Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Seven Steps to Successful B2B Marketing

The team from our marketing and design firm was meeting with a client yesterday who asked us to describe what we felt were some of the critical success factors in an effective B2B marketing campaign. Here is a high-level overview of how we see this critical element of business growth.

  1. The first step is that you must clearly define your brand. What do you really sell? What values do you stand for? What truly differentiates you from all of your competitors? What bold and unique brand promise can you make… and keep! Unless you are really clear about who you are and what you sell you will not be able to develop a focused and meaningful B2B marketing campaign.
  2. Who is the right customer for you? You cannot be all things to all people – success comes from FOCUS. What, specifically, does your “Ideal Client” look like? What are the quantifiable attributes of the sort of client where you can deliver a home-run experience at a fair and reasonable profit? I have seen so many businesses get into trouble by trying to market and sell to anyone who has a pulse. This is a key business law: selling to the wrong clients can put you out of business.

    For the particular client we were meeting with it became quickly apparent that they actually only had about 30 or 40 prime target customers in the entire state where they operated. If they closed even one or two of these top prospects it would have a tremendous impact to their firm. This is a much different sort of marketing campaign then if you had thousands of possible clients. So for them, focus will be critical.

  3. Once you have identified your ideal target customers, you need to learn everything you humanly can about them and their businesses. What keeps them up at night? What do they focus on? How do they make a profit? What are their priorities? How do they make decisions about buying the sort of products and services you offer? What do they think about your company? About your competitors? Remember: the ONLY critic whose opinion counts is the customer. The more you understand them, the better job you can do of clearly positioning your company as the perfect solution to their needs.

    And make no mistake, this takes a lot of leg work and research and it is not easy to get this sort of information… but it is absolutely essential to make it a priority to find, collect and study this data. The best place to start is with your current top customers. Are you surveying them regularly? Do you take key customers to lunch once or twice a year to talk about their needs? Do your sales people keep detailed notes on the issues, concerns, comments of your top customers? To be successful you need to make a VERY careful study of your best current customers in order to figure out exactly how to market to similar prospective customers. Sounds really obvious – almost no one does this effectively.

  4. Next is to develop a plan of action and set of marketing tools to allow you to deliver a focused, meaningful and unique marketing message directly to your key target customers.This might include such things as brochures, web sites, HTML emails, instructional DVDs, trade show displays, and advertising (depending on the specific product or service you offer and the sort of market you are selling to). Again, the key here is focus. It is very easy to waste a lot of money advertising in places that will never result in you winning business. If you truly understand your target customer, you’ll also likely be able to easily identify the best ways to reach them. Go with the obvious ones first, track them for effectiveness and then increase or experiment to fine tune your marketing system. CAUTION: understand this… there is no ONE silver bullet. This is trial and error folks. There are no guarantees. You do your homework; you build a plan; you roll it out; track it; and adjust. Over and over again.
  5. The best possible marketing for any B2B business is: Referrals! Listen, I own an advertising agency… and I do not advertise it! For the past several years 99.9% of all of our business comes directly from happy customers telling their friends and colleagues about our company. I came into the office this morning and had three emails requesting work from us… all from referrals. They are truly more powerful than the magic of compound interest! So, how to you get referrals? It is very simple, but not easy.

    There are two steps.

    1.  ALWAYS deliver on your brand promise. Do great work. Offer incredible service. Build fantastic products. Charge fair prices. Hire the best people. Show up on time. Finish what you start. Say “please” and “thank you.” Have a great attitude. Be passionate about your company and serving your customers… in other words: Do what you say you will do. Again, sounds rather obvious – yet VERY few companies do this with discipline.
    2. As soon as a customer says, “Wow, you sure did a super job on this, we really enjoy working with you.” You immediately follow up with, “Thank you so much, I am very happy that you’re pleased with our work, and by the way – it would be wonderful if you could let anyone you feel might benefit from our expertise know about our firm. Referrals from happy customers like you are a incredibly important to us.”
  6. I think now is a good place to mention another important factor in effective marketing: CONGRUENCE. If you do a super job in uniquely branding and positioning your company then you must also do a superior job in making sure that EVERY aspect of your company personifies the brand promise. From how you answer the phone, to your packaging, to the cleanliness of your offices, to your trucks, to how your fax sheets and invoices look, to uniforms, to your web site, to your letterhead, to your business cards — everything must be 100% congruent with the expectations you have set up in your customer’s mind. There must be a commitment throughout your entire firm to “live the brand’ in every single aspect of your business. (this is such an important idea it will be the topic of an upcoming blog).
  7. Lastly it is about repetition. Scores of research findings indicate it typically takes seven to nine exposures to an advertisement or message before the consumer actually acknowledges it and takes time to consider the product or service. So staying at “top of mind” through multiple marketing and PR initiatives is a critical goal. However, let’s remember that a B2B customer is usually very busy and does not like to be bothered with ads or sales people. The key then is to make sure that every time you touch the customer (through any media or in person) that you are adding value. You are delivering important ideas and information, solving problems, demonstrating ROI, building TRUST, showing competence, exhibiting concern, helping to improve profits, reducing costs… they need to see you as a valuable resource, never as a bother or unwanted distraction.

I could probably write another 10 pages, but I think this hits many of the top items. If you nail these seven items you are probably well on your way to building an effective and successful B2B marketing program.

If you have any questions or would like to offer your thoughts, I welcome your comments here on the blog, or feel free to send me a note or call.
Have a super day — John


  1. Thomas Iversen says:

    Good Morning John,

    I met you at Regions Bank Seminar. I have enjoyed your blog . Thanks for all the good ideas. Tom

  2. Thanks for the note Tom — glad you have found value in the ideas I have been posting — let me know if there is anything specific you’d like me to address — and if you get a moment please pass along a link to my blog to anyone you feel might enjoy reading it.

    Take good care — John