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  • August 27, 2021
  • By Michela Baxter is , senior director, loyalty, Merkle Promotion & Loyalty Solutions

B2B Marketers Should Borrow These Three B2C Approaches

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Consumer buying behaviors and expectations are shaping B2B sales, but B2B marketers aren’t keeping up. As consumers, B2B customers come across sophisticated marketing techniques in their day-to-day shopping experiences and are starting to expect similar levels of personalization and immediacy in their B2B relationships. If you’re a B2B marketer who relies on traditional demand generation approaches, you are falling behind competitors who are adopting successful CX-based marketing solutions used by B2C marketers to acquire, engage, and retain customers.

The digital transformation experienced over the past year carried over into the B2B world. Changes in the sales landscape require a different way to connect with customers. And the pending death of the third-party cookie along with the compounding demand for data collection, personalization, and measurement is amplifying the need for a complete transformation of the B2B buying experience.

B2B audiences and decision makers look and act differently than before. Audience dynamics are changing; customers are increasingly millennial, tech savvy, and digital first. Marketing, sales, commerce, and service stakeholders need digital engagement solutions throughout the customer journey. A funnel approach won’t address this range of audience needs.

Sales enablement activations that nurture knowledge, appreciation, and delight will provide B2B stakeholders the tools to deliver business outcomes and build deeper loyalty among customers by inspiring them onward to the next stage in the journey, applying intangible and tangible incentives discretionally to align with customer needs, and using data to drive content and communications to nurture customers from one moment to the next.

B2B marketers must rethink their demand generation methods and transform their organizations by bringing in customer-centric engagement approaches that reach customers across the entire experience. The following three B2C marketing approaches, taken from Merkle’s 3 Ways To Rethink Your B2B Marketing Approach eBook, are ways B2B marketers can accelerate their marketing strategies and drive deeper engagement and loyalty with their brand.

Activate Key Moments in the Customer Journey

Customer journeys help B2C marketers understand how customers move across touchpoints from awareness through to advocacy. This approach is more fluid than the linear, stage-based sales funnel currently used in B2B marketing. It is more detailed and allows brands to identify and activate against specific moments in the customer journey. Moments that engage, educate, solicit feedback, and build a community are often overlooked and can drive sales growth by engaging, educating, and rewarding B2B customers for their product exploration, adoption, and engagement. B2C marketers think about meeting needs at key touchpoints. B2B marketers can take a page from this playbook and build activations that meet customer needs as they navigate the buying decision.

Use Gamification to Drive Engagement

Gamification has long been talked about as a means to engage customers in the buying experience. While this approach is less frequently used in B2B experiences, it can offer brands new ways to connect with customers by sparking intrinsic motivation, leveraging challenging and achievable tasks, and creating a compelling narrative. Sophisticated gamification strategies must think beyond leaderboards and badges and use a system of mechanics to empower customers to participate in the experience.  Adopting gamification’s customer-centric principles will remove barriers to completing the desired action and reduce the need for tangible incentives because customers are emotionally motivated.

Collect Zero-Party Data to Inform the Next Best Action

Transforming the customer experience requires getting to know buyers, meeting them in their need states, and exceeding their expectations. This is achieved by collecting and activating first- and zero-party data through permission-based marketing like loyalty solutions and promotional activations. First-party data typically collected through lead generation is just the starting point. Zero-party data--data proactively and intentionally shared by customers--collected through digital experiences provides the preference, attitude, and sentiment data needed to deliver higher levels of satisfaction through more personalized “next best moments” in the buyer journey. This data can also be used to optimize audience targeting and media planning and buying.

B2B marketers can transform funnel-based approaches using differentiated customer experiences that create meaningful moments of interaction and sustainable customer relationships. These enduring relationships can help insulate brands against industry-specific challenges and even global pandemics. In a post-pandemic world, knowing individual customers will be more important than ever; however, even with enterprise-wide CRM platforms at their fingertips, many brands are blind to where customers are in their purchase journeys, what is motivating purchase decisions, and emotional cues to brand affinity. B2B marketing must become more human and keep pace with strategies, approaches, and techniques used by B2C marketers. Incorporating B2C thinking is critical to transforming how brands interact with customers in this new B2B landscape.

Michela Baxter is senior director, loyalty, of Merkle Promotion & Loyalty Solutions. A former Merkle client, Baxter joined the strategy team at Merkle in 2012 and consults with clients on best practices, strategic design, and program optimization for Merkle's loyalty programs. She’s the go-to for clients that want to push their thinking on consumer engagement forward and create new paths to loyalty. Prior to Merkle, her career in marketing and sales centered on developing integrated retail and consumer programs for some of the world’s best brands: Scotts Miracle-Gro, Target, illycaffe, and LVMH.

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