Business to business is still personal

Original article can be found here (source): Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Business to business is still personal

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Capturing business from business demands a host of tools: chatbots, video marketing, email marketing, personalized communication and artificial intelligence.

Many or all of these are beyond the talents of the average entrepreneur struggling to make ends meet.

Shama Hyder is not typical. Chief executive officer of Zen Media, she tackles multiple roles as author and keynote speaker to help fellow business owners succeed in business-to-business marketing.

Her credentials include being named a LinkedIn Top Voice in Marketing and serving as chief marketing officer at OneDine.

Hyder talked with millennial expert, top-rated marketing and branding voice, and global speaker Chelsea Krost during Krost’s #MillennialTalk Twitter chat. They discussed what it takes to transform B2B marketing into a financial success.

Reflecting overall trends, B2B marketing will likely have increased emphasis on video. Hyder also noted these ever-growing practices:

  • Influencer Marketing. By far one of the hottest trends and a strategy that really works. We’ve really seen great results especially at the B2B level — enterprise businesses looking to market to small businesses by leveraging influencer marketing.
  • Remote Events. At Zen Media, we do a ton in the B2B experiential space. We’ve found out that amid global pandemics people tune into digital more than ever before.
  • B2B Public Relations. PR isn’t a “nice to have” — it is a must-have. I can’t tell you how busy we are right now helping our clients get ahead of major crises. These are times where a company can really build trust and own the industry conversation.

Besides these trends, Krost sees a surge in do-it-yourself virtual training. She noted that MarketProfs cited these top marketing goals in the last year:

  • Creating brand awareness (86 percent)
  • Educating audiences (79 percent)
  • Building credibility and trust (75 percent)

At the same time, fewer B2B marketers say their efforts delivered success against these goals:

  • Building subscribed audiences (45 percent)
  • Generating sales or revenue (53 percent)
  • Building loyalty with existing clients and customers (63 percent)

Simplify the complex

Artificial intelligence is one of the fastest growing trends, most commonly seen in the “person” of chatbots. These will become more popular in marketing as they take on more of a human touch.

“AI doesn’t have to be complicated,” Hyder said. “The idea is very much to simplify.

“Take Lumen5, for example, or Promo Video,” she said. “You can create videos with AI, taking written content and turning it into a video by matching it to the right clips.”

Hyder also has her eye on SparkToro by rand fishkin, which uses data and artificial intelligence to find who is talking about a given topic.

“Although AI is very futuristic sounding and techy, AI will help make business more human-like through personalization,” Krost said. “It will make healthcare more accurate and less costly.

“Chatbots will become even more accurate at matching human conversation,” she said.

Then there is robotic process automation.

“According to a study by McKinsey Global Institute, by 2055 nearly one-half of our work tasks will be performed by some form of robot,” Krost said. “AI will be able to automate any job that is routine or repetitive.”

Chatbots will rise to greater prominence as companies use them more in B2B marketing.

“In a world where time is money, you can keep your business running 24/7, thanks to chatbots,” Krost said.

“Service-based industries such as healthcare, financial services, hospitality, real estate, retail, e-commerce, entertainment and publishing are all starting to use AI to personalize, grow and automate small and big business tasks,” she said.

Krost has found top ways small businesses grow with the help of chatbots:

  • Customer service and answering frequently asked questions
  • Influence decisions
  • Streamline payments

“Chatbots can make recommendations for users based on the data gathered from simple questions and previous interactions,” Krost said. “AI and chatbots can increase customer engagement on social media. That can drive more awareness and traffic to your products and services.”

Conversation starters

Hyder added that chatbots let entrepreneurs meet prospects where potential customers are.

“B2B buyers are already over 60 percent of the way through the sales process before they even chat with you,” she said. “They’ve already decided. Chatbots are a great way to help start that conversation sooner.

“We use Drift at Zen Media to connect with our prospects and the media,” Heyder said. “It is about meeting people where they are.”

The most effective video in marketing uses people to get at the heart of a story. It’s not so much the technology involved but the genuine emotion.

“Video marketing can be a very effective marketing tool because it’s the best opportunity to storytell and show and tell,” Krost said. “According to Wyzowl, 66 percent of consumers prefer watching a video to reading about a product.

“Produce video across the customer’s life cycle,” she said. “Take them from being strangers to loyal customers. Create case studies and testimonials.”

Photo by Smartworks Coworking on Unsplash

Video has made great strides on less-obvious platforms.

LinkedIn is a Godsend for videos and B2B,” Hyder said. “If you are a B2B company and can’t do your own videos, get a LinkedIn influencer to do it for you. Absolutely don’t miss the boat.

“If anyone wants to see a live example, I’ve been sharing videos on LinkedIn for two years,” she said. “I have 620,000 subscribers.”

The percentage of a marketing budget spent on paid ads is not a hard and fast number. Much like which social media platform to choose, the answer is, it depends.

“It’s more about knowing where your audience is than what you spend,” Krost said. “Be sure to spend your ad dollars on the platforms where your target audience is most present.

“I like building on my ad budget,” she said. “First, test the waters with a smaller budget. Test, refine and layer on more budget once the platform or ad proves to perform well.”

Successful formula varies

Krost reported these statistics:

  • B2B companies typically spend between 6.4 to 6.8 percent of total revenue annually on marketing.
  • Ninety-seven percent of B2B marketers use LinkedIn for content marketing purposes.
  • Seventy-eight percent of B2B marketers say LinkedIn is an effective tool for content marketing.
  • Fifty-nine percent of B2B marketers say LinkedIn generates leads for their business.

“Your marketing budget really depends on your overall return on investment,” Hyder said. “For some brands, paid ads work great, and others not so much. For B2B companies, marketing money has to be more integrated into the funnel than ever before.

“LinkedIn and Google are both great platforms for B2B paid ads,” she said.

Hyder also puts great stock in influencers.

Influencer marketing is definitely a good use of paid spend,” she said. “We’ve had tremendous success with it.”

The mantra is that email is where the money is. Start with current contacts and add to them from those you meet online or in person. Lead magnets are good ways to build email lists.

Krost added these “great benefits” to email marketing:

  • Email marketing is cost-effective.
  • You can automate the email and nurture the process.
  • Email lets you personalize your message.
  • You can create interactive or multi-media emails to increase engagement.
  • Track response and open rate to learn audience behavior.

“Seventy-three percent of marketers agree that email marketing is core to their business and 40 times more effective than social media for lead generation,” Krost said. “Email marketing continues to be ranked as the best channel in terms of return on investment.”

As Mark Twain might have said, reports of email’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

“Email isn’t dead at all,” Hyder said. “It just has to be more thought out than before because marketers ruin everything.

“Start with your audience and the bigger goals,” she said. “The tools are easy. Content and consistency is the much harder part.”

Hyder recommended great examples of email marketing, urging people to sign up for Chris Brogan, Ann Handley and CB Insights.

“These guys do it right,” Hyder said.

Jump start with SEO

Search engine optimization is good to increase chances of getting found in searches. The trick is to understand SEO in the first place. It’s OK to try this at home, but working with an expert helps.

“First impression and first search counts,” Krost said. “SEO helps to get your business on the first page of a web search. If your business is not one of those results, that means someone else is, and that someone is likely one of your competitors.

“SEO is one of the most underrated but most powerful tools for client acquisition,” she said. “Sixty percent of people do research before purchasing online.”

Hyder asserts there is no lead generation without demand generation.

“You have to create awareness,” she said. “Prospects are researching more than ever before.

“SEO is a long game but well worth playing,” Hyder said. “We worked with one client where — with a combination of SEO, content and public relations — they were able to grow from a few million dollars to $96 million in annual revenue. This was a private family business — not a huge enterprise.”

With B2B e-commerce also on the rise, she said this makes SEO even more important for those brands.

Businesses with small marketing budgets should take advantage of the least expensive marketing tool at their fingertips: their employees. Loyal workers who buy into their company’s vision and mission are the brand’s biggest cheerleaders directly and via family and friends, turning cold leads warm in a flash.

“Everything is either time or money,” Hyder said. “If you have more time, podcasting and creating thoughtful content is a winning strategy. Creativity is free. Creativity at scale is what costs money.

“Too many people see money as a resource,” she said. “It isn’t. It’s a priority. It goes where brands believe they will see a return.”

Krost said funds are best spent for email marketing, social media, live streaming, free webinars, podcasts, Twitter chats and e-books.

Make it personal

Companies can personalize their B2B marketing efforts more than ever. According to customer relationship management experts at Salesforce, 72 percent of buyers expect B2B companies to personalize communications. Meanwhile, 69 percent of buyers are willing to pay more for a more personalized experience.

“Segment your target audience by opportunity, size and fit,” Krost said. “Make sure your website is relevant to your customers. Your email campaign should target the needs of your current and potential customers.

“Always have in mind the user experience when it comes to strategy and brand messaging,” she said. “Personalize your campaign by leveraging sequential messaging by retargeting through multiple contexts. For example, they watched your video. Maybe you next target them with an image ad.”

The solution might not be that hard nor that costly.

“Some of it is as simple as better materials and training for sales folks,” Hyder said. “I’ve done so many keynotes to sales departments. Then they see how easy it is.

“There are a ton of tools out there,” she said. “However, the bigger issue is empathy and scalability. A company has to care enough about their buyers, and they have to find a way to scale this in a way that’s sustainable.”

Hyder has found that LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a great tool for personalized marketing with B2B.

Gathering personal information from potential customers is a matter of trust, which is the natural outcome of empathy and caring. If you are genuine in your business practices, people will pay attention and answer your call to action.

These are Krost’s steps to build trust:

  • Listen first.
  • Make it personal.
  • Be transparent.
  • Be consistent.
  • Demonstrate proof of your competence.
  • Be authentic.

Trade-off for convenience

“According to IDC, 65 percent of B2B buyers usually engage a sales representative only after they’ve already made a purchase decision,” Krost said. “For 75 percent of B2B companies, it takes one to six months.

“According to Acquity Group, 83 percent of B2B buyers check suppliers’ websites during their decision-making process,’’ she said. “That means building trust with your website is key.”

This ties into everyone’s most precious commodity.

“We trade privacy for convenience every day,” Hyder said. “The key is to provide value and be transparent.

“Trust is hard to gain, very easy to lose and almost impossible to regain,” she said. “Do it right the first time.”

Tops on Hyder’s reading list is what she deems Chris Brogan’s “great “and “highly relevant” book, “Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust.”

She also touts her B2B Manifesto at Zen Media.

About The Author

Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.