In these still-tight economic times, business owners may be tempted to skimp on promotion, especially when marketing to other businesses. Many just put up a stagnant website and run an occasional ad in an industry trade journal. But experts say successful business-to-business (B2B) marketing needs to provide a steady stream of consistent messages across a number of platforms.
Putting up a website is a good start for reaching other business owners who are potential customers, but it should not be a "once-and-done" approach.
"The best way to reach other businesses is through the Internet, but simply being online is not enough," said Linda Rigano, executive director of strategic services for Thomas Industrial Network, a New York-based firm that specializes in helping smaller industrial companies increase sales.
Just having an online presence isn't enough, though. Your B2B customers are still consumers and they need to detect coherence in your overall marketing strategy.
"Start with an Internet strategy that maps your overall business strategy." Rigano said. "How much do you want to grow, what markets will be most important to your growth, and what will constitute success in each of these markets? Set up your website to support your achieving these goals, with content that makes your company easy to find online, and helps convert prospects into buyers. Hold your website accountable for sales, and use analytics to continually measure results and refine your strategies."
Email and social media also are essential and fit into almost any budget, but they require effort and monitoring.
"I'd suggest tools like e-mail and social networking because not only do they come at little to no cost, but they are often user-friendly and allow you the ability to get very, very targeted who receives your message, when they receive it, how they receive it and why," said Jeremiah Sullivan, co-owner and operator of Woodbridge, N.J.-based Framework Media Strategies, a marketing and public relations firm. "Even better, these tools also allow for consistent and immediate communication between you and the business you've reached out to and also records a written history of everything shared."
Whatever approach a business owner takes, tracking the results and making adjustments is the key to success.
"The United States Postal Service's intelligent mail bar code tracking, which makes it possible to receive notifications that let you know when a direct mail piece will reach a recipient," said David Henkel, president of Niles, Ill.-based Johnson & Quin, a provider of integrated marketing services. "An email can then be sent or a call can be made to a prospect informing them that their mail piece is about to come."
It is also important to consider the types of businesses you are trying to reach when determining whether email, direct mail, banner ads or other vehicles are the best way to reach customers.
"It is difficult to recommend a standard business-to-business sales strategy for all small businesses as the volume of their sales funnel varies greatly," said H. David Hennessey, professor of marketing at Babson College in Babson Park, Mass. "For example, a demolition company that focuses on the demolition of large buildings may only need one or two jobs per week to fully utilize their staff and equipment, so they may only need to bid on four to six projects a week. However, a business that provides services to exhibitors at trade shows may need 50 to 60 prospects per week to end up with 15 to 20 customers. To get that volume of prospects, they may need to advertise with the local convention center and possibly purchase names of all exhibitors, which can be reached via direct mail, email or telemarketing."
Hennessey said Quick Response codes are a great way to enhance printed marketing materials with an interactive response.
"They are easy and cost-effective to create. A prospect can scan the bar code that is printed on a direct mail piece with a smartphone and be immediately directed to online content, whether it is a video demonstration, an invitation to sign up for an upcoming event or newsletter, or additional information on your latest product or service."
Old-fashioned networking should also be a priority when promoting your products and services to other business owners.
"Referrals from colleagues and referrals from service providers are still the top ways that businesses find service providers," said Mike Schultz, president of RAIN Group, a Framingham, Mass.-based sales consulting and training company.
Don't get locked into one particular method of outreach to new and existing business-to-business clients. "Like the old hockey metaphor, don't skate to where the customers are, skate to where they are going to be," Schultz said.
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