B2B companies are increasingly borrowing marketing strategies that have proven successful in B2C markets. In the technology sector, borrowing from the consumer world has been referred to as the “consumerization of IT.” I think it’s equally important to talk about the consumerization of B2B marketing.
B2C companies have learned how to market cost-effectively to the masses, presenting buyers with transparent pricing and a simple purchasing process. In the B2B world, sales and marketing has tended to be more complex–largely because they’re dealing with more complex products and buying processes.
But B2B buyers also appreciate simple marketing, transparent pricing and a frictionless buying process. After all, business buyers are just consumers when they leave their day job.
This article looks at four ways B2B companies can consumerize their marketing. While our examples draw largely from the tech industry, we think these strategies can be tailored to work in many B2B industries.
1. More Marketing Investment = Less Sales Investment
SolarWinds, which sells its network management software to IT departments, has found several keys to using their marketing to limit their sales investment–all of which are common in the B2C world.
First, the company puts all the information buyers want to know front and center on its website–a priority these days given that 70 percent of B2B buying activity happens before a salesperson is engaged. The site provides product specifications, customer testimonials, free trials and demos, and more in plain English terms.
Screenshot of a SolarWinds product description.
Second, their pricing is fixed, not negotiable. While it’s generally understood that B2B buyers negotiate purchase prices with their salesperson, marketers can circumvent the need to negotiate–and thereby accelerate the buying process–by providing pricing information on their website. While it may be difficult to give an exact price, marketers can at least list tiered pricing models to better inform buyers during the research process.
Screenshot of SolarWinds pricing levels for one product.
Third, you can pay by credit card. Although this may not be an option for every B2B company, it can greatly simplify the procurement process. SolarWinds will allow companies to purchase a $29,995 product online with a credit card. Since B2B buyers like to have multiple options, marketers might also consider extending a line of credit or providing direct billing online.
Screenshot of SolarWinds checkout. Click for larger image.
Finally, as discussed in the next section, SolarWinds removes an obstacle to purchase by offering free, fully-functional product trials. All of these marketing strategies help reduce the need to rely on an outside sales team to inform B2B buyers. SolarWinds still maintains an inside sales team, but their role is largely to address any questions or concerns customers have that weren’t addressed by the website, online community forums, online demo, free trial or other means.
2. Give (Some of) It Away Now!
We all like getting something for nothing. But as a company, it can be hard to decide how much to give away. In the B2B world, Yammer is the freemium posterchild. Allowing business users to download the free product has helped get Yammer into roughly 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies. But Yammer has had a difficult time up-selling companies and only 20 percent of companies pay for the service.
Instead of giving away your product completely, B2B marketers can have more success offering a trial version of their product. Ecommerce platform vendors Volusion and Bigcommerce are great examples of using a free trial to get users to realize a product’s value. Each vendor offers their platform for a free two-week trial period because they know you’ll spend countless hours configuring your store, and won’t want to throw away your work to switch vendors.
Sam Lawrence, CEO of Crushpath, a sales lead management system, thinks the key for B2B companies is lowering barriers to entry for using a product–and having marketing that focuses on getting people using it rather than telling them how great it is. Crushpath’s homepage marketing does just that with their only call to action being to sign up and try the service.
Screenshot of Crushpath.
Crushpath experimented with marketing a freemium and a trial version. The problem with the freemium model, according to Lawrence, was that product users often lacked purchasing authority and it produced few qualified leads. So he tried offering a trial version–with a twist.
Rather than force a buying decision after a trial period, users are prompted to get the paid version of Crushpath before finalizing a campaign. Lawrence says that moving to this model “allowed users to get in and use the product and understand it’s value before we asked them to pay for it.” According to Lawrence, this change has drastically shortened the sales cycle and resulted in a three-fold increase in leads generated.
In Lawrence’s view, the pendulum is swinging back toward the middle in marketing, where companies are learning that giving away a full-featured version of their product may not be the best lead generation strategy. Instead, you should market a version that gets people using your product and understanding how it can benefit them. Then nudge a purchase decision once they want to put the full product to use.
3. Gamify Customer Feedback to Create Advocates
Enterprise buyers want to know what their peers think of a product. Customer testimonials have always been a part of B2B marketing, but new technology platforms like Influitive, a platform that allows you to manage customer advocates, are providing marketers with a way to get customer advocates more actively involved in your marketing strategy.
The Influitive platform helps catalyze customer advocates by enabling B2B marketers to create challenges (e.g., provide a product review) that customers can complete in exchange for points, badges and graduated user levels. These accomplishments can be traded in for anything from a $25 Amazon gift card to a free seminar. Marketing automation vendor Act-On recently started using Influitive to involve their customers in their marketing. Below is a screenshot of how they use Influitive.
Screenshot of Act-On creating a challenge on Influitive. Click for larger image.
In this challenge, Act-On is asking their customers to share changes in conversion rates from offering a free trial product–and how different lead nurturing tactics impacted lead qualification. Jeff Linton, Act-On’s Product Marketing Manager, says that using Influitive drastically improved their level of connection with their customer base and that a challenge like this may receive up to 50 replies. While only one may be chosen, the number of replies every challenge creates a pool of customer advocates that Act-On can use in later marketing campaigns.
In addition to providing the marketing department with a customer advocate pool, Linton thinks that having customers answer these challenges helps establish the customer as a thought leader in their field. It can also help customers become more familiar with your product and adept at using it to the fullest potential. For instance, Act-On offers two free hours of best practices consulting to customers in exchange for 200 points.
4. Create an Educational Marketing Game
To hop on the gamification craze, you may consider turning your marketing into an actual game. While this sounds difficult for a B2B marketing company, enterprise network security vendor SonicWALL managed to pull it off by creating The Network Security Challenge. The game simulates the difficulty of manually controlling airport security–which is similar to the difficulty of manually controlling network security.
As you play, packages speed up to a point where it’s impossible to screen what should make it through and what shouldn’t. The point is to show that in the same way you can’t manually decide what should make it through, neither can your IT team. Therefore, you need an enterprise network security system to do it for you.
Rick Mathieson, Creative Strategist at MATHIESON, says that he came up with the idea for the game after he read a study saying white collar workers (including IT professionals) like to play computer games while at work. Assuming this would resonate with IT professionals who make the purchasing decision, they built the game and started outreach via a microsite and their own email database to reach IT decision makers.
They also bought ad space in online publications such as Network World to expand their reach. The campaign was surprisingly successful. In the time period that this marketing campaign ran:
- More than 100,000 people played the game;
- Five percent of people converted by filling out the online form with their company information; and,
- One percent of conversions turned into marketing qualified leads.
In total, Rick Wootten–who managed the campaign at SonicWALL–says the campaign was under six-figures in spend and that the leads generated a substantial return on investment, although he declined to give an exact figure. In any case, a relatively cheap marketing campaign generated 50 customers for purchases worth tens of thousands of dollars each.
The SonicWALL example demonstrates that virtually any company can come up with creative ways to turn educational marketing material into a game if you create something that resonates with your target audience. If you market to sales professionals, for instance, you might create a game to show them how they need to automate prospect tracking in order to close more deals.
As the world’s of the B2B and B2C marketing continue to collide, we’re likely to more B2B companies adopt strategies that we already know help sell consumer products. What are you best tips for thinking like a B2C marketer and consumerizing your marketing? Leave us a note in the comments section to share your tips.