Traditional Ways Are Best in Marketing Online BTBs
E-mail, banner advertisements, pop-up windows, search engine listings and traditional advertising have their place in the mix, but when it comes to marketing a business-to-business pure play, traditional marketing methods remain invaluable.
Building the brand. Marketing an online service always starts with the "here we are" phase. Before you can start selling your product, you must build brand awareness, but with whom and where?
First, identify your key business proposition. Just as with an offline business, you must answer the question: Are you offering a unique service or a simplified version of an existing one? As a pure play, you will find that it is much easier to market yourself as the former, but the key is to determine the specific, core benefit from the onset; it will become the basis of all your communications. Look at the biggest Internet brands - eBay, Yahoo and Amazon.
They started with a single, easy-to-understand idea. Their proposition was clear. Look at your proposition closely and develop your "elevator speech," the one to two sentences that communicate your message clearly and succinctly.
Identify your markets and your audiences and begin the process of disseminating your message within the parameters of your budget. For most dot-coms starting out, money is tight. Therefore, budgets must be carefully guarded to maximize the effect of communications. Bringing in investors with a long-term view early will lead them to become your loudest advocates and best marketers, but, more importantly, this will help build a stronger base of financial support.
Use a combination of direct marketing, one-to-one meetings and public relations to maximize your share of voice at a minimum cost.
Remember, time is of the essence. The messages must be delivered quickly to as many people as possible. In the beginning you cannot be selective. Just get the word out, especially in the first two to six months. Obtaining media coverage for a new company is a great way to introduce yourself to your markets; therefore, integrate your public relations firm into your launch activities and go for as much press as possible while targeting the appropriate media. Just keep in mind that there is such a thing as "bad press."
Meeting with potential customers in person and building the buzz one person at a time helps you build your business through word of mouth and referrals, so after converting leads into clients, maintain relationships just as you would with any offline business. Building a successful online venture still relies heavily on effective relationship management. If you take anything away from this article, take this.
Adjusting the approach. I call this the "remember us?" phase. Once you have set the wheels in motion, take a step back and look carefully at your specific audiences. Refine your targets and start approaching them on a one-to-one basis. Hopefully they will have read about you in a trade publication, seen your brand at a conference or heard about you from a colleague. At this point you will find out if you are approaching the right people. Three months after my company launched we began cold-calling potential customers. We were often referred to different departments, but the same type of department at each company, so we partially scrapped our hit list and drew up a new list of contacts, which has worked much better.
In this phase of the marketing drive, hit some key trade shows. Attending trade shows is invaluable, but limit yourself to two to three a year and do them well. They must offer the maximum benefit and, therefore, must be chosen wisely. Register early to secure a prime location for your booth and once there be prepared to talk - a lot - to everyone. Collect and give business cards and follow up with leads as soon as possible.
At trade shows as everywhere else, you and your organization must constantly deliver consistent messages. All employees, from programmers to office administrators, must be given the templates for communicating the company's key messages. Hold internal meetings and question-and-answer sessions to make sure everyone understands and can communicate the core benefits of your offering. It is also important for all employees to know who does what in the company to ensure seamless internal communication. Employees, like investors, can be your best advocates. Keep them informed and keep them happy.
Growing the company. You may not have hit critical mass, but you have a strong enough client base that you feel comfortable expanding, and your investors expect it. Growing across borders, especially internationally, is one of the greatest advantages of the Internet, but the traditional marketing methods must still be retained, even at this point.
Small companies will want to continue to talk one-to-one with everyone, but this can become a daunting task as you grow. A good way to deal with this is to look at partnerships, affiliates and licensing agreements. In other words, let others sell your product for you. Just make sure you choose your affiliates carefully, and do not let your message become diluted along the way.
The most important thing to remember is that your audiences are not purely virtual. Your Web site should have enough information to answer your customers' general queries, but gaining critical mass for online BTB is nearly impossible without human interaction. Stick to old-school marketing principles when launching your pure play, and hopefully you will reach the "we've made it" phase, the ultimate goal and a very nice place to be.