Steps to Kickstart a B2B Content Marketing Program

Because content marketing is now the go-to approach to attracting, engaging and retaining a clearly defined audience of prospective buyers, it’s important to get your process right. This guide outlines the first seven steps you should take in order to get a successful content marketing program flowing for your business, ultimately helping you bring in more qualified leads you can nurture and convert into customers!

Identify Your Target Buyer

The first step to building a successful content marketing program is to know exactly who you are trying to reach! Despite that most B2B companies sell in niche industries, many of the same content rules apply. For instance, a one-size-fits-all message doesn’t work. You must segment your target audience members before creating content that appeals to them. To whom are you marketing your products? Engineers? Production managers? Technology developers? Each type of buyer wants different things and consumes content in different ways. What’s more, who is actually doing the research when looking for your solutions?

Your marketing message should resonate with both the searcher and with the decision maker – so it’s important to understand their needs and incorporate this information into your content collateral, creating different pieces for each influencer in your sales cycle. Moreover, identifying your target buyer will also inform the channels you use to market your products and publish your content. Wherever your audience is “hanging out,” you want to be there, too.

Interview some of your top customers (but also be sure to pick the ones who will be most honest with you). Ask them about where they conduct market research and what type of content they’re looking for. What are their challenges – and the business conditions that triggered the search for help? What excites them? What do they like to see in a website? And how would they describe your solution in a few words? Talk to enough customers and you’ll start to notice patterns – and use these insights to help you connect with similar prospects!

Determine Priority Keywords

Like everybody else, B2B buyers often begin their research process online, typing in specific terms and phrases into search engines like Google. Generating content about topics relevant to your target buyers – and incorporating these terms and phrases into that content – increases your chances of showing up in your buyer’s search engine results. There are a number of free keyword planning tools out there that can help you determine what’s actually being searched for in your market – Google Keyword Planner, Soovle, and SEMrush, just to name a few.

The best keywords are phrases that have a relatively high search volume and relatively low competition. Simply put, competition refers to your chances of ranking for a keyword based on who else is currently ranking for it. Google provides you with this data. Though Google’s search algorithms are constantly evolving, and the weight it places on on-page SEO fluctuates, it will always help if you correctly position keywords to optimize your page for organic search. Keep in mind that the keywords you find may return low (or even very low) search volume numbers. However, due to the nature of your industry, the prospects using those keywords are likely more qualified buyers – and sometimes all it takes is one successful search result!

Start out your keyword research process with Google’s Keyword Planner. It’s free if
you have a Google account (sign in with your @gmail address). When you dig into the
tool, you can forget the “Ad Group ideas” – that’s the paid part of the application. Pick
a few starter terms and click on the ‘Get ideas’ button, select the “keyword ideas” tab,
and download these ideas to an Excel spreadsheet. You can sort by monthly search
volume or competition and look for optimal combinations. To be frank, some of the
keywords will be junk, but you’ll likely find a lot of great (and new) ideas that pertain
to your business, product or industry.

Take an Inventory of Your Current Content

Half the content marketing battle is just getting started – and the idea of writing pages of new material may be daunting at first. If you think you don’t have much content to work with, you may actually be surprised. Instruction manuals, sales presentations, FAQs, and other documentation you’ve created as you’ve been selling and servicing customers can be modified and repurposed into resources, white papers, eBooks, blog articles or infographics that you can use to drive qualified traffic to your site – not to mention engage site visitors, convert visitors to leads and nurture leads to close. Perhaps even an email you sent as a response to a client question can be reworked into a short how-to piece!

Take the time to tailor content to each stage in the buyer’s journey – for each of your target buyers. When taking your inventory, establish which types of content can be recycled for prospects at the top of your sales funnel (who perhaps haven’t even heard of your company and want general advice or insights about a particular topic), the middle of the funnel (who are assessing their need for a solution like yours) and the bottom of the funnel (who are looking to buy a solution, potentially from you!). This will make your lead nurturing process more fluid, as you’ll have helpful content to offer your prospects as they get closer and closer to decision time.

It’s important to consider how your content will all work together. When you’re just beginning a content marketing program, keep it simple. For each of your target buyer segments, assign one piece of content for each of the three stages. Mapping out what you already have provides you with a bigger picture, enabling you to see the holes you need to fill in with additional new content.

Talk to Your Company’s Experts

So you’re in charge of your firm’s marketing. Why should you be asking other “non-marketing” people for help? The answer is simple. Your colleagues are on the front lines every day in some capacity – whether it’s in sales, production, customer service, etc. – so they understand your prospects and clients in different ways, as well as the problems they’re trying to solve. Asking these folks a few basic questions will help you generate new content ideas. Plus you’ll potentially receive more material to add to your inventory.

Have your sales reps encountered a lot of the same inquiries during calls with prospects? Did your customer service team help resolve a particular issue for a client? These mini stories can be converted into blog posts that showcase your organization’s industry expertise, as well as your company’s values and personality. One quick way to produce a noteworthy blog post is to publish a Q&A session with one of your team members that addresses a hot-button industry topic. Come up with 7 or 8 questions and talk through them with the subject matter expert, transcribe the interview, tighten it up and BOOM. There’s your next bite-sized article!

Create a Content Marketing Mission

It’s critical to know what you are looking to achieve with your content marketing efforts – and to state it clearly in order to guide your plan and process. Content Marketing Institute reports that 45% of the most effective manufacturing content marketers actually have a documented content marketing mission statement to support their strategy. In this statement, you’ll want to articulate your own company goals from content marketing, but it’s just as important (if not more so) to create a mission statement that is reflective of what you want your prospects and customers to get out of the content.

All content you produce should align with your mission. The core of your content marketing mission as a B2B company should be about which problems you solve for your target buyers and the type of content you will deliver to help your buyers solve them. Solve, don’t sell! According to CMI’s content expert Joe Pulizzi, your mission statement should cover:

  • The core audience target: the type of person you can help most with your content
  • Deliverables to the audience: the types of information you will provide through your content, and how your story is different
  • A desired outcome for the audience: things your audience will be able to do once they have consumed your content – what’s in it for them?

We suggest incorporating your own goals into the mission statement, as well. Though you’re just starting out, it’s important to keep business objectives top-of-mind – and to establish some benchmarks and KPIs to help you measure your success once your content marketing program is really up and running! Some examples of goals could include:

  • Drive more traffic to your website
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Generate sales qualified leads
  • Convert more leads into customers
  • Improve customer retention and drive upsell

Craft Content Full of Facts, Not Fluff!

Audiences researching solutions want the facts from a trusted, credible resource. They don’t want all the bells and whistles, the buzzwords, the cheesy slogans – or what we call fluff. The best content will focus on providing valuable information with data, testimonials, and certification badges and seals to back it up. Yes, your content can still be delivered in a fun, engaging way. Of course, an audience doesn’t want to be bored to death by stale writing and a lack of personality. But for buyers in the industry, the substance will have to be there in all instances. So be a resource, not a sales pitch.

To tie your content together, make sure each piece you craft is accompanied by a next step, as well as a Call-to-Action. Your audience should have a clear actionable takeaway from each piece of content. And once they’re finished reading/watching/listening, they should be introduced to the next piece of content that will guide them along your sales funnel. Not everyone is cut out to be a writer. Even with a strategic mind and an eye for
analytics, the best marketers in the manufacturing field may need to recruit a
freelance technical copywriter to help produce meatier pieces that strike a balance
between informative and entertaining content.

Promote Your Content

It’s not enough to simply publish your content on your website. The promotion step is absolutely essential. Organic search is only one way your prospects can find you – and when you’re new to the world of content marketing, you can’t solely rely on “being Googled” to be found. Where are the members of your target audience finding information and reading their industry news? On which social channels are they most active?

Promote your awesome content through social media and paid advertising, in a company newsletter, via print or offline promotion, through traditional online banner ads, on your partners’ websites and via content curation tools and platforms like Medium.com or on LinkedIn Pulse. You can also try pitching an article to an industry publication, providing an inventive angle to the editor accompanied by the reasons why his or her audience should be reading the content right now, as opposed to down the road. If you have visual content to share with your prospects, YouTube actually has the highest effectiveness rating among all social channels buyers utilize. And SlideShare is quickly gaining ground in the content marketing world, too!

To make your content work hard for you, you’ll need to identify the best social channels to promote it. When in doubt, LinkedIn Advertising is a paid option that offers excellent targeting options so you can get your content in front of the buyers you really want to reach. Particularly for promoting links to eGuides and webinars, we’ve seen success in the manufacturing space when leveraging this tool.

Conclusion

Now that you have seven clear steps to follow, you can start more effectively leveraging content marketing as a tool for your business. Producing content may seem like a lot of work, but we hope this eGuide helps you simplify and streamline the process – as it’s well worth the time you put in. Here’s one more important stat for the road… According to GlobalSpec’s 2013 Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector, 56% of industrial professionals don’t contact a vendor until they evaluate their options by comparing supplier website content!

So remember, though B2B buyers are surely a busy group of people, they still want to make the best purchasing decisions for their company, and they often make those decisions by consuming your content, learning about your expertise, and developing a relationship with your business.

Are You Ready to Outsource Your B2B Marketing

It’s no secret that B2B marketing best practices across different marketing channels (social media, paid advertising, website optimization, lead nurturing email campaigns, etc.) are changing every day. Rather than divert time and money trying to learn the necessary tools and techniques, many companies are outsourcing these tasks. Generally speaking, outsourced marketing is the engagement of a professional marketing firm to serve as your own firm’s marketing department.

Outsourced marketing lightens the load for company owners and busy managers who are already wearing too many hats within their organizations. Not everyone has the time, resources, marketing savvy or copywriting/design chops to handle marketing on their own – so outsourcing to an agency is sometimes the perfect solution!

Because so many people use the terms “marketing” and “advertising” interchangeably, you might think outsourced marketing isn’t anything new. After all, ad agencies have been around since the 1800’s. But outsourced marketing is different in some very key ways—and most of them benefit small or mid-sized businesses like yours.

First, marketing is more than simply promoting your business. When you enlist the help of a good marketing agency, you aren’t just looking for jingles and taglines. Marketing agencies can research your target demographics, understand their online habits, and better align your company’s online presence with those habits. Marketing agencies can help you educate and “nurture” prospective clients—a strategy that modern consumers prefer over hard-sell tactics and tired rhetoric. Outsourced marketing lets you meet and engage prospects at many different stages of their buy cycle.

Another difference: marketing agencies are generally better hand holders than ad agencies. We don’t drop the work on your doorstep—leaving you to figure out where it goes and how to get it there. The implementation side of what we do is just as important as the researching, writing, and designing. Even beyond execution, we’ll help you test and measure the results of a marketing campaign, so you have a clear idea what’s working—and what you’re paying for.

Types of Organizations That Benefit Most

Outsourced marketing is a particularly good investment for organizations that don’t employ a large, in-house marketing team. You might have a few people (or zero people) dedicated to your website, your email list, your newsletter, your social media strategy—i.e. all those big items you keep avoiding. Understandably, you don’t want the overhead that comes with hiring a fulltime web developer, designer, copywriter, SEO or PPC
consultant, etc. Most marketing agencies have all those experts on staff. You only pay
for what you need, when you need it. And since you don’t need major redesigns every month, you can save a lot of money—without skimping on quality.

In a nutshell, the types of organizations that benefit most from outsourcing tend to be small to mid-sized, privately held organizations where: The owner has been coordinating or executing his/her own marketing. There is little to no in-house marketing staff or department. The VP of Sales is dually serving as VP of Marketing. The in-house marketing manager is swamped with an assortment of tasks – and they’re struggling to keep pace with the ever-growing list.

7 Signs You’re Ready to Outsource Your Marketing

So now you’re probably wondering – hmm… should I be outsourcing? This sounds like me. There’s no exact formula for figuring out the answer to that question, but if you can identify with a number of the following statements, you might be a sure-fire candidate. Alright, you asked for ‘em! If you’re still on the fence about outsourced marketing, here’s a look at seven solid reasons why it’s probably a smart solution for your business.

  1. YOU DO MARKETING ACTIVITIES, BUT YOU HAVE NO REAL PLAN.
    There’s no limit to the kinds of projects and campaigns a marketing agency can produce. You can commission an agency to rebuild your website, plan and execute your social media strategy, design your print and digital ads, draft press releases and white papers, coordinate your tradeshow materials, ghostwrite your blogs and newsletters, etc. And they can do all of that in accordance with a strategic plan! Not to mention they can effectively analyze the results of said plan – and refine campaigns accordingly.
  2. YOU WANT TO GET OUT OF THE WEEDS AND FOCUS ON RUNNING / GROWING YOUR BUSINESS.
    If you’re the entrepreneurial type, or you’re a sales executive or marketing manager simply overrun by the long list of marketing initiatives you’ve got on your mind 24/7, you could probably use some outsourced assistance. You might experience a feeling of euphoria once you’re finally able to really do what you do best, while the outsourced marketing team becomes the primary handler of your branding, communications collateral and website work.
  3. YOUR MARKETING IS NOT GETTING DONE CONSISTENTLY.
    So many business owners, and even dedicated marketing professionals, simply lack the bandwidth to regularly plan, produce and promote fresh content on their website pages, blogs and social channels. Unfortunately, this is important, not only for producing enough steam to see actual results, but for the search engines to recognize your company site as relevant. Consistency is key.
  4. YOU WANT / NEED TO TAKE YOUR MARKETING TO THE NEXT LEVEL.
    Ever see an awesome website, or a cool infographic, or even a super clever email that strikes a chord and then you think to yourself – man, I wish I could market to my target audience like that. Enter an outsourced marketing agency. They’ll provide the resources and expertise you need to upgrade your programs, sharpen your messaging and leverage the latest and greatest tools and channels.
  5. YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN “LET GO” AND PARTNER WITH A TRUSTED MARKETING TEAM.
    The best outsourced marketing engagements have a thick layer of trust built in. At the onset of the engagement, there may be a few growing pains – and surely, a reputable agency should prove themselves sooner than later to be effective and adaptable to your industry. But once that proof is in the pudding, giving up the majority of that “control” over your marketing is going to be a critical determinant of success. Can you handle that? If so, then outsourcing might be right for your business!
  6. YOU KNOW YOU CAN’T GET ALL THE SKILLS YOU NEED IN A SINGLE HIRE.
    The beauty of outsourcing is the practically limitless access to resources. Adept in-house hires may be able to tackle content writing and strategy, email marketing, social and/or a number of other marketing categories – but can that individual additionally handle PPC campaigns, design work, optimization, and all the specialties today’s marketing landscape calls for in order to stand out? That’s unlikely. But by all means, if you happen to find a single jack-of-all-trades super specialist with every marketing skill and certification known to man, please let us know!
  7. YOU FEEL OVERWHELMED BY THE MANY WAYS THAT MARKETING IS CHANGING – AND CHANGING FAST!
    Who has the time to keep up with all the trends taking shape across the marketing world? Well… an agency does. The right firm’s employees live and breathe marketing, and because there’s a collection of marketers at each agency specializing in various areas, you know you’ve got all your bases covered.

Outsourced Marketing Best Practices

Already preparing to hire an outsourced marketing agency? Great! Think you’ll never have to mention the word “marketing” again? Not so fast… While it’s true that your outsourced marketing agency will take a huge chunk of work off your plate, you still want to sit at the table and be a part of the conversation. So here are seven bonus tips to help you effectively manage your outsourced marketing engagement!

  • Set Goals Together – When interviewing potential marketing firms, make sure to talk about the goals you have for your business, the general budget you have to achieve them and the timeline you hope to achieve them in. With an outsourced marketing firm, you will be setting and tracking goals regularly, so you have to be on the same page throughout this process.
  • Clarify Expectations Together – Decide how often and in what format you and your outsourced marketing firm will communicate with each other. Both of you must agree on the frequency and type of check-ins and accountability you need in order to be comfortable and successful. You may want to have a bi-weekly conference call to get an update on projects, a weekly email summary or a monthly face-to-face meeting, for example. When you’re mutually clear about the best times and ways to reach each other, you pave the road to success.
  • Understand the Difference Between Outsourcing and Employing – While an employee works exclusively for your company during his or her working hours, your outsourced marketing firm serves several clients simultaneously. You should expect a high level of response from any partner you work with, but it is unrealistic to expect that an outsourced partner will be able to provide instantaneous response to every question or request. By setting clear expectations on communication and response times, as well as project deadlines, you will avoid a frustrating experience.
  • Hire a Firm to Work with You, Not for You – The best outsourced marketing partner will not simply take your direction and execute. The right firm will be a partner in your business, a partner that brings new ideas to the table, suggests new ways of doing things, gives you information and insights to make decisions, and pushes back on your ideas when appropriate. This is what you want in a successful marketing relationship.
  • Designate a Leader of Your Marketing Team – Top marketing teams are collaborative and cooperative, with several people offering their talent, ideas and insights. But there does need to be a designated leader, a chief marketing officer of sorts. For the most productive outcomes, the outsourced marketing firm serves as the chief marketing officer, owning all decisions, sign offs, etc. (with critical input from you and all appropriate parties) and having the responsibility to keep the marketing moving forward in the right direction. To be successful, your outsourced marketers need to have your trust and confidence so they can do their jobs and make decisions on behalf of your company.
  • Share Your Expertise, Provide Timely Feedback – A successful relationship with an outsourced marketing group relies on an open, steady flow of communication so that your marketers can use your industry knowledge and subject matter expertise to create meaningful, relevant content for your key audiences. Success is also dependent on providing feedback and sign offs to your outsourced agency – or assigning someone in your firm to handle them – so that your marketing will progress efficiently.
  • Embrace Creative Differences – Much of marketing involves a creative process, and how much – or how little – you like a piece of copywriting or a design is highly subjective. While it’s critical to offer honest feedback, it’s just as important, however, to not give up on your creative team if their first efforts do not work for you. Give them the opportunity to rewrite, redesign, and rework as part of the process. You may be pleasantly surprised with how well a good writer or designer can take your feedback and transform a previous piece into something that works perfectly!

B2B Content Marketing For Industrial Manufacturers

As an industrial manufacturer, your time is short. You have new products to develop. Expensive equipment to maintain. Plus tight production and shipping deadlines to meet. Marketing your company may not be top-of-mind, let alone content marketing. And just what the heck is content marketing anyway? Content marketing can be described as the online presence of your company; the image you portray to clients and prospects every time they browse your website, click on a link, or check your product catalog. Content marketing describes the way in which you communicate the value of your company and the value of your brand. What does your content marketing say about you? We’re here to share the best practices of Content Marketing 101, but with an industrial manufacturing focus. Consider this your guide to develop messaging that will engage your engineers, fill the funnel, and, ultimately, convert leads to customers!

Messaging

Let’s start at the beginning, by identifying your target audience (also known as your buyer persona). Best practice is to first identify the person you’d like to reach, determine exactly what they are searching for, and then define the role they play in the decision-making process. By taking this crucial first step, you can more closely target your market and tailor your message. Clearly, each persona has a unique perspective, and each has an influence in the decision-making process. But there is no one-size-fits-all message for the entire group. Just as engineers may not be concerned about per-unit pricing, manufacturing buyers may not be familiar with the differences in specs from one product supplier to another. Yet all have a role to play in finding the right product at the right price to move their products out the door.

Research

Now that we’ve established the need to target and tailor your marketing efforts, how can you begin? What should your message be? Start with some brainstorming and research to help you understand your audience and determine how to capture their attention. Here are a few steps to get you started:

  • Brainstorm keywords – What are some of the buzzwords (or keywords) that are critical to your industry? Begin by brainstorming a good long list, and then whittle it down to a manageable set of priority keywords. Then choose those keywords with the best search volume as the basis for your content marketing, as your material will rank higher in search engine results. An adept outsourced marketing firm can help you develop this important list (hint, we know a good one!). For example, an air hose manufacturer might include keywords such as air hose fittings, air compressor hoses, compressed air lines, air hose reel, air hose medical, etc., with a “problem” keyword of air hose pressure. Implementing an effective keyword strategy drives higher quality traffic to your website and creates valuable conversion opportunities via organic search.
  • Take a content inventory and repurpose – Why reinvent the wheel? Start with what you’ve got! Begin by taking an inventory of your current content to help you identify the materials you have in stock vs. new materials you might want to develop in the future. Many times an older piece of content can be repurposed with some minor copy and design revisions. Do you have existing customer presentations? They could be the beginnings of a new ebook. Got a list of industry FAQs? This could be the start of a series of blog posts. Get the idea? Repurposing your inventory will not only help you save the time and expense of creating all new content, but can also help you gain traction quickly.
  • Talk to your subject matter experts (SMEs) – Looking beyond existing pieces, how can you begin to create new content? Start by speaking with the folks who face your customers; your sales reps, installation folks or repair teams. Or arrange interviews with your top customers and ask for their insight on your company and the industry. You’d be surprised by how asking a few simple yet probing questions can generate a plethora of new content ideas. What problems do they face? What questions are they being asked? Which social media channels do they follow? Are there industry obstacles they are challenged by? These are all good questions to begin with. Remember, to provide a solution, you must first understand the problem!
  • Observe the competition – Of course, it’s always a good idea to take a look at what your competition is saying in their content marketing. Are they successful in their efforts – or missing the mark? Evaluating the competition can help you solidify and differentiate your company from the rest of the pack.

Content Development

Once you’ve researched your priority keywords, taken a material inventory, spoken to your SMEs, and checked out the competition, now you can get to the actual creation! But first, a few pointers to keep in mind before you begin ― remember that great content marketing does not sell products, but solves problems. Using our example of targeting an air hose manufacturer, consider how your product can solve a persistent air hose pressure issue. Or describe how you can deliver a better ROI than your competitor. Does your product reduce in-field failures or last longer than a competitive product? Each of these perspectives appeals to a different buyer persona, yet may also solve the
problems they regularly encounter. Keep these 3 points in mind when developing your content:

  • Follow the 80/20 content rule – Remember that your content is for the benefit of your audience, so speak from their perspective. Good content follows the 80/20 rule; 80% should focus on benefits and 20% should have a promotional focus. You’ll gain much more credibility by promoting your solutions vs. your brand. After all, would you be more apt to read a blog post with the title of 5 Tips to Improve Your Air Hose Pressure or ACME Air Hoses Are Superior? See the difference?
  • Become a resource – Build a connection with your audience by providing thoughtful, educational content; no fluff, just facts. Research your topics thoroughly and create
    material with a goal in mind.
  • Build thought leadership – This point goes hand-in-hand with the one above. Thoughtful, articulate and factual information will build trust with your target market and build your reputation as a provider of solutions.

Content Promotion

Every good marketing strategy should begin with a well-optimized website, using keywords, CTAs (Calls-to-Action), landing pages, etc. But from a content material perspective, there are a number of resources to include in a comprehensive strategy. Some formats may be long and detailed (white papers), others can provide information in a friendly, concise manner (blog posts); yet each plays a role in the buyer’s journey. Ultimately, you want to educate your target market and give them information that they can rely on. But remember that personality is also important; even industrial industries
that are sometimes perceived to be “dry” can be fun with a little creativity!

  • Start a blog – Blogging is a proven method of increasing leads. In fact, B2B companies that blog get 67% more leads, as each new blog post provides a new landing page to improve SEO. There is really no limit to what you can blog about, but best practice is to build your editorial calendar around your keywords and to blog consistently. Mix up your topics to include Q&As, SME interviews, videos, how-tos and other formats.
  • Develop white papers – White papers are generally long, detailed reports that explore a vertical or industry challenge in great technical detail. They often include product technical data and are geared to address an industry issue of challenge, with very little (or no) promotional content.
  • Write case studies – Case studies are meant to share your company’s strengths and introduce a solution that your audience may not have thought of. Keep in mind that you do not have to reveal the names of your customers (for competitive reasons); you can simply provide relevant application details within the appropriate industry. To preserve confidentiality, consider a title such as, “How a Major Contractor Reduced Air-Hose Failures By 20%.”
  • Generate videos/infographics – Content marketing is not just the written word; share your information via visuals to reach all types of audiences. Consider how-to videos to demonstrate a new product, or a Q&A with your Service Manager. Infographics can feature a chart or diagram of industry data.
  • Build eNewsletters – Digital newsletters are a great way to nurture your leads on a regular basis. Consider a monthly challenge/solution format, comment on tradeshow takeaways, or review a recent application experiment. Content can vary greatly.
  • Get social – It is becoming more and more critical to include social posts in your content marketing strategy. Develop and promote your company’s LinkedIn page, tweet an excerpt from your blog, or create a company Facebook page. Your social outreach is the perfect opportunity to promote your content and interact with your target market!

Conclusion

In conclusion, remember that timely, relevant content marketing is a worthwhile investment for all industrial manufacturers. With the right strategy and correct buyer persona, plus relevant, educational content, you can build your thought leadership and the value of your brand. But the biggest takeaway of all? Don’t sell products, solve problems!

How B2B Companies Can Charge Up Their Websites

Successfully positioning your company as a leading expert in the B2B technology industry means you’ve understood how vitally important it is to stay up-to-date. Your technology business is selling products that are top-of-the-line—brand new, fast, sleek and relevant to your customers—and in this increasingly digital world, your company’s website needs to reflect the high quality of the products you’re selling (and the high quality of your brand!).

Fail to adapt and you’ll look like a laggard, even if your product is, in fact, state of the art. And nobody prefers to buy from the tech laggards… The hard truth is this: you have 10 seconds to communicate your value to users if you want them to pull up a chair and stay a while. It’s imperative not only to know what your website visitors love, but also to show them exactly what they need, before they even know they need it. It’s important that you dazzle, inform and impress your visitor in the time it takes you to read this sentence.

It’s not as hard as it sounds. There’s already an overwhelming amount of diversely designed websites (both effective and ineffective) out there in cyberspace. You’d be surprised to find, however, how few websites actually meet the standards that users prefer, especially in the professional B2B market. What these companies don’t know is that it only takes a handful of tweaks to their website to transform it into something truly compelling for their target audience. Intrigued? Glad you got this far? (Our 10-second hook worked, yes!).

This guide will introduce 8 ways you can power up your technology or SaaS company website – as well as a few insider tips on how to implement them! Plus, we’ll provide a handy checklist for you to track your progress as you knock out each item.

Create a Great User Experience

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what your website visitors are doing when browsing your products and pages (and “browsing” is a keyword here). Don’t believe us? Here are some stats: most of the time, about 55% of website viewers are spending less than 15 seconds on a piece of content. What’s more, according to a study conducted by Stanford, almost 75% of users valued website and information design as the biggest part of establishing trust during the user experience. Make your website pull a Tom Hanks… get your target audience to trust you and look classy doing it. For a great user experience, your site MUST:

  • Have a sleek, modern design – BE the products that you’re selling. If your site looks
    like it’s emerging from the Stone Age, that’s the way your technology product is going to be perceived, too.
  • Be mobile-friendly – More searches are made via mobile devices than on desktops now. That’s a big market to miss out on if your website hasn’t incorporated a responsive design that adjusts the display for each type of device.
  • Demonstrate high-speed performance – Remember the 10 second rule? Your website’s lag time shouldn’t be the reason why prospects aren’t sticking around.
  • Engage readers with interactive content – Offering interactive website content—assessments, quizzes, surveys, polls, videos, clickable photos, roll-over effects, you name it!—could mean the difference between a prospect and a buyer.

Help Customers Help Themselves

A good technology website needs to harness the power of two things: agency and objectivity. The whole point of a good website is to introduce yourself and your products to customers. Your customers, in turn, must be able to feel you out, explore the options you have available to them, and decide whether or not you’d make a great pair. In order to help them do this, a good website should allow customers to engage in self-service. Consider the 80/20 rule: 80% of your customers are only really looking for about 20% of your content. So make it easy for them to find what they need AND, as a separate point, understand what you can provide them with tools like these:

  • Streamlined search – Nothing is more frustrating in the internet age than not being able to find what you’re looking for, so add a site search bar into your navigation or footer. Moreover, optimize content and pages with the right keyword strategy so that customers can get what they need when they need it by searching on your own website.
  • Custom calculators – Calculators can help determine buyer needs while also allowing your company to remain objective. That said, it never hurts to insert a little plug with every result your calculators might come up with (i.e. “Your results have been calculated and we can help you with that…”).
  • Product catalogs – When you’re selling multiple similar products with different variations, a catalog or a more specific tool reserved solely for your products will help differentiate your solution for prospects and buyers (this particularly applies if you’re selling devices, as opposed to software).

Provide Outstanding Customer Service

This one’s a no-brainer, but when you’re working in the B2B marketplace, it’s always worth mentioning. It’s especially important when considering that most companies have a 60%-70% chance of selling to an existing customer, whereas only a 5%-20% chance of selling to a new prospect. With that said, a loyal customer is worth, on average, up to 10x more than their first purchase. Outstanding customer service not only enables the engagement of new prospects, but it also ensures that your existing customer base sticks around (and, well, buys what you’re selling). To provide outstanding customer service, a great tech website must have:

  • A support section – If possible, include names and headshots of your support staff. Sending a note to a customer service department sometimes feels discouraging, but by putting faces to the support team names, it will help make your clients feel more comfortable.
  • Interactive help chat – With speedy responses from real people – live chat is one of the most-used outlets available to customers, topping out at 33% of user engagement.
  • Accessible contact information – Don’t be afraid to provide bios, headshots, and very obvious “Contact Us” and “About Us” sections in your website menus.

Build an Accessible Knowledge Base

In the technology industry, anticipating the questions that prospects are going to ask is vital in connection to both customer service and self-service, so this point is very much tied to the previous two. In a study by Nuance, 67% of customers say they actually prefer self-service over speaking to a company representative. This means that a knowledge base that is both accessible and (actually) helpful showcases proactive customer service AND self-service encouragement all rolled into one! Plus, it’s also a way to flaunt what you’ve got and show what you know (and great practice for applying the needs of those buyer personas that marketing agencies always make you write). For a solid knowledge base, here’s what you need:

  • A FAQ page – You’ve undoubtedly experienced issues with customers in the past – nobody’s perfect! Gather the questions they’ve asked you, plus some things you think you need to clarify, and get them informed by consolidating it all to one page.
  • How-to’s – How-to information and video tutorials are a great excuse for making interactive content to more practically engage with your prospects.
  • Technical dictionary – Similar to the Insider Tip in Point 1, this could be a hub of all the technical jargon you might use to help “translate” it for the layperson just trying to buy some software or a new device.

Highlight Features and Benefits

Beyond your website’s accessibility and design, its purpose is to sell your product. A good website will highlight your products’ features. When in the B2B technology industry, product feature highlights are especially important. Compared to B2C spending practices, B2B spending is much more measured, planned, and collaborative. Product features could speed along the decision process for your prospects and clarify crucial, need-to-know parts of the products. Be sure that your product features are presented in a way that highlights the benefits for the customer. Point out what types of problems each feature solves, and your message will truly resonate. Examples of how product features could be displayed:

  • Feature comparison charts – Infographics, data sheets highlighting competing brands, and new vs. old technology could all fall into this category. The more visual, the better.
  • Product demos – This could also double as part of your knowledge base; you could make demos into how-to videos or downloadable PDFs, etc. Killing two birds with one stone and getting new customers doing it? Score!
  • Screenshots – With software set-ups, things can get complicated. Providing screenshots helps your customers understand what things are supposed to look like.
  • Service levels – Many SaaS companies have varying service levels. If this applies to your business, a pricing page that discusses the differences, along with the value a customer gets from each level is important to display. Nothing is more frustrating for a buyer if they have to talk to a sales rep to get this information.

Demonstrate Thought Leadership

For many technology company executives and marketers, establishing themselves as thought leaders in their fields can take time. Yes, an adept thought leader shows off their own expertise and highlights his or her company’s capabilities; however, they also curate and share the best third-party content from other leading sources published on the web. This shows your target audience that, yes, you actually do know what you’re talking about, and that perusing your site is worth the time. It also provides objective information that your customers will be able to access in order to educate themselves. Ways you can highlight your industry chops and credibility:

  • An industry blog – A blog provides the perfect opportunity for you to address common industry problems, answer prospect questions, and discuss your take on current events in your field. Sure, you can promote case studies and product benefits in your blog on occasion – but frankly, that’s what the rest of your website is for.
  • Interactive content – We’ve talked about it already, but as a technology industry
    pro you already know the value of looking savvy. Interactive content helps you do that. Instead of just reading through content, it allows prospects and users to engage more fully with the material.
  • Educational content – This includes eBooks, white papers, etc. – anything you deem as publishable and important for your customers to understand.
  • Explainer videos – Explainers are typically animated videos (3 minutes or less) that follow a problem and solution narrative. They help make your products relatable to those customers that would be needing that technical dictionary we talked about. Plus, with the right concept and execution, they’re fun to watch!
  • Social media integration – Everybody’s favorite thing: posting. But it’s more important than you know! This is a way to share your valuable content with the world to your following via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn – and if you do it right, someone will like/favorite/share it again. Free marketing!

Emphasize Security

More than any other industry, a promise of security in your technology website means a promise of security and quality in your product. Security for online payments is relevant to every customer base: 91% of people making purchases online are concerned about security. Working in the B2B market, make that 100% – B2B buyers need to know that what they’re getting is secure because their purchase impacts the entire company. To make a business buyer feel more comfortable with you, and to legitimize your priorities as a technology company, add these to your website:

  • Certifications and seals – To further prove that you’re registered and reliable, show off those badges on your home page, contact page, resource landing pages and any other conversion points on your website where a prospect might appreciate some reassurance.
  • Online payment methods – B2B buyers spend more money than regular consumers, so having a secure online payment software like VeriSign (which is one of many security options) is vital to promising security in their purchase. They shouldn’t need to think twice about buyer safety, even if the stats say they do anyway.
  • HTTPS – This is in contrast to HTTP, both of which are the little acronyms preceding the rest of a URL. HTTPS helps ensure that all communications between a browser and a website are encrypted, so that hackers can’t easily access your (or your customers’) information.

Provide Social Proof

Two of the strongest methods for convincing a person to buy your product? Word-of-mouth and peer observation. In fact, specifically in the technology industry, peer observation (or observing other customers) is significantly more important than word-of-mouth recommendations. So where and how can you include opportunities for peer observation on your website?

  • Customer testimonials – Here you can let someone else do the talking for you. Include these on your homepage so that your users don’t need to extensively search for proof that you’re the best choice. (Note: don’t have testimonials? That’s okay! It’s easy to collect them by contacting happy customers).
  • Case studies – This is a scientific, data-focused way to share your magnificence to your more tech-fluent audience. As far as a format to follow, first present the customer’s challenges, then discuss the solutions your company provides, and finally end with results and a testimonial if applicable.
  • Social media share counts – Include these at the bottom of posts, in product reviews and product pages. These share counts will not only show how much people love a specific piece of content or one of your products, but it will also encourage users to continue to share them.

How to Get Started with B2B Content Marketing

Why should you care about inbound and content marketing? Because your peers, partners, and competitors do. According to HubSpot‘s State Of Inbound Report, inbound marketing is the preferred marketing strategy across all business types. In fact, 3 out of 4 marketers throughout the world prioritize an inbound approach to marketing. And when you know that content marketing generates 3x as many leads but costs 62% less than traditional outbound marketing, the advantages of implementing an inbound strategy are hard to ignore.

It’s this substance-heavy strategy that makes up the core of inbound marketing. Unlike traditional outbound marketing techniques (which aim to push products, services or brands), modern inbound marketing seeks to educate, engage, and entertain. Keeping within that goal set, content marketing allows businesses to build relationships with their prospects throughout the sales cycle. Sales is still the priority here – marketing has to make money, after all – but content marketing accommodates sales cycles of any length. It doesn’t push. Even if someone doesn’t buy right away, your business remains top of mind, which comes in handy when the buyer reaches the point of purchase.

We know, we know. Who has the time to create all this content? Who reads it all? How can you do this and still keep up with all the other things you’re doing? Can you really make money with all this stuff? More than most, SMB owners and marketers appreciate the need to be smart with their time, practical with their approaches and productive
with their marketing. That’s why your content marketing program needs to be realistic, cost-effective and successful. Here are 5 steps to creating a content marketing program that delivers in sales.

Identify Your Goals

So what do you want to accomplish with your content marketing? Think about it as you would any other marketing program – if lead generation is the goal, for example, decide how many qualified leads you want to bring to your door through each initiative. If your goal is getting more business from existing customers or retaining clients over time, you’ll want to think about the things they have already demonstrated an interest in.

When your objective is to build your brand or position your firm’s subject matter experts as thought leaders, it’s important to think about presenting topics in a unique, innovative way. For all of your different goals, we suggest coming up with the topics and keywords that will drive your content marketing efforts. What topics do you want to become known for and, more importantly, what versions of words or phrases do people use when searching online for these topics?

You may discover, for instance, that “commercial cleaning services” is such a popular search phrase that it would be very difficult for your content to rank highly for it. But maybe a term, called a long tail keyword phrase, like “what to look for in a commercial cleaner” has fewer searches but – with the right content – higher opportunity for your business.

Decide on Distribution Channels, Formats and Schedules

Now it’s time to think about how you will present and deliver your content. You’ll want to do this before you dig into creating content because the distribution channel and format will drive content creation. For example, creating web videos requires different content (as well as style and tone) than a white paper series or weekly blog.

Start where you should always start when creating content – with your audience. What do they read, watch and listen to? Are they heavy mobile app users or do they still subscribe to their industry’s print publications? Are they likely to share your content if it’s valuable and relevant? What kinds of topics, information, education and entertainment
will they respond to? How often do they want to hear from you and how?

Getting to know your target audience, which should include prospects, current clients and, in some cases, the press, will help you choose the most appropriate formats. You can also check out the popularity of the content your competitors are producing for hints on what resonates with your audience.

Define a Content Creation Plan

Now it’s time to dive into the content creation. This is where many small businesses can get overwhelmed. Who will write, film, design, and take photos? How will the schedule be coordinated and executed so it stays on track? What content do we have now that we can leverage? It’s critical at this point to assign a point person to head up your content marketing program. Many larger firms are hiring chief content officers, but that’s just not realistic for most SMBs.

So think about an internal person, an outsourced option or a combination of resources that can lead this effort in a cost-effective way. Start by doing a content audit of all the materials you currently have. Maybe you’ve started blogging or you’ve been publishing a company newsletter. Perhaps your website has a robust resource section you can leverage. Do the same for all of the photos and videos you may have completed by this point. Being able to repurpose content is key!

Next, you’ll want to create your plan for each piece of content marketing. For example, maybe you’re going to start with a monthly webinar series designed to drive leads and strengthen client relationships. Decide on your topics, speakers, webinar tool and schedule. Once that is done, you will be surprised at how much other content you can create from this single initiative.

Commit to Listening and Engaging

Imperative to your success will be a commitment to respond to all comments, reactions and ideas you get from your audience. Because all great content allows for interaction, make it as easy as possible for your users to engage with you. Include Q&A sections in your webinars, invite comments on your Facebook company page, ask questions in your blog posts and newsletters, and encourage sharing of your content on all social media sites.

Not everyone will agree with or even like your content, and if they tell you that – great! Never hide negative reviews or comments, but respond openly and honestly to them. And always thank people for speaking up and sharing.

Measure and Refine

The beauty of marketing today is that essentially everything can be tracked and measured. You have the power to know how many people view a video, open your newsletter, download your white paper or retweet a tweet. Take full advantage of these metrics to see how well your content is working to achieve the goals you set for it. Is it increasing traffic on your website? In time, you’ll start seeing major positive changes.

And with more qualified traffic, comes more leads! Google heavily values inbound links, social sharing and regularly updated website content when it comes to populating the search rankings. So keep that valuable content coming! Again, don’t leave your content to sit around and collect dust. Make refinements regularly to ensure you are creating the most valuable, engaging content for your audiences, the kind that ultimately leads to sales. Take a look at what content drives the most engagement and do more of that, while refining the pieces that lack shares, comments or views. Remember: quality, not quantity, will be more beneficial for you in terms of content in the long run.

Conclusion

Content marketing gives you the unique opportunity to show off in a way that is mutually beneficial to your prospects and clients. While we know that implementing an inbound and content marketing plan takes a lot of time and energy, there’s a reason why so many people are making the switch. It yields results. Now that you have a clear 5-step process to create, execute, and measure your content marketing plan, you can more effectively start leveraging what you know and use it as shareable insight. You can excite your prospects, inform your clients, and generate leads with higher visibility on search engines.


Quick Guide to User Experience for B2B Businesses

Digital types love acronyms and abbreviations, and these are two of the big ones. UI, short for user interface, and UX, short for user experience, are a big deal for designers, developers and marketers. They’re similar, but they’re different. Simply put, a user interface is what a website looks like, while a user experience is what a website actually feels like to use, and the outcomes a user will reach. It can be very easy to focus on the looks, and neglect what’s going on underneath. Often, new websites come around because companies or brands want a new look and feel, but they haven’t necessarily considered anything beyond that. After all, isn’t what the site looks like the biggest part of a user’s experience with it?

Well, it’s a big part – but it’s not the only part. When designing a truly great user experience – one that gives users exactly what they’re looking for, makes a site perform well on search engines, and has the maximum potential to generate and convert leads – there’s a lot more to think about!

The user interface

There are a lot of things that make a good user interface. At its simplest, here’s what a site needs to get right:

  • The design – A site’s design is the biggest part of the interface. What it looks like – the layout, the colours, the images. There’s a lot to consider here, as design trends change all the time, and what people consider to be the most effective or attractive interface shifts pretty regularly. The design really is one of the biggest elements of the user experience – but that’s also when the trouble begins. Because the look and feel plays such a big role in the user’s active engagement with the site – it’s all they see, after all, and it’s often the deciding factor as to whether they stick around or bounce straight off – it’s easy to see it as the whole of the user experience.
  • Copy – Websites need words. Even when trends move towards more visual, image-led designs, it’s so essential not to forget about the copy on a website. Not everyone will read every single word on your site – so it’s important to make sure there’s enough there that people can get a good understanding from only reading a bit. A website with a good user interface will have copy in readable fonts in legible colours, laid out in a way that’s easy to read. The tone of voice used is a big part of the interface as well – it’s the way your website speaks to the people that visit it.
  • Interactivity – A slightly newer consideration in user interface design is interactivity. What tools the site presents to users to reach out and use it. How what you click, tap or swipe changes what you see on the screen. How the menus and navigation features work. These elements of the user interface, once again, do have a lot of say in determining the user experience – more so than the design itself – but they’re still not the whole story. When you stop at this point, you’re still only looking at the surface.

The website brief and sitemap

This is the most basic description of the website. It tells us what the new site needs to do – and the next step is to come up with how it does it. This is where the UX begins to be determined, as it needs to be an experience that encourages the desired action. So, what does the site need to achieve its goal?

The sitemap – the full list of pages and how they’ll be structured in menus – is a big part of this process. It sets out the pages required for a site to achieve its overall goals. Each page on the sitemap will then have its own individual requirements, including the features, the information it needs to display, and the other pages it needs to link to, which will then need to be reflected in the interface design. This is important to the user experience because it keeps a site focused on its goals, and on providing users with the necessary pages and tools to use the site for what it’s meant to be used for. A site that’s been designed just to look nice, without considering what each page is actually for, and what it needs to do it, won’t provide a very helpful user experience!

The content strategy

Developing the sitemap is also the beginning of the site’s content strategy. A website’s content is often neglected in comparison to the design and interface, but it’s arguably a much more important part of the experience of using a site. After all, a site that looks nice but doesn’t actually tell you anything useful, or hides information away where it’s difficult to find, isn’t much good. There are a lot of different elements to a website’s content strategy. For example, each page will need individual keywords, to make sure people can find the relevant info when they’re Googling. Long tail keywords will also need to be identified to give more context to why people are searching for a particular term – and pages will need to answer those queries.

Developing user personas is also an important part of content strategy. A user persona is essentially a profile of the people you want to be visiting your website – who they are, why they’re visiting you, what they’re looking for, and what will convince them to use your business. Developing content that serves these ideal customers will make it more likely that you will reach and influence them. How the content directs people through the site is also a big part of the content strategy. What calls to action are there, and how are pages connected to each other? The sitemap will set out the menu structure, but there are many more ways to move around a site. Which brings us to another important element of the UX – the user journey.

The user journey

The sitemap is more like a tube map than a treasure map – it’s very rare that every user will move through the site in the exact same way, and there’ll be many different journeys that a visitor can take. This may be because different elements of the home page have caught their attention, they’re at a different stage of their own buyer’s journey, or it may be because they’ve entered the site at a different point because they’ve searched for something specific on Google. All of these journeys are valid – there’s no right or wrong way to use a website, so they all need to be accounted for and mapped out. Each needs to come to a useful conclusion, with no dead ends. This is where the personas developed as part of the content strategy will be helpful – people aligned to the same persona will likely be using the website in the same way, and this can help to narrow down different user journeys and plan them out accordingly.

Accessibility

A website needs to provide a good user experience for everyone. A lot of sites are unfortunately designed without the needs of people with disabilities in mind, which can make them quite limiting. There are guidelines to how web content should be presented so it’s accessible to people with disabilities, and a site that meets all of them can be considered to have an AAA rating. Guidance includes avoiding flashing content that is known to cause seizures, providing alternate colour schemes to improve clarity, and using fonts that are easier to read for people with dyslexia. While a lot of these considerations usually come under the user interface, there’s plenty behind the scenes, too, such as making sure that videos have subtitles, or that any non-text content has a text alternative. These features aren’t just useful for people with disabilities, either. Relying on sound to convey information, for example, might turn people off if they’re working in a quiet office and don’t have their headphones – really simple things like that. It’s all about making sure a website is essentially just as helpful as possible – and why shouldn’t that be a priority?

Responsiveness

Just like a site needs to provide a good experience for every person, it also needs to provide a good experience on every device. That means making sure the interface is responsive, working equally as well on differently sized monitors, phones and tablets. Mobile traffic in particular is constantly growing, but it’s still neglected by so many sites. A lot of businesses simply don’t care about how they look on mobile, because they assume that their customers don’t visit them on handheld devices, and they’ll neglect their mobile site. But you know who does care? Google! Search engines are starting to penalise sites that don’t provide a good mobile experience. And customers will always be visiting on mobile. It might be less of them, but giving them a good experience is no less important.

How B2B Businesses Can Start a Social Media Presence

We’ve heard all the excuses – no time, no budget, no idea where to begin. But finding your place in the social media world shouldn’t be a stress. Social media is an integral part of everyday life for 3.5 billion people – that’s a lot of potential leads. Delivering engaging and effective social media takes time, planning, and a certain degree of trial and error. Our guide to the best social media platforms for your business will help you identify opportunities to increase your reach and brand awareness.

Understanding organic and paid social

Before we delve into the many social media platforms available, it’s important to understand the difference between organic and paid social – and more importantly, why you need to find the right balance between the two.

Paid social – Paid social media includes sponsored and boosted posts, ads optimised for clicks (PPC), video advertising and so on. Anything that you put spend behind to achieve a goal, be it increasing brand awareness or web traffic, sales or lead generation, boosting community engagement or growing your audience.

Organic social – Organic social media includes all the content you don’t pay to promote. Through organic content, you can build your brand’s online presence and reputation. It will help you better understand your target audience through community management and discover what your customers are thinking and saying about your products or services.

Finding a balance – While organic content is important in building your digital footprint, paid social also plays an important role in getting you noticed – hashtags can only take you so far! Using paid social, you can amplify that organic content and expand your reach to gain a valuable following.

The Platforms

  • Facebook is the world’s third most visited website and boasts “over 2.32 billion active monthly users”, making it the world’s largest social media platform. With so much potential reach, it’s a great starting point for most businesses looking to build a social media presence.
  • Instagram is predominantly a lifestyle-focused social media platform, engaging audiences between the ages of 18 and 34, according to data from Statista. Some might argue that Instagram is a vanity platform, and in many ways it is. People like to show off where they’ve been, what they’ve eaten and how they live. But with trending hashtags converging on fashion, photography and food, there’s plenty of opportunity for businesses in the creative or hospitality industries to get noticed.
  • Twitter has one major advantage over its rival network Facebook. While Facebook’s algorithm is designed to limit your reach, so that to maximise your reach you’ll be compelled to put spend behind your social, Twitter’s algorithm is far more merciful and egalitarian! If a user follows a Twitter channel, content from that channel will always appear on the user’s feed regardless of spend. If you can capitalise on trending topics, employ popular and relevant hashtags and encourage users to retweet your content, you can expand your reach with less spend.
  • LinkedIn is the favoured social network among B2B businesses and business owners. The platform encourages users to develop relationships with existing and new connections. It’s a great space to recruit, with LinkedIn Talent Solutions offering tools to help you find, connect and manage candidates. As a business, you can build your reputation, connect with like-minded people and target a niche area of your industry where you can share your expertise.
  • YouTube is both a social and media platform. It was created as a place for people to connect, but over time it has evolved into something more. YouTube might be up there with other media players like Netflix, but the platform retains the same social functionality and sense of community that made the online space so appealing to so many. While it is primarily a platform for video, the conversation that is built around that content gives it a place on this list. If you can create helpful video tutorials and share insights into your industry, you can generate brand awareness which will help your business stand out.

Steps to get started

  • Developing your buyer personas

To understand which social media platform (or platforms) your business belongs on, you first need to understand who your target audience are, and more importantly, where they hang out online. A buyer persona is a profile, based on research into your sales targets, which describes your ideal customer: their personal life, work life, goals, pain points, interests, and how they make decisions. To create your own buyer personas, you can survey existing customers, check your analytics, and talk to your customer-facing employees for further insight. Buyer personas are important when starting out on social media as they will help you decide on your tone and approach. That being said, be true to your brand. If your business has a big personality, let it shine through! People tend to respond better to business social media accounts when they feel like they’re talking to a real person, so aim to be relatable and friendly.

  • Setting your social goals

Before you settle on a social platform (or three) for your business, you’ll want to think
about your objectives. Setting achievable, measurable goals is equally important on
social as it is in any other aspect of running a business. Good social takes time, so being able to look back and recognise progress, successes and areas for improvement will help justify the time you’ve spent cultivating your social presence. Consider your main business objectives and choose social goals that will help you achieve them. Do you need to grow your customer base? Are you interested in raising the profile of your brand? Keep this in mind as you read on and weigh up the different platforms.

Why B2B Businesses Need to Craft a Website Brief

When you need a new website, and you’re not going to build it yourself, you need to find
someone to build it for you. The brief is what you use to help you decide who that’s going to be. You set out what you want, and the web agencies you’ve found that look good will tell you how they’ll do it, and how much it’ll cost you. It’s not a contract that’s set in stone – it’s something that will naturally change and develop depending on who you’re working with. But it does form the basis of any website project. And when the brief is a true reflection of what you want, you’ll be able to find the right agency to make it happen – and they’ll have the information that they need to deliver it.

Why does a good brief matter? Well, there are a few reasons why it benefits you, and not just the agency that have more to work with.

  • Save time (and money, because time really is money)

If you don’t create a brief, the agency building your website will have to develop it themselves, which takes time. And no one’s a mind-reader, after all – without proper guidance, you can guarantee there’ll be some back and forth as they develop a solution that ticks all the boxes you’ve got in your head. Put those boxes down on paper, and it’ll save everyone time. As most web agencies will calculate their quote based on an hourly or daily rate, saving time means saving costs, too. It’s that simple!

  • Fair evaluation

When everyone knows what the site’s objectives are, and how the success in meeting those objectives will be measured, it’s easier to see how good of a job the agency has done in completing the project. A proper brief means there won’t be any dispute as to whether your agency has delivered or not. It provides a bit of security and confidence for both sides.

  • Most importantly… a better website!

Creating a website is a collaborative process that balances the needs of your audience with your expertise in your industry, and the expertise of your agency in web design and SEO best practice. If any of those factors are missing, the finished project will be lacking – it very much is the case that you get out what you put in, and this all starts with setting out your objectives clearly in the brief.

What to include in a website brief

  • Who you are

As mentioned, any good agency will carry out in-depth research into your company before working with you. But they can only learn what’s out there to be learned. Share your own perceptions of your company – the values that you may discuss in meetings but don’t necessarily share publicly. How you want to be seen, but aren’t quite seen by others yet. Give us your inspiring visions for the future! Be honest and realistic about your position in your industry, too. While we’d never discourage you from shooting for the stars, the point you’re aiming from is very important, particularly when it comes to how your website approaches search engine optimisation. Simply put? Tell us who you are, and how that matches up with who you want to be.

  • What you do

Give us an overview of your products or services. Go in-depth, and tell us what makes your particular offering special. What are your unique selling points? Tell us how you see people interacting with these services on your new website. For example, if you’re selling products, do you want people to buy directly online? Or do you want to share product information, but encourage people to contact you directly to buy?

  • Who your competitors are

Agencies should undertake competitor research – but when it comes to websites, this is often based as much on competition for search results as for anything else. Who do you lose customers to, and who do you win customers from? Who do you aspire to be like, and who’s nipping at your heels? Understanding who you’re competing with can play a big role in how you’re positioned online.

  • Who your target audience is

Tell us a bit more about your typical customers or clients. Are they the ones you want? Or is there another audience you’d rather be tapping into? Tell us some demographic information – age, gender, income, average spend. Tell us what industries they work in, what they turn over, where in the organisation the person you usually deal with sits. Why do they choose you? Why do they stick with you, and why are they likely to leave?

  • What your current website is failing to do

Now it’s time to get into the website itself – and any website redesign project will start with a good, hard look at the one you’ve already got. What are your pain points with your current website? Is it not getting enough traffic? Is it getting traffic, but not converting into sales or phone calls? Is it too slow? Is it hard to use on mobiles? Is it missing a lot of information about what you’re doing these days? Is it just looking a little bit outdated?

Be honest, too – even if you’re the one who wrote the copy or maybe even designed the logo all those years ago, do you still think it’s up to scratch? Or could it be better? Of course, you might not know exactly why you need a new website – you could have just had some feedback that it was hard to use lately, for example. If that’s the case, say so! Although more in-depth information is useful, this is where agencies start to set themselves apart – identifying problems you hadn’t even considered, and working out how to fix them.

  • What you’ve seen elsewhere that you like

It’s not the most essential part of the brief, but it can potentially be a very helpful one. If you’ve other websites in mind that you’ve seen and like the look of, tell us! No agency worth your time will just go out and copy it – but they will be able to take inspiration from the overall style, and reinterpret it through the lens of your brand identity. If you’re honest and clear about what you want, you’ll get it. But if you compare the designs you’re presented with to a secret standard that the agency didn’t even know about, it’s a recipe for trouble. So, if you’ve got some links to share, we’d love to see them!

  • Your objectives

What do you want to achieve with your new website? A lot of this will come down to improving what you think it’s doing badly, but here are a few suggestions for common website objectives: Increase sales; Improve our performance on search engines; Position the brand as a leader in our industry; Generate leads; Show off our portfolio more clearly; Better display our brand identity; Simplify our service offering; Work on mobile. Be as in-depth as you can with your objectives – increase sales or leads by how much, for example. Explain what being a brand leader means for you. Identify competitors that you’d like to rank above. Finally, explain which objectives are most important, and which are lower priority.

  • How you want to measure your objectives

How you measure objectives will depend on what they are – and some will be far more subjective than others. However, it is possible to measure things such as the number of sales over the first three months, or the number of leads that result in sales. Search engine positions are also very easily measured, as are factors like the cost-per-lead off the back of marketing activity. Again, it’s important to be realistic – a new website is an investment that will take time to pay off. You won’t immediately start ranking at the top of Google overnight, for example. But this is one area of the brief that will develop as the project progresses. As long as you’re clear in what you want to see, you’ll be able to agree on what success looks like with your chosen agency.

  • Your deadlines

Do you need your website to launch at a certain time? Perhaps it’s to coincide with a new product launch, or a business anniversary, or a merger – something with a set date. Any agency will work their hardest to make sure that you can launch in time but, as always, there’s a need to be realistic. In order to meet best practices for design, development, SEO and security, website projects will take many weeks – and more likely a few months. Large-scale projects can take the better part of a year. If you’re too tight with your deadlines, you may struggle to find an ideal agency. Anyone promising to knock it out in a week for you is likely giving you an out-of-the-box template that won’t be crafted to your exact specifications.

  • Your budget

A few years ago, there was a big boom of small agencies promising any website for just a few hundred pounds. And while you might still find the occasional agency that does this, you won’t be getting something that will actually help you compete. We’ve mentioned earlier that most agencies will price on the time it takes to develop your site – and mentioned above that websites do take time to build. Different agencies have different hourly and daily rates, and as the deciding factor in choosing an agency often comes down to price, it’s important to be honest about your planned budgets so anyone pitching can tell you exactly what you’ll be able you get for your money. Keep it vague, and you might not get the full picture. However, if you’re not sure of how much you want to spend, most agencies will present you with a few options, usually at a lower, medium and higher price, with different features to match, so you can make a decision.

Biggest Challenges for B2B Digital Marketers and How to Overcome Them

As a marketer, you’re often faced with everyday challenges that see you being pulled from pillar to post – like juggling campaigns, keeping abreast of brand performance, overseeing projects and managing your external agencies. If you think about all of the aspects of marketing that you’re expected to be an expert in, it’s easy to become a jack of all trades – but a master of none.

If we consider digital marketing alone, best practices change at such a pace that you have to constantly be on your game to ensure that these projects run without a hitch. As digital marketers, we feel your pain. In fact, a recent survey found that 73% of those working within the industry felt their role had become increasingly complex over the past 12 months.

Couple this with the fact that many of those managing digital projects do not feel as if they’re being fully backed by senior management, and the job becomes a whole lot harder – especially as you’re expected to provide MI reports and closed-loop metrics which clearly demonstrate the impact that marketing has upon sales. The levels of expectations to deliver on all fronts can be more than a little overwhelming. So how do you go about managing all of these conflicting goals and agendas? This guide looks at the challenges, and addresses how to deal with them.

The Challenges

  • “Can you just…” – You know the drill. You’ve got a plan outlined for the day (week… month…), you have a campaign almost ready to go, and then… sales want a sign making, operations put an urgent request in for product data, your MD wants a last-minute report on current marketing activity, accounts suddenly need customer data pulling – these seemingly small requests can all add up and before you know it your carefully laid plans are put on pause.
  • Managing expectations – With all of these requests, managing expectations can be a full-time job on its own. From a lack of understanding of the marketing function (up next!), to unrealistic expectations of your time or resources – especially in a multi-brand environment – it falls to you to manage everyone’s expectations, which can be unrealistic.
  • Scope extension – This is a common issue that we come across. You think you’ve been tasked with one thing, and all of a sudden it’s ballooned into something much bigger, making resource management difficult to predict – particularly when you’re not 100% sure of the complexities that come hand in hand with all aspects of digital marketing, such as PPC (pay-per-click) advertising or SEO (search engine optimisation).
  • Lack of understanding of the marketing function – We know from a recent study that 40% of those working in marketing felt that there was a ‘lack of understanding’ from senior staff – particularly when it comes to digital marketing. Perhaps there’s a misguided sense of what marketing actually does, and you need to look at internal communications to address this.
  • Limited in-house resources – All of this becomes much harder if you don’t have the resources to help you achieve your goals, whether that’s an in-house team or budget for external support. How do you ensure that you’re getting the best from your resources?

Overcoming the Challenges

  • Prioritise

When you’re prioritising your own responsibilities as well as those of the team, facility, and customers, there’s a lot of plate spinning to be done. By first defining your goals and the activities that will have the most impact, then organising your time around these, it will prepare you to face each day with clear vision and purpose. Digital marketing can be time-critical. You’ll want to react quickly to any feedback you receive online from your users, and also be able to provide commentary on current affairs that affect your industry.

But it can also be an incredibly flexible medium without finite deadlines, and you can use this to your advantage when planning schedules. If at all helpful, we have put together a rudimentary matrix of suggested timings for your digital marketing activities, designed to help you to understand more about the timescales required. On the next page we’ve put together a list of some of the most common marketing activities, with guide timescales of how long you should expect to have to spend on each one.

You’ll need buy-in from your directors – as a company, you’ll need to clearly define the priority of your products, as well as the goals associated with each. Don’t be bulldozed into thinking that your digital marketing campaigns should take a back seat over the more traditional forms of marketing that have, in the past, yielded good lead generation. Set out your argument from the outset why plenty of investment (in time and money) should be made to this part of the marketing strategy. This way, it’s not always a matter of who shouts the loudest – it’s about managing priorities that are already clear. Even so, get into the habit of asking how important a requested task is. Was a deadline provided? Consider how it contributes to your marketing goals.

You need the time to step back and take a look at the business as a whole. You may be responsible for both B2B and B2C marketing, and if you’re dealing with multiple brands, products or services, you need to explore the relationships between them to ensure that you’re taking advantage of all possible opportunities for cross-promotion, while sticking to an overarching brand identity. If you’re working with limited resources, you need to ensure that you’re getting the best from them. Is delegation possible?

If you have the benefit of an in-house team, ensure that you’ve assembled one that supports you. There are many digital marketing activities that can be carried out by an auxilliary team that don’t need a CIM certificate. In fact, you may find that members of your team share expert knowledge of your industry and can produce a highly rich and authoritative pieces of content that will resonate with your prospective customers. Whether you have a team or employ an agency, define the constraints before getting out of the way and trusting that they’ll achieve it.

  • Stick to the plan

As a manager of multiple brands, delivering content through many different marketing channels, you may well be juggling more than one plan at the same time – some of which relate back to different teams. You must have an overarching marketing plan, then a day-to-day plan for implementation. Write everything down to be clear in your own mind, and work with specific goals that you can track and measure where possible – big concepts are easily waylaid until they’re broken down into smaller chunks.

We use a simple, but very effective, scheduling tool to map out our projects, which breaks down by type of activity, brand, action, who is responsible, and week/month of delivery. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes software can help. Try out some of the many tools out there to find, one that will fit with your working ethos. Some good examples include Aha!(a visual roadmap tool) or Liquid Planner (a project management tool). We use Basecamp to manage our projects, which ensures that all team members are on the same page, tasks can be assigned and reviewed, and calendars can be synced.

Ad hoc requests will always come in – it’s the nature of the job – but don’t be distracted by small tasks that don’t require your attention. Delegate where you can, and learn when to say no. Manage expectations by not overpromising. If it’s not achievable, feel confident in explaining that you have X, Y and Z this week, but you can certainly look at that next week. Obviously, there will need to be some flexibility within any plan, but have confidence in the prioritisation that you’ve set – it’s there for a reason.

Don’t be afraid to implement a process – setting the rules for dealing with requests manages expectation from the outset. By simply asking about the nature of the job and when it’s required, you can turn what is perceived as an urgent task into something which is more manageable within an agreed timescale. However, it can sometimes be beneficial to go off-script. Don’t be afraid to change your plan if you have access to more data, ideas or resources. A more informed plan is always going to perform better, but it should be on your terms. Make sure it’s your decision.

  • Say no

This is a tough one – especially if the request comes from above. However, there are ways you can say no – particularly if the request isn’t helping you to achieve those important business goals. Sometimes you don’t even have to say no – it could be a “not right now”. Here are some ways of saying no without saying no…

“Can you just…” – Help the person see that you have a plan in place, and that working on their idea would mean you have to divert attention from that plan. It goes back to prioritising.

Managing expectations – Let’s face it – people do get excited when they think they’ve hit on a great idea, and you don’t want to discourage that creativity. By keeping your strategy in mind and discussing it, you may find that their idea doesn’t quite fit, isn’t fully-formed, or you already have something planned to meet that goal.

Scope extension – This could be in conjunction with the one above – meeting the same strategic objective in ways that are less time-consuming, or more in-keeping with your plan.

Lack of understanding of the marketing function – This tactic buys you a bit of time to consider the request without giving an answer there and then. If it’s a real suggestion, the person may follow up – if they’ve been struck by sudden inspiration with no continued enthusiasm for the idea, their silence may mean that you don’t even need to pursue it.

Limited in-house resources – A half-formed idea could mean you end up putting time into researching something that isn’t fruitful in the end. Put the ball back in their court – they’ll either follow through, or they won’t. This is a great way to handle vague requests.

Identify an agency to support you

Even if you have a team in place, it may be that a specialist agency could help you in your digital marketing efforts. Think about a partnership that will both help your company and assist you in achieving your goals. There are many reasons you could require agency support:

  • An agency could have specialist skills that you or your team don’t possess
  • It could be more cost-effective to employ an agency than have another body in your office
  • You’ll be benefiting from their tools and technology
  • There’s no learning curve – they’ll have the experience and resources in place to hit the ground running
  • Their perspective will be different to yours
  • They can educate you

Don’t just meet one agency – look at portfolios and testimonials of a number of different ones, speak to the staff, get recommendations, and provide a brief for what you need. This should open a dialogue, and the next step would usually be for you to meet face-to-face to get a feeling for the company – this will be a close partnership, after all. Ask specific questions to get specific answers, and ensure that the agency explain what aspects of their proposal are based on speculation, and what is and isn’t guaranteed. Another option is marketing automation. This refers to software platforms and technology designed to help marketing departments more effectively manage multiple online channels such as email, social media, websites etc., and can automate repetitive tasks.

Whether it’s alongside or instead of working with an agency, marketing automation is often useful in the long run. Although automation can be time or resource-intensive to set up, it could solve a lot of resource issues in the future. Marketing automation refers to software platforms and technology designed to help marketing departments more effectively manage multiple online channels such as email, social media, websites etc., and can automate repetitive tasks.

Why Small B2B Businesses Need to Invest in a Website

A website is essentially a home base which supports everything else you do – both online and off. Whether a company needs one or not is no longer up for discussion. Every website will have completely different needs, depending on a huge range of factors defined by audience, service and industry. Bigger brands in particular may be able to use their websites for completely different things, thanks to the full extent of their other resources taking some of the pressure off. Smaller business, on the other hand, will need their website to do a bit more legwork. There are six key things that it will need to achieve.

Establish your brand

Your website needs to offer visitors a clear picture of who you are. More than any other space your business operates in, your own site provides complete control over how you position your company. This positioning takes two key forms:

  • Aesthetic positioning – what your brand looks like. Colours, fonts, logos, styles of imagery. These need to be immediately apparent to users, and also need to be used consistently across all areas of the business, from social media accounts to business cards to van decals.
  • Message positioning – who you are, and what your company stands for. Your core values, your unique selling points. These messages need to be front and centre.

Establish your products or services

When it comes to the services you provide, and the things you sell, your website shouldn’t leave anything to the imagination. Make sure there’s plenty of detailed information about what you sell – and why you’re the best person to supply it. This can include:

  • Written descriptions
  • Technical specifications
  • Photography and video
  • Case studies and testimonials
  • Frequently asked questions

Generate leads or sales

The information above is all in service of encouraging customers to click the “buy” button – or persuading potential clients to enquire for a quote. Website visitors should have as few barriers as possible to initiating or completing these transactions – useful (even essential) features include:

Sales-driven
• Online storefront
• Pricing information
• Customer baskets
• Secure payments

Lead-driven
• Automated quoting tools
• Targeted contact forms
• Clear contact information

Appear in search results

A website is all-but-useless if no one can find it. Websites need to be designed and built in a way that search engines can read, index and serve up to people in search results – this is called search engine optimisation, or SEO. There’s no on/off switch for making a site appear at the top of Google – instead, it’s a combination of a large number of factors, including (but not limited to):

  • Identifying relevant search keywords that relate to your business
  • Ensuring each page has a unique title, ideally using one of these keywords
  • Writing enough unique, relevant content for each page to give a clear picture of what it’s about
  • Creating a logical site structure that bots can move through easily
  • Making sure the site loads quickly, and is useable, on all devices
  • Ensuring correct details are listed in Google Business
  • Updating the site regularly so that Google recognises that it’s an active business

You’ll notice that many of the elements favoured by Google’s bots are also incredibly useful to human users too. Creating a site that is easier for people to use means they’ll spend more time on it, rather than clicking the back button straight away. These metrics of human behaviour are recorded and considered by Google, and the better your stats, the better you’ll be able to rank. When SEO is done right, it’s almost like a snowball effect.

4 essential things every business website needs

Technology moves fast, and the internet in particular is always changing. A website that met every technical standard and best practice even two years ago could now be completely out of date. These standards range from boxes to tick to pretty essential user functions, to legal requirements that can cause trouble if not met. Here are a few key requirements:

  • Responsive design

Responsive web design means that websites are designed and built to work effectively on a number of different devices (desktop, tablet, mobile), and in any browser window size. If you make your browser window smaller, or look at your site on a smaller device, does it stay put, forcing people to scroll left and right to read anything, or shrink down until the text and images are illegible? Or does it adapt, subtly adjusting the layout to make sure everything remains readable, and on one screen? The latter is called responsive web design, and it’s increasingly becoming a factor that’s valued by Google – as well as by users, as mobile web browsing overtakes use of desktops.

  • Speed

This one’s fairly simple – no one likes a slow website. Human users are less likely to stick around and wait for your pages to load, and search engine bots may not be able to crawl through your entire site in the time allotted. Technical considerations to improve page speed include finding the balance between high quality images and small file sizes, optimising code to be as efficient as possible and compressing certain files.

  • Security

Protecting the privacy and integrity of the data your website handles is essential, particularly if the site allows people to make payments directly through it. If your website runs on a certain type of software, such as WordPress, it needs to be kept up to date with the latest version, as security issues and new vulnerabilities will be fixed with each release. Making sure your website uses HTTPS instead of HTTP as the method for which it transfers data is also essential – the secure version (hence the extra S) encrypts the data that your website sends around the web, protecting it from hacks. It also adds an essential badge of trust for consumers, who are increasingly keeping an eye out for the secure identifier on the websites they use to make purchases.

  • Data protection

If you have contact forms that collect data from users, you have a responsibility to make sure that data is actually relevant to your business, and is kept securely. You may be aware of recent changes to the law, with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR for short. This stipulates that you have to make your visitors completely aware of the data you’re storing on them, as well as why and how you’re storing it. You’ll also have to go to greater lengths to get consent for storing this data.