We are living in interesting, unpredictable times - the one thing we can be certain of is that certainty is gone, swept away on a tide of unprecedented and rapidly changing events.
Where does all this leave the B2B marketer? High and dry or facing a new ocean of opportunities?
The difference will come down to how you think about the changes facing us, how you decide to act and how radical you are prepared to be – in these new conditions, it’s not so much about thinking outside the box as blowing the whole box apart.
For example, I’ve asked myself why B2B marketing isn’t more like its B2C cousin? On the face of it, the two could not be more different. B2C deals with consumers who are likely to be unpredictable and more emotionally driven. Converting B2B prospects into firm customers is also a much more involved process with numerous stakeholders.
But look past the clichés and a different picture emerges. We can easily forget that marketing activities are aimed at people, not corporations – as such, they are just as influenced by emotional messaging as consumers are.
A survey conducted by Google found that B2B brands create more emotional connections than B2C brands do – in fact, many more. The research showed that among hundreds of B2C brands, only between 10 and 40% manage to make an emotional connection with people. When it comes to B2B, seven out of nine brands achieved a figure of 50%. 
This may seem counter-intuitive, but as the report notes, if a consumer makes a mistake when purchasing something, they simply choose differently next time. When corporate buyers are not happy with the buying decision, there is often more at stake, involving their development, their colleagues and their customers. This means decisions are often made with more emotional clout behind them.
So how do we make these emotional links? Perhaps not surprisingly, it involves revealing a brand’s softer side. Consumer marketers have been putting their brand values of empathy and compassion on display for years, building the message that they understand the challenges and difficulties faced by their customers.
When talking to corporate customers, you can do it too, showing how you empathise with what they are going through and what ‘keeps them up’ at night. With a global pandemic in progress, there is now more need than ever to show your customers that you understand their challenges and can help them to navigate their way through them. For instance, provide help at no cost to the customer - showing how much you are prepared to give now in difficult times can build your reputation and make a real link with customers.
Treat your customers as a community, supporting them and offering value through difficult times. Get them networking with you and each other and sharing experiences, challenges and solutions.
Show your human side too by using humour and by personalising communications that connect with your customers’ interests.
With COVID focusing people’s minds on the difficulties they are facing, another way of making a connection is to look at your customers’ current most pressing problem and present them with a solution that works right now.
Another sensible approach is to look at the ‘lowest common denominator’ - an underlying business problem that is big enough to need actioning, but which is manageable enough to be solved by gaining consensus of all parties involved. COVID-19 has re-iterated the focus on the concept of “minimum viable problem”, that is - to be able to justify the requirement quickly, without it growing out of proportion from the actual need.
Solving these small but important issues can help build connections, as we move to a world where utility and practicality have never been more important.
Fail fast, win faster
For a long time, B2B marketers have been used to long lead times, complex customer challenges and multiple solutions. That world has gone – replaced by a new world of rapid change and fast decisions. As a result, the B2B marketer must also act rapidly, becoming more agile, quicker thinking, willing to take risks and experiment with new ideas.
Agile marketing sees teams identifying high value projects on which to focus. Work is done in short intensive ‘sprints’, following which results are assessed and actions taken to improve them in the next round.
Because you don’t put all your hopes on one grand plan that you live or die by, you can afford to take more risks, placing your bets on more than one marketing horse – if it falls, move on and back another. Agile marketing rides the wave of change by allowing us to respond to markets as they develop and try lots of ideas, building on the ones that work.
You may also find that your ideas don’t pan out and produce the results you were hoping for – this is a risk but it is a learning experience and will allow you to home in on the valuable methods that work in your markets and make those all-important emotional connections.
And we can’t forget digitalisation – better, more targeted, more emotional messaging and faster, data-driven marketing, drawing on the rapid information processing and automated campaigns that digital systems can help us build.
In a world of change, we need to keep connected if we want to weather the storm.