In the rapidly evolving B2B market landscape, businesses must retain existing customers while simultaneously attracting new ones to sustain and grow their operations.

This article explores existing tactics for building awareness and maximising engagement. As the rise of AI disrupts B2B marketing, we deliver our view on the best tactics to employ moving forward.

Assumptions

The following discussion assumes a business has the following (the basics) in place.

  • A deep understanding of its differentiators and unique selling points.
  • Clearly defined audiences and market segments.
  • A grasp of buyer behaviour and the supplier selection process.
  • Clear messaging.
  • Established brand guidelines.

That mesh with the business’s long-term strategy and plan.

Sales In B2B Markets – The Basics

Any business in B2B markets needs customer orders to survive. It needs more sales (turnover) than outgoings (costs).

Turnover can be based on delivering high volumes of products at a low price, low volumes at a high cost, winning the occasional high-value contract or a mix.

Orders (sales) tend to come from a mix of existing customers and new customers. Sales can be recurring, Ad-hoc or both.

Businesses can focus their efforts on existing or new customers. A focus on existing alone is unlikely to succeed, as there will always be some attrition.

So businesses need orders from new customers. To succeed, potential customers must be aware of the business and the solution it offers. Then, those in the market for a solution need to be persuaded to initiate some form of contact (become a prospect).

The Standard B2B Marketing Advice

First, let’s look at securing sales from new customers. When marketing to existing customers, many of the awareness challenges outlined below disappear.

There are two strands to the new business approach: awareness building and engagement (lead generation).

What are the marketing tactics generally recommended for awareness campaigns?

Online Content Marketing: Creating and sharing valuable content (blog posts, white papers and e-books) to establish the business as a thought leader. Publish on the industry’s trusted content sources and “owned” marketing channels. Use case studies and testimonials to build credibility.

Offline Content Marketing: As above, but publish in any publication the target audience might read.

Social Media Marketing: Using platforms like LinkedIn to share content and increase visibility. Often, Ads are necessary to increase reach.

Trade Shows and Industry Conferences: Participating in or sponsoring events or award ceremonies. Speaking opportunities are particularly valuable.

Partnerships and Collaborations: Teaming up with other businesses that offer complementary products or services.

Paid Advertising: Display Ads targeted at specific market sectors or locations.

Public Relations: Engaging with media and industry influencers to obtain mentions in news articles, interviews, and other media outlets.

Digital PR: Linked to SEO (discussed below), but its prime function is to increase awareness.

Traditional Advertising: In relevant industry publications.

Obviously, some tactics overlap and impact both awareness and lead generation. In general, recommended lead-generation activities for businesses in B2B markets include:

Account-Based Selling: Sales and marketing work together to penetrate a target account. This includes outreach tactics like email, INMail and cold calling.

Content (Inbound) Marketing: Develop high-quality, informative content addressing the prospects’ specific needs and pain points.

LinkedIn Marketing: Particularly effective for B2B lead generation. Use for publishing articles, participating in industry groups, and running targeted advertising campaigns.

Email Marketing: Build a targeted email list (see content marketing – above) and send personalised email campaigns.

Webinars and Online Events: Effective for list building (see EMail – above) and lead nurturing.

Pay-Per-Click Advertising: Present Ads to those in the market for a solution.

Traditional Advertising:

Networking and Partnerships: Attend industry conferences, trade shows, and networking events to meet potential customers and partners in person.

Direct Mail: Personalised letters, brochures, leaflets or samples sent to potential clients

Account-Based Marketing (ABM): focuses on targeting specific high-value accounts rather than the broader market. Related to Account Based Selling (see above)

Problems With The Standard B2B Marketing Approach

As a thought experiment, let’s assume there is no internet. What tactics remain?

In the awareness camp, we have offline content marketing, trade shows, partnerships, PR and traditional advertising.

Under the lead generation banner, we have account-based selling, networking, trade shows, traditional advertising and direct mail.

We exclude Inbound marketing because content distribution is largely online. Email marketing is omitted as, without the internet, it is difficult to build a list. ABM could not function without the internet.

A pointless experiment you may think, because the internet does exist, but as we outlined in the following posts:

Navigating the changing landscape of online search

Information delivery – Current challenges & future trends

SGE – The impact on content delivery

 It is increasingly difficult to get found online. Online marketing will not go away, but the emergence of AI deep learning-based tools provides the user (customer) with another set of options.

These new options will allow customers to operate differently too today. How they search for information will be different and the resources they interrogate will change.

How this all ends up is impossible to predict with any certainty, but we do have some idea of which marketing tactics will be impacted by AI the most. We suggest it is those tactics that are currently online-based. A proportion of the target audience’s eyeballs will switch to new channels.

AI makes it easier to generate content at scale. It makes it easier for existing low-quality content producers to produce something more acceptable. The result is even more content and more that falls into the average (than dross) bucket.

AI makes social media posting faster and (again) facilitates a move from dross to average. Deep learning tools can already improve Ad quality and effectiveness. AI-driven tools are emerging that can improve email marketing effectiveness. They all increase the level of competition. It’s already challenging to show up online, but it’s about to get a lot worse.

Search engine optimisation tactics will remain but will change over time. Visibility online will be harder to achieve. Information silos (knowledge bases) will emerge that will be difficult for marketing to penetrate.

A Way Forward In The Age Of AI

In our opinion, those who are the best (say, the top 20%) at anything will be fine. As touched on above, AI-based tools are a leveller. They will struggle to replace the best a human can do, at least for now.

Hence, there are three options: either be in that top 20%, develop alternative tactics or both. Take those options to most senior managers and they will say that’s fine, we will just make sure we are (or we already are!) the best.

It fits with the corporate speak, sits well with investors, but not so great for the poor souls who have to make it happen. There is a reason every business is not the very best at what it does.

What marketing tactics are likely to be less impacted by AI tools? Those that need a human. Tactics like PR that require relationships with journalists and editors, account-based sales where relationships still have value, events and speaking engagements, webinars, communities and collaborations.

AI will help the marketer with data-crunching tasks such as targeting audiences. As personalised assistants, AI tools will take out many repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

There will still be a need for content in all its forms to fuel the marketing process. That was true long before the internet became a thing and it will still apply in the age of AI.

In summary, while traditional online marketing tactics have been effective, AI will be a disruptor. We suggest a shift towards an alternative, more human-centric, marketing approach.

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