B2B Marketing Growth Guide
30+ Tips to Ignite Growth During Tough Times
Every business faces tough times where it seems growth is nearly impossible. These tough times stem from many areas: external market forces, such as supply chains stretched thin, recessionary markets, and let’s not forget about global pandemics; technical forces, such as new governing standards, disruptive technology, and EOL products; competitive forces such as well-funded start-ups and company mergers & acquisitions; and then layer on marketing-specific external forces such as Google algorithm changes and new communication privacy laws.
If this isn’t enough, internal forces are often an even larger cause of growth stagnation. Companies hit a growth plateau for numerous reasons: over reliance on existing customer revenue, targeting the wrong audience personas (or none at all), dated brand positioning which doesn’t reflect today’s company, unnecessary friction in the buying process, and use of old school sales and marketing tactics that are misaligned with modern buyer behavior.Unlike B2C customers who are often very loyal over time, according to a 2019 Gallup Report: Analytics and Advice for B2B leaders, 69% of B2B customers are ready to take their business elsewhere and less than half believe their vendor delivers on it promises. Despite your best efforts, you should expect your customer base to erode over time, which means new customer acquisition must be a key part of your growth strategy.
69% of B2B customers are ready to take their business elsewhere and less than half (47%) believe their vendor delivers on it promises.
2019 Gallup Report: Analytics and Advice for B2B Leaders
In short: it is impossible to grow as a status-quo business.
But….there is good news. Adversity presents an enormous opportunity to evolve, innovate, work smarter, and gain market share. Growth during tough times is not only possible, but also sets the stage for even greater growth during easier times that will come.
Let’s all get excited about tough times!
In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to diagnose your stagnation issues and provide you with our 30+ ways to ignite growth.
Start with Growth Strategy
Whether this is done at the corporate or divisional level, you’ll want to pull together a cross-functional team of business leadership, sales, and marketing. Together, review business goals for the next 1-3 years and note where marketing can play a key role. Next, identify the external and internal root causes of stagnation. This business discussion will provide important context for the group to identify and prioritize potential growth initiatives.
A good way to get in the right mindset for strategy decisions is conducting a SWT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Trends) assessment from Scalability by Verne Harnish. Not to be confused with the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), the SWT framework helps your team to think deeply and broadly about the inherent strengths, inherent weaknesses, and emerging trends in the market that can affect your company’s trajectory.
With the SWT, there are a couple things to broadly consider: Is there a company on the other side of the world that might put you out of business? Is there a new technology that could quickly change your industry? Is there new industry data or trends that you need to get out in front of?
Download the PDF SWT assessment
Just as important as deciding where to invest is identifying any areas of divestment, which will help you divert resources to the biggest areas of opportunity. Marketing audits often uncover valuable information to help inform investment/divestment. These audits are most-commonly performed during annual marketing planning, but if you haven’t tackled this yet, consider doing so before the first growth committee meeting.
The devil is in the details. Be sure your final growth strategy is vetted extensively, so that you know with confidence what initiatives and activities you are doing, who is responsible, how it is measured, and that it is realistic in terms of people, budget, and technology resources.
Marketing Audit – Yes, It’s Time and Here’s How to Tackle It
Over the course of months and years, your marketing campaigns change – whether you intend for them to or not. Conducting an audit draws you back to your central course of action so you can readjust them accordingly. Without an audit, you’ll struggle to stick to your measurable goals – and you might not even realize when you’ve lost sight of your main objectives.
If you don’t already have goals in place, a marketing audit will force you to set some. We know it’s easy to get lost in the big picture of your overall business goals. However, it’s essential that you outline your specific marketing goals so that you understand exactly how they play into the bigger picture and support (or detract) from your desired growth objectives.
During a marketing audit, you won’t just look at your goals. You’ll also weed out unsuccessful tactics as well as gather quantitative data and qualitative information that will inform your team and help you make better judgment calls in the future.
Audits give you the opportunity to both pat yourself on the back, course correct, or plot a new way forward entirely.
Here are the key areas to audit along with questions to aid your and your team in the process:
Brand Positioning and Messaging
- Do you have a defined, documented and well understood brand position and message?
- When was the last time you updated your 30-word corporate pitch, mission, vision, value proposition, and corporate slide presentation?
- What are your top four differentiation pillars compared to your competitors?
- What types of content are you creating (blogs, white papers, case studies, videos, etc.)?
- Do you have content coverage by persona along the buyer’s journey?
- Do we have a process for deciding which content projects we tackle?
- Who manages, writes, and promotes content? Do we have resourcing or quality issues?
- Is content optimized for SEO best practices?
- Is there old content published that needs to be updated or retired?
- What is our process for repurposing content – is this an opportunity?
- When, where, and how frequently is content promoted? Are we achieving desired results?
- How is the design and usability and when it was last updated?
- How many web sessions generated each month? What is the trend over the last year?
- What activities/content drive traffic?
- How are your engagement metrics, such as time on site and bounce rate?
- What is your domain authority?
- What are your traffic percentage by source, specifically organic search, direct traffic, social media, and paid channels?
- What partners/distributors or other sources are generating referral traffic to the site?
Social Media Platforms
- Do you have a social media strategy tied to reaching your target audience(s) where they are?
- Are you regularly promoting buyer’s journey content and highlighting customer benefits of your products and solutions on relevant social platforms?
- Have you evaluated new social platforms used by younger tech audiences like Discord, Hacker News, IndieHackers, Product Hunt, and Github?
PR and Advertising
- How much are you spending annually on advertising and what is the ROI in terms of brand awareness, web visits, lead conversions, and sales?
- Are you leveraging relevant media outlets and opportunities like contributed articles, sponsored emails, webinars, and digital ads?
Leads and Sales/Marketing Alignment
- Is there agreement on how lead and opportunity stages are defined?
- Are you tracking monthly volume/growth of form submissions, leads, marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads, opportunities, and new projects? Are these metrics used to diagnose pipeline issues?
- How frequently do sales and marketing teams meet to discuss key projects, share successes and challenges, revise goals/quotas, etc.? Are these meetings productive?
Marketing Tools and Systems
- List out current tools and systems used (customer relationship management, content management, marketing automation, email marketing, project/ process management, quoting, etc.)
- What manual processes do we have in place today where technology could help us work faster or more efficiently?
- What partners do you work with and how do they help generate/close new business?
- Are there areas of opportunity for co-marketing activities like jointly hosted webinars, case studies, co-authored articles, joint presentations, enewsletter promotion, or contributed blog posts?
- Note events you attended and plan to attend again. Include total spend compared to success measures including number of technical sessions given, leads generated, sales meetings held, influenced sales.
30+ Tips to Ignite Growth
Technical audiences today have an abundance of information available at their fingertips during their buyer’s journey. But it’s our job as marketers to ensure they have the right information from our company at the exact right time. This is why an integrated inbound marketing approach that delivers a consistent message through a variety of channels is so important to fueling your growth. When your prospects are facing a challenge that you can solve, they need to find and learn from your subject matter expertise so that they are informed, trust your approach, and ultimately select you to provide a solution to their challenges.
There is a wide array of possible marketing tactics available, yet a finite number of resources to devote to marketing. While content development and search engine optimization (SEO) should be core to any growth plan, now more than ever you need a multi-channel integrated approach to capture the highly fragmented attention of your potential buyers while also keeping current customers engaged.
In this section, we explore some of our favorite marketing tactics that help you gain awareness, build trust, generate qualified leads, and achieve your unique growth goals.
Target Personas and Brand Messaging
It’s a common practice that B2B companies that have reached a plateau in sales will turn their attention to acquisitions. Although the strategy can provide a boost to the bottom line, it can result in challenges with combining the old and new brands. Marketing messages can get complex or convoluted. Integrating brands can makes it tough to position and differentiate your company versus your competition, and your changing communications can confuse your customers and prospects. It takes discipline to make strategic decisions early, and throughout the acquisition process, that commit to both growth and consistent brand positioning and messaging.
- Redefine or re-prioritize audience personas
- Update corporate/divisional messaging to reflect who you are today
- Shift messaging from your product or solutions offerings to focus on your customers’ needs
For more in-depth strategies on how to strengthen your audience personas, check out our blog post here.
Boost the Impact of Your Content
In our annual content research study, content along the buyer’s journey and vendor websites are consistently the top two areas engineers and technical buyers cite as influencing their buying decisions. Nearly 70 percent of engineers say they prefer to look for information for business-related purchases directly on supplier and vendor websites. Thus, having a well-planned, intuitively designed website that consists of compelling, strategically optimized content is crucial for growth.
The information conveyed on your website needs to simultaneously attract traffic to your site, engage visitors once they arrive, generate leads that become qualified opportunities for your sales team, and keep current customers coming back. This means your website must constantly evolve so that you are providing prospects and existing customers with the content they need when they need it.
With recent updates to Google’s search algorithm, websites with deep relational content around a topic, product, campaign, or solution theme with a supporting web pillar page, consistently rank higher in search.
- Implement themed content and pillar pages to grow organic search traffic
- Create a holistic story with coverage for each buyer’s journey stage
- Conduct a content audit and identify any gaps in content types, personas, topics, etc.
- Identify opportunities to refresh/repurpose/re-promote existing, high-performing content
- Develop new automated workflows to nurture leads with relevant, related content along the buyer’s journey
- Add visual content like infographics, videos, and webinars
Remove Friction from the Buying Process
Your website is one of your most essential marketing and sales tools. It is the resource most of your other marketing efforts are driving prospects to. It is also your 24/7, always-on store front and customer service center, working for you even when you’re not by communicating your brand, value, and differentiators to audiences around the world.
Your website is never complete. It must evolve as your product and service offerings shift and trends and technologies change. This means you constantly need to evaluate user behavior and data, iterate on your design and content based on that data, and then measure the impact of those changes.
- Install heat mapping tools like Lucky Orange to see where people are finding the most value (or least) on your most highly trafficked pages
- Reduce the number of form fields to no more than 3 on gated content landing pages and make your forms “smart” with progressive profiling
- Have your team do a mock buyer’s journey for a particular product or solution on your website and have them note the time it took them, and the number of clicks to get to the content to answer their questions/solve their problem/purchase a product
- Review website analytics monthly and look for pages with high bounce rates or low time-on page and look for ways to improve the content, design, or calls-to-action links/buttons
Add Outbound Activities to Your Mix
Traditional outbound marketing tactics like advertising, PR, and events can have an engaging inbound component. While costs of outbound tactics are higher than inbound tactics, repurposing inbound content for outbound activities is a good way to minimize costs and maximize results. Outbound activities are also a great way to build brand awareness and can be a strategic part of your integrated, multi-touch marketing program – especially when you are rebranding your company, launching a new product, or expanding into a new market.
"A study by HubSpot found that the average cost per lead for outbound-focused tactics was $364 compared to inbound tactics at $135."
- Help your company establish thought leadership in key markets or application areas or on relevant technology and trends by participating in user forums in LinkedIn, Reddit, and/or industry podcasts
- Use your own LinkedIn platform to build your credibility on key topics by commenting on and engaging in relevant conversations
- Engage in speaking opportunities at conferences or trade shows, partnering with an integrator or standards organization to co-host a webinar, or making a guest appearance on a relevant podcast
- Focus your digital marketing dollars on more targeted options such as Google Adwords and LinkedIn sponsored content or display ads
- Publish and wire news releases quarterly to increase brand reach, boost SEO, and expand your audience
- Identify a few key target publications and build relationships with those editors
- Acquire media lists for trade shows you are attending and meet new journalists as well as host a company overview meeting in-person in your exhibit booth
- Consider writing an abstract and outline for each new white paper or technical blog you are creating, and then pitch this article to a target publication
- Subscribe to HARO – Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a free resource designed to connect journalists looking for subject matter expertise with sources who have that expertise
- Engage in, or host, relevant highly targeted smaller events and repurpose technical session content into inbound content
Partner More Closely with Sales
Your sales force is a valuable resource when it comes to growth planning and voice of the customer, and studies have shown that when working together, your company is 50 percent more likely to achieve or exceed sales quota.
Time is money. This popular colloquialism becomes painfully obvious to business leaders who gather their sales and marketing teams for alignment meetings, only to find the discussion degraded to complaints without solutions, ideas without context to company strategies, activity metrics without a tie to business ROI. Partnering with them through regular marketing and sales alignment meetings can help you all find solutions and plot a growth strategy that is sure to build goodwill and achieve shared success.
- Use an online survey tool like Survicate, to solicit input from your sales team and better understand what type of content they find most helpful, what gaps they see, and new content they need
- Establish metrics and benchmark data to ensure marketing tactics are tied to actual sales
- Create a pipeline management model and metrics dashboard (see pages x and x of this guide)
- Automate prospecting to deliver marketing qualified leads to sales on a weekly/monthly/quarterly basis
- Consider implementing an ABM campaign
- Launch a LinkedIn InMail campaign to targeted contacts within specific accounts when you do not already have a broad-reaching relationship established
Pair up with a Partner
If your company sells product through distribution or partner networks, then consider working with your channel partners to build a co-marketing plan that complements your multi-channel integrated marketing plan. Done well, co-marketing enhances your brand awareness and credibility while extending your access to potential brand influencers and buyers. In your plan, consider how you can: optimize your partner site pages, build co-op marketing and advertising strategies, and enhance channel partner sales enablement.
- Make sure your branding is up-to-date and consistent across your available pages on channel partners’ sites.
- Differentiate content contributed to channel partner sites from your website content to avoid direct SEO competition with your website
- Collaborate with your co-marketing partner(s) to create messaging that clearly communicates how your respective products provide mutual value to the customer, providing proof points such as case studies and other supporting data.
- Create a defined co-marketing strategy with each partner and consider content types that will attract and convert your target audience including: joint news releases, webinars, advertising, trade show booths and demos.
- Build out ABM email campaigns or nurture programs to stay top-of-mind and help inform your channel partner representatives.
Put the Right Team in Place
We’ve all heard the term “growing pains,” and one of the biggest pains with growth is ensuring you’ve got the right team in place to support your growth plan. This could mean changing priorities to free up your current team’s bandwidth to support new growth activities. Or, it could mean you need to hire additional staff; or, perhaps your existing staff needs training to take on new media specialties, build on their expertise, or dive into emerging marketing trends. Or maybe you decide to go with a hybrid approach and bring on partner agencies to work alongside your team as an extension to support new or overflow projects.
Here's an overview of each approach along with advantages, disadvantages, and costs to consider:
The first approach is to do-it-yourself and use the team that you already have.
- No one knows your products and services better than you. By creating marketing content with your existing team/resources, you don’t have to waste time conveying that information to an outsider who may not be as familiar with your technology.
- Any time spent on new growth marketing tactics takes the existing team away from current activities unless those are put on hold or deprioritized.
- Your current team may not have expertise in a particular growth tactic/specialty area and may need additional training, support, or resources to get up to speed quickly.
There may be more of a time cost than a monetary one, but then again, time is money. You may also need to add budget to cover any needed media specialty area training, conferences, or continuing education to ensure the existing team can succeed in any new media areas or strengthen their technical content writing skills.
Hire Additional Marketing Staff
The second approach is to hire additional marketing staff. If your company doesn’t have the bandwidth or expertise to implement your selected growth tactics, you may need to hire content writers and media specialists.
- Having additional marketing resources at your company ensures that you expertise and bandwidth to execute your growth strategy.
- If your messaging, marketing strategy, or campaign plans are not well defined, you will save money with a fixed-salary in-house marketing team versus an outsourced resource because of the extensive time you’ll likely need for numerous reviews and back-and-forth iteration of activity execution.
- B2B technical marketing is a unique niche that requires people with an aptitude and interest in topics that are considered boring or confusing (or both) to the average marketer. Be prepared to spend a lot of time and effort in the hiring and onboarding process to select and train your marketing specialists for success. If this process is rushed, they will quickly become demotivated and disengaged and leave six months later, sending you back to square one.
- Finding and retaining marketing talent, or any new talent for that matter, is more challenging than ever given remote working preferences and higher salary requirements caused by the pandemic
- Sometimes media specialists and writers can get commandeered by the sales department to help with its needs and start serving as a part-time sales coordinator, which compromises marketing goals and results.
A B2B content technical writer ranges from $75,000 to $110,000, not including other benefits and taxes.
The third option is to outsource marketing to a team of experts with a special focus on targeting technical audiences. Marketing firms come in many flavors. Some focus on only one specialty while others are full-service and cover all or most areas of inbound and/or outbound marketing. Some focus primarily on project execution while others tackle marketing from the top down: strategy first and then activities and tactics to follow. Because individual activities may need to change to support the overall strategy, a full-service agency with all the marketing tools at its fingertips can more easily take advantage of opportunities to best accomplish your growth goals.
- You have a team with years of B2B marketing experience, content technical writers, media specialists, and strategists.
- Acting as one marketing team across all activities helps marketing team members become more efficient, consistent, and self-sufficient with time as they leverage what they’ve learned from each new project.
- By going with a team of marketing experts you get access to their breadth and depth of marketing and industry knowledge. Outsourced marketing features a variable cost that is lower risk than hiring additional in-house team members.
- The outsourced marketing team members will need a ramp-up period as they learn about your company.
Monthly costs for marketing services can range from a minimum of $10,000 to over $50,000+ per month and are driven by the results you are seeking and how quickly you are seeking them.
Implement A Hybrid Approach
Often, the ideal approach is a hybrid one that optimizes existing resources and areas of expertise (such as technical content development) and focuses outsourced efforts on marketing gaps.
- Hire an outsourced marketing team to manage a defined growth plan and objectives and help with content development, while your internal marketing specialists executes various growth tactics and coordinates content development from internal SMEs (subject matter experts).
- Your sales engineer will make first contact with the customer to request approval to write a case study or shoot a video testimonial, and then your outsourced marketing team takes the lead on writing or production.
Manage and Track Growth Progress
How will you know if your marketing efforts are contributing to the growth of your business? Set your team up for success by creating your top 8-to-10 core key performance indicators (KPIs) that map to your growth strategy.
We’ve pulled together benchmark data below gleaned from the B2B engineering and technology sectors we’ve worked with for more than a decade to make this task a little easier.
Website Benchmarks for Successful Growth
- Web sessions: 10-20% growth year over year
- Bounce rate: <60%
- Time on site: >2 minutes
SEO Benchmarks for Successful Growth
- Organic traffic as a percentage of overall: >50%
- Domain authority: incremental growth from where you are
- # of keywords you’re ranking for: at least your top 5
Conversion Through the Pipeline
Pipeline reporting ties revenue to marketing activity and to identify any areas of focus. The example lead pipeline model below is a sales pleaser as the visual flow and data makes for insightful discussion that leads to actionable metrics.
Lead Conversion Benchmarks
- Web visits to leads
- Leads to MQLs (marketing qualified leads)
- MQLs to SQLs (sales qualified leads)
- SQLs to opportunities
- Opportunities to customers
- MarTech tools for measurement: CRM, Analytics Platform
Content Marketing Benchmarks
- Content publishing frequency
- Email and eNewsletter execution
- Monthly data-driven Web design updates
- MarTech tools for measurement: Marketing Automation
Create a Growth Dashboard
Once you’ve established your KPIs and benchmarks, pull them together into a growth scorecard. Use your MarTech stack to track and report on them monthly. Perform deeper analysis on a quarterly basis and make changes to your plan based on what’s working and what’s not to ensure you reach desired results. For a more extensive description of how to create a marketing scorecard/what should be included, check out our blog post here.
Adjust Your Growth Plan
Markets are constantly changing: the way your audience consumes content will vary over time and the pieces of content they prefer will vary. Don’t get left behind! Instead, be willing to adjust your growth plan to keep up with current trends or abandon what isn’t working. Better yet—stay ahead of the curve. Pay attention to research and trends within your industry to find out the best ways to reach your target audiences.
Reassess Your Goals
If you’re consistently missing your KPIs and not hitting your benchmarks, it may be an indicator that your goals are not realistically achievable based on your current state. Try breaking down your goals into smaller, mini goals. Or extending the length of time you give yourself to achieve your goals. Growth scaling is a marathon, not a sprint.