Marketing for B2B startups

Vasso Kal
Vasso Kal
May 11, 2018 · 6 min read

Marketing for B2B startups often seems limited and less “fun” compared to funky commercial campaigns for B2C. While it’s indeed more “serious” in most cases, it’s not limited at all. It’s just a different game.

B2B audience is smaller and can be better defined. As a result, B2B marketers can craft a highly targeted message and expect much better conversion rates in their campaigns. Additionally, the weight of the solutions presented in the B2B industry make the customer more demanding and thorough, not only towards you but also towards your competition. If you can differentiate yourself in the way that matters most to your customers, then you’ll have a big head start in the game.

There are two main types of leads: Inbound and Outbound. Inbound is the one every marketer wants because it’s when the customer comes to you and they are usually in the consideration or purchase stage of the funnel. This type of marketing requires lots of investment in the early stages of the buyer’s journey to build awareness to potential customers when they still are not familiar with your solutions.

Image: Bloommedia.com

Outbound marketing is when you contact the potential customer with an offer and follow up on them until they either buy your product/service or they turn it down. This is a classic approach to niche markets, where there is a small volume of potential customers and each of them needs to be personally nurtured.

We’ll discuss a few tactics on how to perform actions to attract both Inbound and Outbound leads for B2B.

Step 1. Define your target customer

Before crafting any message, you should know who you are talking to. Sit down in a conference room with a whiteboard and discuss all the things that make a good customer (good being defined as high LTV, high margin, and fast sales cycle). Then zoom into the demographic profile of the customer. Is she a tech or a business person? What’s their age group? What kind of education did they receive? What’s their job title and their role in the decision process? This is a continuously improving process, but the more you know from the beginning, the better you’ll be able to target them. You can find this information on LinkedIn, their company pages, CrunchBase if you are targeting CEOs, and of course, your sales team, if they have already been talking with customers. You might end up with more than one profiles, i.e. the target user and the decision maker.

Step 2. Find the appropriate channels

After putting together the basic profile of your target customer, you need to discover how these people prefer to get information about products/services like yours. For example, they might spend some time daily on Facebook, but if they want to keep this time for family and friends, utilizing this channel for a business purpose might not be such a good idea. For this stage, it’s valuable to actually talk to your prospects and ask them directly, questions like “where did you get information about similar products up to now?”, “how often do you google similar solutions?”, “what are the top brands in that area that come to your mind and where was the last time they came across your way?”, “Which events do you visit?” “Which magazines/blogs do you read?” etc. You can find them on LinkedIn, in your network, and in industry events like conferences and exhibitions. There are lots of available tools if you need to get information about the technologies their companies use, without even talking to them. Services like Clearbit and BuiltWith, for example, can help you build a list of companies that use Intercom or Stripe, etc.

Step 3. Split your time between short-term outbound actions and long-term inbound actions.

Outbound communication is usually faster and easier, but on the downside it’s invasive and it has lower conversion rates. Inbound takes time to build so you need to be invested in it in order to see results. At each stage of your startup’s life, you need to balance a mix of actions for both outbound and inbound activities, starting with outbound for faster results and aiming at increasing the inbound part as time goes by.

Outbound Process

You know who is on the other side of the screen, so now you need to decide what you are going to say to them. Get in your customer shoes. What’s the biggest value they get from your product? Why would they consider changing their current routine to add your solution to their lives? Identify two or three main messages and craft an email for each one. This will be your A/B test. Best performing emails are short, identify quickly a pain point of the reader, present the solution, and show some validation that this solution works. All of this should be easily read on a mobile device and have a clear call to action at the end, like “Let’s jump in a call next Wednesday” or “Register for our 20’ webinar to find out how [your_product] can benefit [their_company]”. Personalization, especially on the email subject level, leads to better open rates and better CTRs.

The next thing you need is the list of prospects to contact. This is usually where most startups get stuck at. There are lots of available email lists that you can purchase but these lists usually have low-quality data and need to go through a cleaning process. Another way to do it is to build your own list. You can get the data from LinkedIn and enrich them with contact and company information. Some tools to help for this process is Dux Soup (collects LinkedIn profiles based on a filtered search), Voilà Norbert (finds business emails, provided you have the full name and the company domain), LeadIQ (captures leads and enhances their profile at the same time). Once you have a list of leads, upload them into a mail delivery and automation platform like ContactPigeon and start testing the copies you’ve made. Follow up with the people who haven’t opened the email after a couple of days with a reminder.

Inbound process

Image: salesgenie.com

One of the most important factors that shape purchasing decisions in B2B is trust. You can build up this trust by providing value-adding material to your prospects via your website or your blog. The type of material could range from white papers and use cases to courses and infographics. You can experiment with different types of content to find out what your prospects really like. Utilize your digital properties and your team’s networks to distribute this material to the appropriate channels. Use this content as a lead magnet, asking from your prospects to give you their email in exchange for this free resource. Keep the landing page of the material simple, so that it will not distract the prospect with irrelevant information. Do not try to sell something in the first touchpoint but rather try to establish engagement for future communication (subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, etc.) Ensure that you have enabled the appropriate utms for tracking pixels to retarget the prospect later in your PPC campaigns.

Working on your SEO is also highly important. You will need to have a fully optimized website with proper headlines, meta descriptions, and keywords to appear on relative searches. Additionally, researching your competition and the industry keywords will give you a better idea of the easiest way to start ranking (for example specific long tail keywords with high traffic and minimum competition). SEO typically brings the first results after a few months so, be proactive and start the research and on-site optimization early on.

When should I start my marketing efforts?

The answer to this question is always the same: yesterday. In the early stages, marketing helps you identify the key features you need to implement to your product to find your product-market fit. In the growth stage, it’s the means to spread the word about the awesome solution that you have created and later on you will use marketing to engage with your customers, provide additional value to them and keep them happy.

Marketing is both a science and an art. Experimentation and quick decisions based on user behavior data ensure that in the long term every euro spent on marketing will return multiplied.

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Vasso Kal

Written by

Vasso Kal

Startup enthusiast, BDM @ Skroutz SA

Inside VentureFriends

Stories from a VC Team with Sneakers