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The Challenges of BTB Marketing Bring Higher Returns

It is remarkable how business-to-business has become the darling of the Internet business world. Scores of desperate dot-coms looking for a path to profitability have shifted their models from targeting consumers to selling to business.

Why? Consider the expense of consumer customer acquisition and the relatively low lifetime value of consumer relationships. You cannot spend $300 to get a customer who will net you only $100 in revenue. For many of these start-ups, the return on investment equation was never going to close.

So they have morphed into BTB marketers, and now their challenge is to learn how to do business marketing.

These glamorous new BTB Internet marketers will be surprised to learn that BTB is little more than a classy new patina on a pretty dull discipline originally called industrial marketing and later known as business marketing.

They may be chagrined to learn that, traditionally, business marketing has been primarily about supporting the sales process. In BTB, sales flies the plane while marketing serves the coffee – meaning activities such as generating leads for a sales force, running seminars, developing collateral material, ordering T-shirts and working booths at trade shows. The typical business marketer in the old days was just as likely to be a guy who moved over to marketing because he was not successful in sales. Hardly glamorous.

So now many Internet marketers are waking up to find themselves business marketers. BTB is a very different animal from business-to-consumer. Business markets are more complex, with higher margins and smaller prospect universes. Purchase cycles can be long, with multiple parties involved in the decision. Business buyers tend to make decisions rationally and require lots of detailed product information before they will sign the purchase order. They may need a lot of pre-sales and post-sales support around receiving and using the product.

The BTB marketer is faced with a more complex marketing process, but with a higher potential return. So how does the business marketer get started? The easiest approach is to lay out the purchase process in detail.

First, analyze how your customers make a buying decision. What information do they need? Who is involved? Where do they buy? How long does it take? Once you analyze the process in detail, you can form strategy to influence the process in your favor.

The next step is to figure out how to get in there and affect the process and to understand where the Internet can play at each stage, either to improve the way you interact with customers today or to introduce entirely new opportunities for selling better.

Let’s see how this might look within a typical business marketing process. First, the buyer identifies a problem and a need for a solution. So you want to be in the consideration set, so this means making him aware of your existence. You should be advertising in the trade publications that the influencer reads. You need the analysts and consultants to be familiar with your offerings. You need buzz. You need to be on the radar screen. So you spend in public relations and advertising, online and offline.

Once you are in the picture, you need to explain why your solution is superior to the next guy’s. The buyer will be considering a number of vendors. So you prepare collateral material. You sponsor research studies. You speak at industry conferences. Perhaps, most importantly, you stimulate the buyer to raise his hand, to let you know he is in the market for the solution, so you can begin to sell him. This is known as lead generation, and Web-based direct and database marketing techniques are perfectly suited to it.

The lead is qualified and passed to the sales force, which manages the relationship, closes the sale and reports back to marketing on the results. Then marketing goes on to explore a longer-term relationship with the buyer, with upselling, referrals and long-term communications, while the sales force continues on to close other accounts.

Every business marketer will have some variation in his go-to-market process, perhaps involving resellers and distributors, or using a hybrid model wherein the most efficient sales resource is assigned to each stage of the selling process.

But the fundamental process is the same, and marketers who analyze the process and break it down can figure out how to turn it to their advantage.

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