Advice for B2B companies: don’t even try to “do marketing” without marketing people!

Recently inducted into the ANA Business Marketing Hall of Fame, Tom Stein has been at the forefront of B2B marketing for more than three decades. As the Chairman and Chief Client Officer at global B2B agency Stein IAS, Tom works closely with leading marketers across many B2B sectors, including technology, financial, industrial, healthcare, telecommunications and professional services.

In your opinion, what is the biggest difference between b2b and b2c marketing?

B2B decisions tend to be high-stakes choices involving careful investigation over time, multiple decision makers and influencers, and formal processes of evaluation and, ultimately, purchase. There is great risk involved in making the wrong decisions, and great reward in making the right ones. B2C decisions are as a rule far less complex – even for higher value goods and services, such as cars or investments. As a result, B2B value propositions are tremendously more complex and multi-faceted than in B2C. B2B also requires intimate knowledge of decision makers on a prioritized basis, from more to less important, as well as intimate knowledge of each audience’s respective “buyer journey.” It requires the ability to align the right messages and content to the right buyer journey stages – and to be able to automate and personalize targeted communication at scale. These are the biggest differences between B2B and B2C. Where there is overlap, though, is in the realm of emotion. B2B decision makers and consumers are all human beings, after all. B2B marketers should never lose sight of this. The creativity and experiences we bring to bear should be based on insights into the strong emotional and psychological components of human decision-making in the highly charged B2B context.

B2B and social media marketing: what would be the right social media strategy for the b2b brands?

The right social media strategy for B2B brands strikes an effective balance between brand and demand priorities. Building a highly targeted following across a portfolio of social networks is the first step, but the end game is about driving demand into the business. The lengthy buyer journey in B2B may not end at a social network, but it often starts there. This journey is all about turning ‘unknown’ prospects into ‘known’ ones, and social media is an extremely effective way of tapping into a universe of prospects. You can do this by driving followers and social communities into pre-built marketing programs. For example, you may have 5,000 followers, but the real mission is to convert this database of handles into complete contact records. This data capture process starts with great content promoted effectively through social media (and other channels). For argument’s sake, let’s say you’ve produced a high-value research study into an industry trend. The report could be hosted on a dedicated landing page where (unknown) visitors are driven from a social network. On that page, before they can access the report, you ask them to complete a form fill. Once they’ve done that, they’re in the sales funnel and you can begin to nurture these newly acquired (known) prospects with additional content. You serve that to them through outbound communications such as email, direct mail and display retargeting. All of a sudden, a promotional tweet generates a suspect, then a prospect, then a lead and finally a customer. It only works if you join your social strategy with your content strategy and an integrated channel strategy, but the rewards are considerable once you do.



Many B2B companies do not have “marketing” job titles, but somebody still has to take care of marketing. What is your advice; how to do marketing without marketing people?

My advice is don’t even try to “do marketing” without marketing people! B2B companies need marketing and they need professional marketers unless they are very, very small companies. Marketing’s role is set strategy based on customer insights. It should drive brand reputation and demand in alignment with business objectives. It should partner with sales to turn that demand into revenue. It should develop and drive pricing and distribution strategies. It should inform product development based on market need. It should catalyze innovation. Though it has lots of tactical aspects, B2B marketing is strategic. It is about growth and success. It is about purpose and vision. It is about understanding trends and issues, needs and wants. It is about employees, partners and customers. It is about connecting brand to demand to revenue. In today’s world, any company without a serious commitment to marketing isn’t as serious a company as it could be.

Does every b2b company need marketing? A construction company, 99% of business comes from public sector tenders – why would they need marketing?

Yes, every company needs marketing. That is, every company with ambition and an eye on the future. That construction company needs to know what its customers are thinking, and what they need and want from a construction company. It should know the trends in construction that will create future opportunity, sustainability for example. It should know if new services or approaches can enable it to win more tenders at higher margin by delivering greater value. That construction company and all companies need to manage and optimize their brand reputation. The tenders that come today may not come tomorrow unless it does. That company and all companies need to actively manage opportunity, and not assume opportunity will simply continue to happen.

Tom Stein will speak at the B2B Marketing Africa conference on the 19th of June in Johannesburg