Prudential began to sell affordable insurance to the working classes in 1854. These so called ‘penny policies’ were sold by a ‘sizeable army of good men’, who stood out due to their precise understanding about doing business. By 1900, 10,000 Prudential agents had has sold insurance to one third of the population. The ‘Man from the Pru’ certainly knew how to exploit the value of personal relationships. B2B marketing experts could take a leaf out of their book!
Today’s salesperson still understands how important these personal relationships are. But B2B marketing experts still often plan around channels, content, platforms and leads. We do it! Marketing concepts like customer journey mapping or account-based marketing often focus on the vehicle or process, rather than the person. As digital takes over, are we in danger of losing sight of the fact that people still buy from, work for, and are influenced by, people?
Relationships actually matter more in digital marketing. Look at the growth of live chat in B2B eCommerce; when real people talk to each other (albeit via a web chat tool) even transaction based business purchases are enhanced. And, consider the video meetings boom of 2020. Zoom, relatively unknown a year ago, recorded over 300 million meeting participants per day in 2020. Businesses, and people, found a lifeline in the ability to see and talk to one another virtually.
I’ve been watching you!
As leads are nurtured into prospects and passed on to sales, the importance of the direct business relationship naturally increases. Or does it? I believe business relationships are equally important when a person first becomes aware of a brand. Even though there may be no personal interaction between individuals, this is when the relationship begins to germinate.
For instance, initial awareness might be triggered by media coverage, social media content, or advertising. This is where first impressions count, and they are getting more important. B2B buyers are interacting with brands and building their relationship through digital touch points before speaking person to person. Businesses don’t always know who they have a relationship with or what those people think of them. Future customers, employees and influencers are already watching them and forming an opinion. Its crucial to think about the foundations of good relationships right back at these first brand interactions, as well as through the relationship lifecycle.
B2B relationships are not linear
Businesses must put relationships at the heart of their marketing from day one and ensure they start those relationships on the right foot. However, they must also appreciate the complexity of these relationships. When the CEO is chasing them for targets, B2B marketers tend to focus on customers and prospects. However, an ecosystem of business relationships surrounds every organisation. Marketing must address the whole as well as the individual parts.
This means looking after the employer brand, internal comms, influencer relations, the media, and partners and suppliers. Everyone who can help to make or break their success. Avoid treating them as standalone groups. Build a communications strategy around all the actors who play a part in the business’ future. So often we see linear lead generation approaches. The obsession is pushing prospects through the funnel. But what’s really influencing success? Is it solely the campaign’s content or quality of the data? Or, is it also the employees’ attitudes, or media’s positivity? Maybe advocate support, and partners’ buy in?
B2B buying decisions have never been simple A to B journeys. All business interrelationships matter. Those relationships are often founded long before you first have known interactions. Times have changed since the Man from the Pru but it is still relationships, not channels, content or campaigns, that make for brilliant B2B marketing.