In recent years, digital sales have become an increasingly vital part of business-to-business (B2B) sales and marketing strategies. Social distancing has put that shift on steroids. Investing in digital sales is an investment in the future, and it’s what will help your brand survive and thrive in this new normal.
Of course, moving to a digital-first strategy can initially feel like a daunting prospect. Aside from the issues brought on by the current climate, B2B companies also face specific challenges when it comes to deploying digital marketing strategies — expensive products, long sales cycles and traditional reliance on face-to-face relationship-building. A shift as seismic as this one requires new techniques and a fair amount of research to get right.
In this article, we’ll offer you a step-by-step guide that explains how to make digital sales work in B2B business markets.
Essentially, this is all you need to do:
- Make sure you have a great website
- Learn from SaaS (code marketing)
- Align your sales and marketing teams
- Use data and automation
We believe that six months is an achievable timeframe for getting your B2B digital marketing strategy off the ground, but how long it’ll take any business to see real results is reliant on numerous factors. And remember, you can take most of these steps concurrently — for instance, building a website is an ongoing endeavour, so you’ll probably want to embark upon the next steps before you finish the first.
Ready to embrace digital? Let’s get started!
Step 1: Make sure you have a great website
The first step to embracing a digital-first sales strategy is a simple one, but it’s all too often overlooked. On the internet, your website is your storefront. It’s usually the very first place where potential customers encounter your brand — and it’s therefore essential that you make a good first impression.
At a bare minimum, your website should:
- Look good — and this will need to remain consistent across different browsers and mobile formats.
- Provide useful, relevant and high-quality information.
- Be functional and easy to navigate.
Of course, building a great website is never as easy as it sounds. If you need a little help, we offer a stand-alone website project service. You might also want to check out our FREE Guide: How to budget for your next website redesign. And regardless, remember: building and launching a website is a massive undertaking. Give it time — and continue with the next steps as you wait for this particular process to unfold.
Step 2: Learn from SaaS (code marketing)
The second step to embracing a digital-first strategy is studying Software as a Service (SaaS) marketing efforts and strategies. Whatever type of online business you have, you can probably learn a thing or two from SaaS brands, who have long been fully immersed in digital-first sales strategies. This is partially by design, sure, but primarily due to the unique characteristics that make online sales such a natural fit for the SaaS industry.
As you seek to build your own B2B online sales process, it’s helpful to understand why SaaS has performed so well within the digital marketing landscape. Firstly, SaaS benefits from natural online distribution — the product exists in a digital space, so it’s logical that the marketing would as well. SaaS also has a low average Annual Contract Value (ACV), which refers to overhead (labour, utilities, etc.) divided by quality of output. Responding to the pressure of digital transformation, SaaS brands have worked to lower their customer acquisition costs and managed B2B balance sheets by embracing automated online processes.
But for our purposes, the two most useful characteristics of SaaS marketing strategies are:
- Frictionless buying and free trials: SaaS providers are ideally set up to provide potential customers with freemium versions and free trials of their products. Much like sampling a food product in a supermarket, a satisfying trial experience can quickly and efficiently transform an undecided prospect into a paying customer.
- A lightning-quick sales cycle: In the SaaS world, B2B customers typically have everything they need to decide without requiring lengthy, face-to-face lead nurturing. They’ve tried the product, and now they’re ready to buy.
Borrowing from SaaS success
If it isn’t already clear, you’ll want to borrow elements from SaaS marketing to boost your own digital strategy. The term code marketing, which was coined by HubSpot’s Brian Halligan, refers to the application of the free SaaS trial offering to more general marketing strategies.
How code marketing looks in practice obviously varies depending upon the nature and specifics of your business. But the main point here is that you want to enable your prospective customers to experience your brand, product or service before they commit to purchasing it.
To derive the maximum benefit from code marketing principles, you’ll need to figure out a set of code marketing actions based on the specifics of your business. What do we mean? Let’s take a look at how we’ve applied code marketing strategies to our own business:
Code marketing case study: Gripped
It’ll probably come as no surprise to you that ‘try before you buy’ is a critical foundation of the Gripped approach to digital sales and online marketing. As a B2B marketing agency, we use technology to deliver outcomes, but because our business is very much human-driven, we can’t easily package it up as a free trial in the same way SaaS companies can.
Instead, we’ve gotten creative and embraced code marketing principles in three key ways:
- Scaling up our actionable content marketing: We’ve always used content marketing in our internal marketing process and client strategies. However, in recent months, we’ve shifted our focus to building more actionable content that explains our internal planning processes and defines the value of successful campaigns. We’ve found that this type of practical content gives prospective clients a stronger sense of what it might be like to actually work with us. Here are some examples:
- The Founder’s Guide to B2B SaaS Growth
- Best Practices Template: Determine Your SMART Marketing Goals
- Checklist: How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign
- B2B Inbound Marketing ROI Calculator
- Creating detailed case studies: As with content marketing, we’ve been doing case studies for a while. However, to really embrace and benefit from the principles of code marketing, we decided to double-down on these. Why? Case studies help build trust, create ‘social proof’ and make it even easier for our prospects to envision what it’d be like to be our clients. To make this a reality, we asked our current clients for permission to publish more detail on our website about the results we’ve delivered for them.
- Minimising sales cycle friction: As a rule, we try to avoid project work. Instead, we focus on building long-term and sustainable relationships with our clients — we believe that this sets them up for greater success. However, since lockdown, we’ve worked to make it easier for businesses to engage with us through one-off or trial services. We now offer persona-building workshops, stand-alone website projects and single-quarter content marketing and account management plans.
We’ve also introduced a FREE Growth Assessment in which we provide free basic consulting services. Like a SaaS trial or freemium version, these services allow our potential clients to try us out before making a longer-term commitment. And on our end, these changes have made it easier for us to convert qualified leads into customers. Remember: upfront value, social proof, customer-first resources and limited commitments all minimise sales cycle friction.
Step 3: Align your sales and marketing teams
The third step in embracing a digital-first sales strategy is aligning your sales and marketing teams. This is important no matter what industry you’re in, but it’s all the more critical in the context of digital sales. After all, when it’s done right, marketing becomes the foundation on which you will build and maintain your sales relationships online.
Looking once again to B2B SaaS marketing as an example, the sales and marketing team almost always work hand-in-hand. Marketing resources and data collection help create the personalised online experience that draws customers in. And automating the flow of information provides the basis for customer resource management and highlights the right moment for your sales team to pick up the phone and convert that prospect into a customer.
Content marketing: bridging the gap
As we’ve explained, content marketing functions as both a tool to capture and nurture leads and as sales collateral — and as such, it’s a critical bridge between your sales and marketing teams. To move seamlessly into the digital world, you should make content marketing a core part of your sales/marketing strategy.
Here are a couple of quick pro-tips for content marketing success:
- Don’t get hung-up on SEO: If you’re looking to draw in organic traffic, don’t get too hung up on SEO awareness and creating keyword-targeted content. Instead, write content that is high-quality, engaging and useful. Trust that search engines will identify good copy when they scan it — write well and your prospects will have no problem finding you through their Google searches.
- Don’t try to reinvent the wheel: You don’t need to come up with ground-breaking, wholly original content each and every time — you want to create useful content that will resonate with your audience, build brand awareness and nurture leads. To that end, focus on creating content that you can put to use throughout your broader marketing strategy, such as the emails you send within nurture workflows.
For more information on aligning your sales & marketing teams, check out:
- How to Align Your Sales and Marketing Teams
- How B2B Sales and Marketing Teams Should Work Together
- Building Bridges with Sales and Marketing Alignment
- 6 B2B Content Marketing Tips for SaaS Companies That Convert
- What B2B Sales and Marketing Will Look Like Post-Pandemic
Personas: the key to effective marketing
As you probably already know, in marketing, a persona refers to a representation of the standard type of people who are most likely to use your offering in a standard way. Customer personas serve as an excellent ‘meeting point’ for your sales and marketing teams. We have a much more in-depth look at how to create customer personas here, but basically, you can define your customer persona by:
- Researching your target audience: You need insights about who your customers are and who is likely to shop elsewhere. Many brands gain this information through marketing analytics, customer surveys or other forms of market research.
- Narrowing down similarities: This involves determining what specific features set your audience apart from the more general population. What makes them special or different? Once you have this data, you can utilise it to locate the not-so-obvious features of your market segment.
- Segmenting your audience: Once you’ve done your research, you’ll probably find that you have a few distinct types of customers. This means you’ll need to segment your audience to create the personas that most closely represent who they are.
- Making templates: This step requires you to create detailed profiles of your potential customers. You might list personal information, professional roles and skills, hobbies and habits, as well as goals and pain points that your product can satisfy.
- Tracking, iterating and testing: Finally, you’ll put the personas to use, creating several alternative versions of your marketing materials. Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to work out which one is most effective at generating leads and creating conversions through tracking, iterating and testing — you can get these insights through feedback from your sales team.
Need help refining your personas? 🕵️ ️
Book in your FREE one-to-one session with one of our Growth Experts. We’ll assess your sales and marketing strategy and lay out actionable steps for you to build laser-focused personas.
Step 4: Use data and automation
Finally, we reach step four: using data and automation. As an online business, data is most definitely your friend. Digital interactions generate a considerable amount of data — and it probably goes without saying, but making good use of your data is critical to your marketing success.
To do data and automation right, you need to have a way to qualify leads and contact prospects at the right time. Lead qualification should centre on data collection and effectively applying that data. Once again, this requires cooperation between your sales and marketing teams and processes.
To use data and automation to their full potential within your marketing strategy, you should:
- Use your digital content to collect useful data about prospective customers.
- Deploy tracking and cookies on your website to gather information about leads and user activity.
- Create automated email nurture workflows using personalised, tailored content. You can build these workflows on triggers, such as filling out content gates to access premium content or eBooks, visiting particular product landing pages or pricing pages, or opening specific pieces of email marketing.
Transforming data into leads
Once you’ve got your data in-hand, you’ll need to feed it into a qualifying scorecard. You’ll want to set a benchmark to determine when it’s right to take the next step and make a sales call. When that time comes, you’ll also need to make sure that your sales rep has all of the data history available to them so that they go into the call fully informed. Encourage your sales team to keep detailed notes — you can use the information captured during these calls to feed back into your larger strategy, improving your processes and generating new content ideas. And finally, you’ll want to follow up with more nurture workflows.
Automating your data collection and analytics processes with Martech tools like Hubspot is a great way to save time and protect your internal resources. Automation means that your sales team will have more time to nurture existing leads and your marketing team will have more time to create value-added content, which will, in turn, generate even more leads.
For more resources on using your content marketing to collect data, nurture leads and automate your processes, check out:
- B2B Lead Generation Strategies
- B2B Lead Nurturing Strategies
- Essential Martech Tools for Every B2B Marketing Team
- 10 B2B Marketing Tactics You Should Be Using
Digital-first was always the future of B2B
Over recent years, more and more B2B brands have recognised the value in embracing digital marketing channels. Social distancing has only accelerated this existing and ongoing trend. Making sure that you have an effective digital sales strategy is critical to your brand’s success now and throughout the coming decade.
Of course, we want to stress that specific timeframes for digital-first success will vary, depending on your organisation, product and goals. However, as previously stated, we believe that six months is a good goal post for reinventing how to do online sales and building the framework described here to support that operation. It’s a major project, yes, but we’re confident that it’ll pay dividends.
Ready to transform your digital strategy? Get started now — there’s still a chance to be ahead of the curve.