A B2B Guide to Engagement Marketing (with Strategies, Tools and Examples)
January 11, 2018 | Robbie Richards
For a century, marketing and advertising were the same thing. It was all about spending money to interrupt people with your messaging, and hoping the interruption was rewarded with a sale. The quicker the sale, the more profitable the product. The pressure of the bottom line pushed marketers towards a more immediate, aggressive, and disruptive marketing model.
While this approach worked for a long time, the buyer journey has become far more complex. Today, there is an average of 5.4 stakeholders involved in any given B2B sale. And, prospects are much more educated — 90% of the buying process is over before a prospect ever speaks to a salesperson.
While acquisition was, and always will be critical to the survival of any business, more emphasis needs to be placed on engagement.
To quote the blog post that started the conversation around engagement marketing:
“[marketing] is shifting from talking at people, and focusing on transactions, to engaging with people – building meaningful, life-long, and personalized relationships.”
How can we be sure that this isn’t just an assumption? Here’s the hard data:
49% of companies say they achieve a higher ROI by focusing on engagement over acquisition.
You’re not making effective use of your marketing spend if you don’t look for ways to make engagement a driving force behind your marketing strategies. But what exactly is it?
What Is Engagement Marketing?
To understand what engagement marketing is, it might be easier to first grasp what it isn’t. You’re on the receiving end of short-sighted, single-minded, quick win marketing several times a day:
This marketing is popular because it has stood the test of time. There are countless books, courses, and blog articles written about it. It’s so popular most marketers haven’t stopped to question it.
Customers, however, have grown tired of the instant close tactics, especially when it comes to complex B2B buying decisions with much longer sales cycles.
Research from Forrester finds that today’s customers “distrust and resent one-off campaigns that interrupt or intercept them”.
This is the death of one-size-fits-all email blasts. You need to earn the right to sell to today’s customers.
No matter where someone is in the customer lifecycle, the goal of engagement marketing is to move them one step along — not rush them to the end and try to close a deal straight away.
It’s a bit like how buying a car has evolved. In the past, a customer would see an attention-grabbing car advertisement on a billboard and go to a dealership. Once on the lot, the customer would talk to the salesperson and probably drive off with a new set of wheels.
At no point in this process did that customer do their own research, get nurtured by a number of dealerships, interact with different salespeople, read reviews…
In other words, all of the power was in the hands of the business, not the consumer.
Today, prospective buyers of any product are on the email lists of numerous competing businesses, comparing offers online and interacting with them on social media. It’s the business that delivers the most engaging, personalized experience that wins the deal.
How can companies change from impersonal, ineffective marketing and start engaging customers in a way that promotes loyalty and repeat business?
You first need to change your mindset…
Why Your Mindset Needs to Change
The shift in customer behavior requires a shift in your attitude as a marketer.
As Act-On reports, B2B prospects have always been slow to close. Previously the cycle length was estimated between three months to a year, but now it lasts even longer.
According to Forrester, prospects wait until they are 65-90 percent of the way through their journey before approaching a vendor.
With that in mind, it’s clear you’re not going to change a customer’s mind by bombarding them or playing the short game. Customers need to be engaged, educated, and nurtured to a level of trust needed to make B2B purchase decisions. Understanding your ideal customer, and their buyer journey is more critical than ever.
The customer has the power of choice, and — thanks partly to the popularity of content marketing for the past decade — can now research products on their own: 90% of B2B buyers say when they’re ready to buy, they will find you.
Customer data is being collected on a bigger scale now than ever before, and this data enables more personalized experiences:
In a 2015 Forrester report, 16% of B2B buyers indicated the number one reason for repeat business is whether or not a supplier offers personalized recommendations after tracking purchasing habits across different channels.
Engagement strategies have a positive effect on more than the customer experience; your bottom line will improve, too. Recurring customers spend as much as 67% more than new customers.
Sales is being pushed further down the customer journey timeline. B2B buyers cite industry experts, peers, and web search as the top three resources for informing purchase decisions.
While the direct involvement of salespeople was not listed as a factor, the alignment between sales and marketing teams has never been more important.
The 2015 DemandGen B2B Buyers Survey describes this as a “continued push to self-educate in anonymous mode before connecting with a sales rep”.
We know that engagement marketing is critical.
Now, let’s switch gears a bit.
The Core Pillars of a Successful Engagement Marketing Strategy
An engagement marketing strategy challenges everything you thought you knew about moving customers down the funnel.
Ou with personas, generic email blasts, and assumptions. You now have the ability to make much smarter, more data-driven decisions.
Here are the core pillars of engagement marketing.
People, Not Personas
Sure, it’s easy to keep directing messaging at personas — especially after you’ve gone to the trouble of creating and testing them. But when it comes to truly engaging customers, it’s all about targeting the individual.
This means focusing on the data and creating targeted customer segments that receive very specific messaging, for very specific purposes.
Let’s say you’re selling SaaS and looking to upsell a new add-on to every customer on the basic plan. To target the person rather than the persona, you would niche down the segment as much as possible: every 50+ employee customer in the IT industry that opened the feature announcement and who’s in-app behavior indicates a need for the add-on.
These customers all get a hyper-specific message aimed at educating and engaging — a helpful, gentle push further down the funnel.
But what about if you have no data on the leads you want to engage?
Depending on the importance of the leads and the time and hustle you’re willing to dedicate, you might try old-fashioned personal outreach after researching the company manually. If it ends up with you getting your foot in the door with a major customer, it will have been worth it.
Actions, Not Assumptions
While it’s not a B2B example, look briefly at Netflix for an example of the global thirst for personalized content based on actions, rather than assumptions. And now statistical evidence:
“According to Marketo, 80% of consumers worldwide say they will only engage with a brand’s marketing offers if those offers are based on how they have previously interacted with the brand.”
The technology marketers need to build a clearer picture of a customer’s likes, dislikes, and purchasing habits exists. Make decisions based on the actions of your leads and customers, and you’ll be better able to engage and convert.
Long Term, Not Quick Win
With mountains of information available at the click of a button, B2B buyers are now more likely than ever to spend longer researching and shopping around. This is something you can use to your advantage.
Change your strategy from being the salesperson to being the resource, and stay top-of-mind as the “steward of the customer journey”, as Sanjay Dholakia puts it.
Omni-channel, Not Multi-channel
According to Google, 90% of multiple device owners switch between an average of three per day to complete a task.
You don’t want to be asking for a customer’s phone number once when they get a white paper on their laptop, and then another time when they sign up for a demo on mobile. This ruins the illusion of constant, flowing, familiarity and can cause frustration.
Similarly, serving up the same video or article to the same customer on different platforms because your systems have “forgotten” the customer has seen it already is a big mistake.
Be wary of the fact customers are switching between devices constantly, and match your marketing to this behavior.
How to Build Engagement Into Your Marketing Strategies
In a world where consumers are drowning in information, companies need to find a way to break through the noise, capture and retain attention. To gain a competitive advantage, you need to bake engagement into the DNA of your marketing strategy.
Target and Segment Your Messaging Carefully
In their ebook on the five principles of engagement marketing, Marketo gives the example of a highly targeted campaign from a football stadium marketing team. The marketers aim to convert regular ticket-buyers into season ticket-holders, and season ticket-holders into lifetime subscribers.
Leveraging data, the marketers could create segments based on which specific games customers had bought tickets to in the past, which teams fans engage with on social media, and each fan’s favorite players.
“All of that information could become the fodder for marketing that speaks directly to individual customers. Next, that company could even identify specific indicators that a fan is likely to purchase season tickets, and then nudge that person closer to a sale—maybe an email with a special discount code?”
The prerequisite for this deeply personalized targeting is a marketing automation tool that can capture data from a wide range of sources and crunch it all into cohesive profiles. We’ll look at the tools you can use for engagement marketing later in this article.
Examples of Engagement Marketing at Each Stage of the Funnel
Engagement marketing can be used to acquire customers, nurture new ones, and encourage referrals and repeat business from your existing promoters. In this section, I’m going to go through customer engagement marketing examples for the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel.
To-of-the-Funnel Engagement Marketing
At the top of the funnel, marketing with a broad appeal works best. The aim is to get as many people through the door that might be interested in your product, or might be feeling pain your solution could alleviate.
A great example to start with is an interactive guide from Wistia on how to produce a stop motion video. Not everyone who produces stop motion video would need Wistia, and this is a really cool and interesting guide for any creative.
So, it’s much more top-of-the-funnel than a guide to the Wistia API or more technical content.
All throughout the article there are short, engaging videos that familiarize the reader with both the methods being described, the personality of the brand, and — because it’s hosted with Wistia — the Wistia platform.
Middle-of-the-Funnel Engagement Marketing
Content for leads in the middle of the funnel seeks to align the buyer’s needs to relevant products and move the right leads closer to buying. This could be an email marketing campaign, webinar, or some interactive content like a quiz.
This IT Service Management assessment from ServiceNOW assumes that user is already aware of the product and why it might be able to solve their problems.
By offering a series of questions, the quiz gathers qualifying information about the lead and educates the lead further on their needs. With the information gathered, ServiceNOW can refine their marketing.
For example, one question asks whether the user already uses an IT help desk tool, and whether or not they feel their operations under control. Depending on the final outcome of the quizz, the user is told what phase of the ITSM journey they are at, and given additional resources to help.
Again, personalized messaging driven by historical touchpoints. Much more relevant, engaging and helpful in the buying process.
Bottom-of-the-Funnel Engagement Marketing
At the bottom of the funnel, leads are almost ready to make a purchase decision. They’re educated, persuaded, and close to handing over their credit card details.
With data-driven reasons to choose Blackbaud, this bottom-of-the-funnel brand engagement marketing campaign has it all. Presenting Realize Real Results, an award-winning campaign that helped the sales team achieve 141% of quota attainment in the first quarter alone. By aligning the user’s business goals with custom data, Blackbaud persuades ready-to-buy users that today is the day they should open their wallet.
Tools to Better Engage Your Audience at Each Stage of the Funnel
Engagement marketing tools help create and distribute interactive content, as well as send laser-targeted messages to small segments of their audience. No matter which stage of the funnel, video, quizzes, calculators, and personalized marketing messages are key to creating engaging and high-converting campaigns. Let’s look at three vital tools you can use.
SnapApp enables marketers to add qualifying questions to existing content and marketing activities so they can score leads more effectively, and send the best ones to sales for immediate follow up. Combining this content with targeted marketing messaging can make a real impact at the middle and bottom of the funnel. You could create a number of quiz variations, each designed to engage particular customers to move them further down the funnel.
Marketo practically coined the term “engagement marketing”. The marketing automation platform is equipped with tools to capture customer data, personalize experiences across channels, and tie customer identities to every marketing interaction. With this data, and a tool that allows you to reach these targeted segments in real-time, you can deliver engaging, behavior-based experiences to each of your leads.
In 2018, social media channels such LinkedIn will have a bigger impact on the B2B buying process. Almost a third of Twitter users follow brands on the platform, and over 20% have replied to a brand or another advertiser. That same engaged user probably sees content from you on other channels, too — 52% of internet users use two or more social media platforms. With this in mind, you’ll want to collect user data wherever they are, and track your interactions.
Nimble is a social CRM which automatically attaches social media data to contact profiles and gives its users a high-level view of their historical interactions to keep everything unified and personalized, with social segmentation, to boot.
A Critical Approach to a Changing Buyer Journey
Digital media and content marketing has re-shaped the B2B buying journey, and placed more power in the hands of the customer. Companies are now dealing with a new generation of educated prospects. Focusing on engagement is not only necessary, it’s critical to adapting to this change. It’s also one of the most powerful ways to differentiate and give your company a competitive advantage in a crowded marketing drowning in content. Remember: You’re the steward of the customer journey, not a short-sighted advertiser feeding leads to a pushy car salesperson 🙂