A BTB Strategy in Three Lessons

Business marketers are perfectly suited to the Web world. Their customers are Net-savvy, often early adopters, with lots of bandwidth. As businesspeople themselves, they have the Internet on the brain, trying to figure out how to get the most value for their businesses. And as buyers, they certainly expect their suppliers — i.e., business marketers — to optimize the Web to make their buying experience faster, cheaper, better.

But the Web can be daunting. Customer expectations are high. New applications come out daily. Whizzy features abound. Legacy systems remain a millstone. It’s hard to keep up, never mind marshal the resources needed to innovate continually.

So I propose a simple way that business marketers can carve out an effective Internet marketing strategy for themselves, without investing a lot of time and money in tools, agencies or fancy consultants. All you need is a few hours. Developing the strategy involves three steps.

Step one. Back up and remind yourself of the basics of business marketing. Ask yourself: Am I doing everything I can to understand my customer and his needs and satisfy those needs every day?

When an exciting new toy — I mean tool — comes along, it’s easy to get excited about its whizzy features and forget about marketing basics. First look at your customer and his needs and deliver extremely well against those needs.

Step two. Analyze your go-to-market strategy. Business marketers already have good strategies in place. They know their customers, their buying preferences and how to sell to them and service them. So lay out that process, step by step, in a column.

Then automate the process, using the Web wherever it fits and adds value.

This is simple, but it works. Here are some stages to go through that make the process cheaper, faster or more satisfying to customers:

o Research customer needs. Use online focus groups or simple customer surveys on your Web site.

o Communicate. Use e-mail, put an offer on your Web site or shift some of your “road show” seminars to the Web, especially those involving current customers.

o Fulfill campaign inquiries. Make your collateral available for Web download and deliver it via e-mail. That way, collateral material can be not only updated instantly, but also customized to the individual respondent’s interests.

o Qualify responses, and manage and track leads. E-mail is so far superior to the telephone in this function that I wonder why anyone uses the phone anymore. Business inquirers are never at their desks these days, but they do tend to answer their e-mail.

o Transact. E-commerce is here to stay, channel conflict be damned. Business marketers are shifting low-value, high-volume transactions to the Web, freeing their field sales forces and resellers to focus on more value-added business opportunities. The smartest ones are putting dedicated extranets behind the fire walls of their best customers, allowing them 24/7 access to ordering under the special corporate terms and conditions that have been negotiated.

o Manage relationships. Use “lights out” automated e-mail programs to keep those relationships nurtured and growing.

o Gain referrals. Viral marketing offers within your e-mail messages will encourage your happy customers to introduce you to their friends and colleagues.

Step three. Pull together a SWAT team, put them off site for a day or so, maybe with a couple six-packs of beer and ask them to think great thoughts. There are plenty of great Internet applications emerging that are new and different and do not necessarily fit into your current go-to-market process. This team needs to identify them.

The team should consist of creative marketing types, the most tech-savvy ones you have, plus an equal representation from information technology. Together, these folks should come up with new ideas that will make your customers beyond satisfied, to the point of excitement. Some great new ideas the Internet has allowed are “name your own price” and instant auctions to dispose of excess inventory.

I have not even approached the opportunity the Internet provides in other areas of business. Suffice it to say, if your supply chain is more efficient, and your human resources benefits administration is humming on the Web, more resources may be freed up for great marketing investments.

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