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How B2B marketing functions have adapted their digital capabilities


Nigel Wright Recruitment arranges discussion forums for B2B marketing leaders to share best practice and build their networks. Our forum in September enabled marketers working in industrial and service sectors to discuss how they have been developing digital effectiveness during lockdown.

Main areas of effectiveness discussed

  • Videography is replacing physical exhibitions
  • Online businesses needed to change less
  • Market mapping research identifies new decision makers
  • Video calls became normal
  • Collaboration across online platforms
  • Digital is not tactile
  • Integrating direct mail to stand out
  • Resourcing team’s capabilities

Sales teams through the country have been physical locked down for over six months. This has limited their ability to build relationships face to face with existing and new customers. These restrictions have been compounded by reduced demand across most sectors.

Under these conditions, online marketing is vital in helping sales functions to build relationships through applying tools that generate leads and nurture them. The techniques need to be applied thoughtfully to stand out from everyone else’s communications.

Videography replacing physical exhibitions

One lasting area of advancement involves videography that is being applied to substitute exhibitions that were significant lead generators for sales teams. Videography provides a virtual tour of a companies’ products, premises, etc. and can provide significant time and cost savings compared to building and manning exhibition stands at large events.

For many marketers, the adoption of video being applied this way has created new requirements for content. But creating the content needs to be accompanied with strategies to engage target markets. Here, B2B marketers have found, in general, that this has worked with existing customers but that engaging with prospects has been difficult in the current environment.

Trade show and conference organisers gradually adapted and launch online events. For online audiences, these were found to be more time effective that spending hours and even days physically attending them. Delegates can log in and out of individual sessions whilst continuing to ‘work’ when not in attendance.

There are successful outcomes where virtual tours were developed to introduce customers to their facilities and demonstrate the scale of their operations. Target customers could experience a short ‘visit’ of the potential suppliers’ premises, at little interruption to their working day.

Online businesses needed to change less

Those marketing operations that were highly digitised prior to the pandemic were at an advantage compared to others.

It was recognised, though, that trying to contact customers/individuals initially was difficult because many were furloughed. Email open rates declined, limiting the marketing’s effectiveness. Social media posts on platforms such as LinkedIn reached smaller audiences but managed to maintain the usual engagement rates.

Market mapping research identifies new decision makers

For businesses whose prospecting was largely through personal selling, many sales teams found that webinars and online exhibitions and conferences were no where near as effective. Marketing teams turned some resources towards segmentation, analysis and market mapping to identify new decision makers nationally and globally. These were then targeted through social media campaigns, with those who engaged being added to call out lists for sales teams.

Video calls became normal

Video calls – both internally and externally – were infrequent before lockdown. Now they are often daily occurrences. Their immediacy enables swift internal and external collaboration whilst saving time and transport costs. And sales teams are finding that customer relationships are developing more quickly online compared to face to face.

A resulting benefit to marketers is that everyone’s acceptance of Zoom, Skype, Teams, etc. has helped facilitate digital acceptance. This in turn, helps engagement.

There is an element of webinar fatigue creeping into people’s homeworking lives. Topics and formats therefore need to remain engaging and value adding to be effective. Teams need build credibility and trust when developing seminar programmes by identifying problems and sharing solutions to gain interest and registrations.

Collaboration across online platforms

As people realised that lockdown was going to continue for the foreseeable future, many sought different ways to collaborate whilst physically distanced. They turned to their social media platforms and, for instance, set up private Facebook groups with people at partner companies. This also resulted in expanding customer reach by combining their networks.

Digital is not tactile

Digital marketing is effective at showing communications to audiences. But it’s not tactile.  And for industries that provide product samples as a necessary element within the sales process, lockdown has cut this route to market when people are working from home at unknown addresses.

As much as virtual tools can try, they are less tactile than someone holding physical samples to feel the materials and their textures.

Integrating direct mail to stand out

With marketing increasingly online, not all marketers have forgotten direct mail. By integrating it with online targeting, some marketers are identifying and engaging target audiences through social media and seeking permission to send direct mail to their addresses. When most B2B audiences are working from home and are outside the reach of most CRM databases, this technique is providing cut-through for those successfully adapting their approaches.

The effective use of CRM and effective investment in CRM use and population is crucial to any contact strategy. Lockdown provided opportunities to stop and ask: “What are we doing with our CRM system and do we have the right behaviours to make it succeed?” CRM is less about the actual system; but more about the behaviours of those using it.  Money and time spent here can often be wasted if 100% buy in by sales and marketing staff.

CRM databases can gain greater value now that people are unfurloughed and mothballed projects can continue.

Resourcing team’s capabilities

Training and upskilling and additional recruitment in marketing is likely to be a continued trend in the B2B world. Sometimes, staff can be reskilled into digital roles internally. B2B marketing teams have traditionally had less resource than some of the more advanced and more complex marketing team structures.

There has been more openness at board level to listen to marketing during lockdown and appreciate digital marketing in the B2B space.  There is an increasing recognition that the marketing voice needs to be at the top table and this should advance the changes and capabilities within marketing teams.

Final thoughts

Digital marketing can no longer be an extension of traditional marketing. Integrated marketing, both in terms of the team’s output and roles, should build the most successful campaigns and people. Marketing is now being viewed as a vehicle to help drive the company strategy so marketers who take advantage of this should advance their profession and careers.

Get in touch

If you would like to be involved in future marketing discussion forums, please contact Associate Director, Ben Debnam on ben.debnam@nigelwright.com or 0771 413 3484.

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