pardot.
Buyer personas – make the people real
We’ve written a lot more on how to create buyer personas in the past, but for a high-level review of what B2B tech marketers should know we can quickly summarize as follows: make them as real as possible. That’s right, assign a name, make up a convincing psychographic profile (education, attitudes and interests, age and gender, beliefs), and even find a picture you can visualize to make communicating to this customer easier.
Having precise buyer personalities makes segmenting and running campaigns easier and more effective. Why? Because you are talking directly to their needs and pain points, using the language they are comfortable with, and serving up content and offers designed to appeal to them and not some other random person.
Buyer personas may be the single most important thing a B2B tech marketer should know and get right.
Buyer’s journey — it’s about timing
The buyer’s journey is made up of several stages, including awareness on the part of the buyer that there is a problem or need, consideration of different solutions to address the need, and a decision made to purchase a solution for the problem.
B2B tech marketers must design content that maximizes the chance of gaining the attention of a buyer in the late awareness / early consideration stage. Content suited for that more often than not includes blog posts with titles that ask the same questions the buyer is asking and, with any luck, score high for organic searches on designated keywords. And don’t shy away from being specific with your keyword or title.
For instance, we specialize in helping B2B tech companies with their trade show PR and marketing. One of our blog posts is titled “How to plan for a trade show PR and media campaign” to target companies either dissatisfied with past trade show media coverage or unsure about how to get it. The number of searches on the keyword ‘plan for a trade show media campaign’ may actually be fairly low but the people looking up that keyword stand a greater chance of being more interested in that content and related service offerings.
Getting that initial click to the blog post not only allows the buyer to consume and process your content but it’s also a chance to add links to other content related to the topic. For example, we added a free white paper download on designing a successful trade show marketing plan and also included a link to a case study on how we helped a client double its trade show media coverage.
Middle-of-funnel (MOFU) content might correspond to the late consideration and early decision stage of the buyer’s journey. The webinar a B2B marketing company creates should show how the solution answers the specific needs of a prospective buyer. Again, making sure that MOFU content aligns closely with the buyer persona is key to ensuring the buyer keeps your brand top-of-mind at the decision stage of the journey.
The decision stage is often the hardest stage to address from a content perspective. This is where a close working relationship between marketing and sales really pays off. The sales team should feed the marketing team with insight on what the average buyer looks for when trying to come to a decision. Feedback on what worked and didn’t work in a sale is critical as you want to continuously iterate content toward what the buyer seeks during this phase.
Don’t forget the customer journey
The customer journey is different from the buyer’s journey in that it focuses on the sum total experience a customer goes through from initial awareness of your brand all the way through how they interact with your company as a customer. While B2B tech marketers may not have insight and control over the entire set of interactions a coworker has with a customer, they can and should argue for a unified brand experience. That means that everything from chatbots to how a customer perceives the brand when talking to tech support should be infused with the same brand guidelines and values.
Do you have a call center staff providing live support for key customers? Then make sure their script is consistent with your brand and even makes customers aware of new service or product offers that could spark interest in a new purchase. Have you ever been to Chick-fil-A and noticed how polite, friendly and professional their counter staff are? They always end the order with a “My pleasure” to the customer. And they mean it! That does wonders to cement a positive customer experience.
SEO plays a crucial role
SEO underpins everything all marketing efforts. Without a smart SEO strategy, getting found through organic searches on the major search engines becomes practically impossible.
Every aspect of your website content should be optimized for the keywords that have the potential to reach your target audience. Not sure what keywords matter most to your company and buyer personas? Try Google Search Trends. It’s free and allows you to see how keywords are trending over time. You can also use a tool like SEMRush to figure out what your competitors use for their keywords. You can then feed those keywords into Google Search Trends or other tools (see this article from the Arefs blog for a LOT more ideas) to come up with the keywords that promise to deliver higher rankings on search engine results pages.
Bottom line: any content you create, be it a web page for a service offering or a blog article, be sure to use the keyword in the title and sprinkle it around the content (don’t go overboard as search engines will deem your content as too spammy and penalize you).
The keyword should be the north star on your content compass — always present, not necessarily the main direction, but close enough to get qualified visitors to your content.
Think like a data analyst
B2B tech marketers have to be skilled at reading the data sets surrounding digital marketing. Free tools like Google Analytics allow you to see a ton of helpful information on what the traffic looks like, including visitor time-on-site, what pages are visited, whether they convert by, and more. While the data is anonymized, which is to say you don’t get to see individual visitors data (IP addresses, names), the data in the aggregate can help a B2B tech company learn what works, what needs improved, and what should be tossed (low performing blog articles).
To give you some additional context and a chance to do a deep dive on using Analytics, check out the blog article I recently published about how Google Analytics can be used to measure the impact of PR on a company’s website and even its lead generation.
Good design matters
B2B tech marketers should avoid bad design at all cost. Whether it’s website design, or how content assets like white papers and case studies are designed, nothing sends a signal about the personality and professionalism of a brand as quickly and definitively as its design elements. That’s why B2B tech companies should ensure that their brand elements are well designed and utilized throughout the portfolio of content assets.
Websites with a poor user experience and shoddy design elements will almost certainly blunt even the most brilliantly conceived and executed content, especially given that the average website visitor may stay less than 15 seconds before exiting. White papers, case studies, and data sheets with poor branding and bad layouts won’t go very far in convincing a potential customer to trust your company with its money and trust. The DIY design approach may work for early-stage B2B tech startups, but if they hope to scale and win market share they will need to improve their marketing collateral.