Business marketers were early adopters of the Internet. Business buyers were using it to do their work, and they simply expected to hear from their suppliers online. It's turned into a great marriage.
Consider the most important Internet marketing tools as they apply to business marketing:
E-mail. This is truly the killer app. Business marketers use e-mail for prospecting, qualifying inquiries and turning them into leads, and for managing ongoing relationships. Because of its speed, flexibility and low cost, e-mail is in many ways the preferred outbound communications tool for business marketers.
It's important to gather as many e-mail addresses as possible from your customers and prospects. The first step is to put an e-mail request line item in every business reply communication. Second, consider the e-mail append services available to businesses such as Thumbprint (from Direct Media), Markets on Demand, eDirect and iMatcher.
It may make sense to invest in outbound communications, whether mail or phone, to request e-mail addresses and permission to use them. Some companies gather e-mail addresses at their Web sites, inviting their customers to fill in registration forms and even to keep the forms updated on their own as their contact information changes.
Web sites. Sometimes it feels like Web sites can do everything. They serve as instant, globally accessible collateral material. They can be customized and personalized infinitely. You can use them to gather registrations, survey data or newsletter subscriptions. They make beautifully trackable campaign response forms. They are perfect for inquiry fulfillment, allowing live updating, customization and downloads of detailed product information. You can build special Web sites for your best customers, behind their own corporate firewalls. Web sites are the ultimate flexible marketing tool.
Search engine optimization. The Internet has quickly become buyers' first resource for business research. You can find everything you need to know about optimization at www.searchenginewatch.com.
Banners. Consumer marketers may be throwing up their hands in frustration with banner ads, but business marketers are still getting great value from the medium. The secret is in targeting. Test banner ads on the sites of your business partners, trade associations and anywhere else your prospects are likely to hang out. Don't forget trying a house ad on your own site. Be sure you make an offer and ask for the click.
Webinars. It's much easier and cheaper to run business seminars on the Internet instead of at hotels. Use Web-based seminars to qualify and nurture prospects and to introduce new products or features. Be sure you keep the content lively. It's a passive medium and runs the risk of causing boredom.
Newsletters. These are low-cost tools for ongoing customer communication. Newsletters are most productive when they include editorial content beyond mere product puffery. Add tips on solutions to some of the real business problems facing your customers, and you'll be a hero. Be sure to add a viral pass-along component to each newsletter you publish. And gather subscriptions to your newsletters with a sign-up box on your home page.
Affiliate programs. Place your offers on someone else's Web site and pay a commission. Try setting up private deals with your business partners and other non-competitive companies that service your market. Then consider some of the affiliate marriage brokers out there such as LinkShare, BeFree and Commission Junction.
Incentive programs. Some business marketers are successfully using consumer-ish incentives like contests, sweepstakes, scavenger hunts and coupons. The Internet is a perfect medium for running these programs inexpensively, and several vendors have sprung up to help you. Incentive programs are great for gathering plenty of names for your database, but you must evaluate the quality trade-off very carefully.
Always remember that business buyers are less sensitive than consumers when it comes to privacy issues. They are hungry to hear new ideas and learn about new opportunities quickly. They need information to do their jobs, to solve problems and to keep up with the fast-changing world of business.