The Revolution of B-to-B Marketing
One of the risks associated with growing older is becoming obsolete. One might think that the more you age, the more experience you gain—and that is true. However, it is also true that as you age, even though your knowledge increases in the things you already do, there are an increasing number of things that you do not do and therefore, know less about. The same phenomenon applies to marketing. Let’s take a trip down the evolution of business-to-business marketing over the past decades.
Phase 1: Feature Selling
Early on, advertising concentrated on advertisements that highlighted product features (physical facts about a product), believing that the buyer already knew the benefits. This strategy actually worked, but only when the competition was limited and the product or service had a narrow market.
Feature selling is used primarily for selling products rather than services and works best when prospects are experts or professionals in the application for which the product is designed. A dentist, for instance, does not need to be told that the benefit of a porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crown is that it can be cemented using a luting cement. He or she just wants to know the return value and other features. For instance, does prescribing the PFM restoration make it easier to cement?
Phase 2: Features and Benefits Selling
Later marketing firms turned to a “features and benefits” selling strategy, which was the standard approach for years. Product manufacturers compiled a list of product features and then presented the benefits each offered. For instance, automix delivery of luting cements allows for direct delivery into the crown with no hand mixing. Features and benefits selling can be a risky strategy because reciting a long list of features and benefits could bore potential buyers and turn them off to the product being advertised.
Phase 3: Solution Selling
Solution selling was all the rage starting in the 1980s. Suddenly marketers did not say they were selling products—they told prospects they were offering them solutions. Solution selling was more than just exchanging the word “product” with the word “solution.” The focus was on identifying customers’ problems and offering products that would solve those problems.
Another trend during the same period was “system selling.” Suddenly no one was selling products—they were selling “systems.” It worked because “system” has a value-added connotation, implying you were buying and receiving more than a mere product. For example, the impression material manufacturers did not sell impression products—they sold impression systems.
Phase 4: Consultative Selling
In this phase of the marketing evolution, both salespeople and marketers positioned themselves as consultants. The plan was to work with the client to solve individual customer problems. The salespeople charged nothing for their consultative services in hopes that the customer would buy the solution recommended in the consultation. An example of consultative selling was used by companies selling implant systems. The salesperson from the implant company would visit the client, bringing along a laptop loaded with proprietary software. The software could be used with edentulous cases to plan and perform implant surgery, using the implant company’s treatment plan to ensure accurate diagnostics, planning, and implant placement. In the course of implementing digital precision using the implant company software, the dentist needed only to invest in the implant company’s fixed prosthetic and removable solutions.
Phase 5: Content Selling
Using “content selling” to persuade a customer involves providing useful information that helps solve a problem and plays into the decision-making process. Content marketing assumes prospects are more sophisticated today and reject outdated marketing approaches with the traditional sales pitch and promotional copy. The prospect is seen as an information seeker with whom to solve a problem. Company X makes clear that the best way to implement the ideas and solutions is with Company X’s products and services.
Phase 6: Social Networking
The perception of marketing in this current phase of the B-to-B evolution is that the marketer and the prospect are having a conversation, not selling. The platform of these conversations includes LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Social media websites of all types began to spring up and skyrocket in popularity. The online community flocked to these websites to either view interesting videos or even exchange thoughts and ideas with others at hugely popular networking websites.
All during these evolutionary phases, savvy marketers were already experimenting with ways that they could combine marketing and technology using the Internet. With each evolutionary step came new ideas on how online businesses could promote their goods and services. The age of communication media and marketing had arrived and was now the dominant driving force behind Internet use. Social networking has proven itself anecdotally but not universally. Some companies have been able to generate solid, measurable results. Others find it cannot be monetized.
Keeping up with the Trends
Marketing trends will continue to move at a much faster pace than in decades past. The companies best suited to survive and flourish in today’s marketing environments will be the businesses that continue to be successful into the future.
Keeping pace with this evolution requires changing some antiquated ideas and concepts. The marketing landscape has changed dramatically over the past 10 years and continues to change. Have you adjusted your marketing approach?
Important Steps in Your Marketing Evolution
• Question all the marketing tactics that have been successful for you in the past, and reevaluate them by looking at their actual return on investment (ROI) for the past 2 years.
• Define the real value you provide to your customers. Truly understand exactly how you stand out in the marketplace and what is truly unique about what you have to offer.
• Create discernable and recognized novelty in the “experience” of delivering your product or service.
• Actively build an ever-growing community of devotees around your brand. This can consist of customers, industry
members, employees, and the business community.
• Adopt new media marketing strategies (Facebook, Twitter, videos, social sharing, etc.). You must actively participate in the conversation about your brand (active listening, publishing, and engagement.)
• Communicate your brand experience and message through multiple channels (postings, social media, an interactive website, RSS, mobile, etc.).
• Embrace change. Look for ways to improve on a daily basis. Try new things without fully understanding exactly how they might work, and then track the ROI.
About the Author
Nick Azar is a business strategist, executive coach, and founder of Azar & Associates.