Embrace a marketing culture

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B-to-b can be defined, in part, by its contrasts—and similarities—to consumer marketing. The b-to-b purchasing process is characterized by being more complex and drawn out, involving multiple individuals in the decision-making process. For these reasons, you can't necessarily approach businesses with a one-size-fits-all marketing approach.

What b-to-b can learn from b-to-c, however, is the need to embrace a marketing culture to go along with the strong sales orientation that most b-to-b companies already have. Strong branding and a memorable creative platform will support premium pricing and achieve differentiation. Data and testing will help guide spending and help products launch in new geographies. The hallmark of the successful b-to-b enterprise companies such as IBM, UPS and Microsoft is their ability to integrate sales and marketing.

The first step is to define your playing field by putting in perspective the size and structure of the industries that form your prospect universe. From here, the buyer can be honed in via a three-level contact strategy, starting with the enterprise (who they work for) to their location (where their office is physically situated) and finally to the individual at the base. Then, zero in on the individual buyer by listening to buying signals, such as data, lists and experience. Next, study contact history and nonbuyer influence. Ultimately, the buyers will fall into one of the six basic categories: specifiers, end-users, purchasers, decision-makers, influencers and gatekeepers.

Marketers must then help answer questions posted by each of these disparate parties: How does it benefit me in terms of my enterprise and location? What else might fit my needs? Why is this better than what others offer? These questions call for distinct answers for each person. This is where the marketing messages will have value.

For example, an IBM eServer campaign demonstrated how one overarching message can be communicated in distinct message streams to various individuals. A golf theme related to C-level executives, while IT people received communication with a different theme. Remember, individuals bring their own values and goals to the decision with such questions as: Is this good for my career? Am I lining up with my management?

B-to-b marketing is being done, but there is much room for improvement. Many companies still rely on the brute muscle of their sales force, but it's a very expensive resource for most tasks. Which company will be next to better integrate its sales and marketing departments to work smarter, not harder?

Barry Kessel is managing director-chief client development officer at Wunderman, New York. He can be reached at [email protected]

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