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B2B? B2C? Actually, That’s Not the Right Question

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by: Ellen Valentine (@EllenValentine)
18 October 2011

Most enterprise marketing organizations identify themselves as either B2B or B2C marketers, with the majority of groups strongly identifying with one segment or the other. I admit I’ve done the same throughout my marketing career. When looking for a solution, it’s all too common to search for a firm or technology company to help support your marketing efforts based on whether the vendor says it caters to B2B or targets consumer-focused enterprises.

For example, since the inception of the industry, marketing automation has frequently been thought of as a solution exclusively for the B2B marketer—providing tools and applications to manage the marketing funnel as website visitors and general inquiries progress to being prospects and finally convert into clients. While marketing automation does address all those functions, marketing automation tools also provide important capabilities around content marketing, automated campaign design and management, and personalized messaging. These features can be a significant benefit to a B2C marketing team. One great aspect of marketing automation solutions is that the implementation is not an all-or-nothing proposition: You can choose to implement just a few features such as Web forms, personalization, programs and landing pages, while not implementing other more sales team-focused features such as lead scoring, CRM integration and lead routing.

How Do You Want to Market?
So perhaps the question isn’t “Are you B2B or B2C?” or “Do you need email or marketing automation?” The questions for marketers are, “How do you want to market to your consumer?” “Do you want to design and automate a multitouch campaign?” and “Do you want to personalize your marketing over a more lengthy sales cycle?” If the answer to any of these questions is yes, perhaps marketing automation can help.

Marketing Automation for the B2C Company: An Example
To illustrate my point, let’s take the example of a home furnishings and accessories retailer. You typically convert the vast majority of your revenues off a steady stream of targeted emails with compelling offers. But you also sell a great line of sofas. These sofas cost between $1,000 and $4,000. If you think about just this product line, it probably has an average consideration-to-purchase cycle of at least a few months.

During those few months, your potential buyers are contemplating multiple decisions: deciding if they want loose cushions or tight back, a Lawson or Davenport style, and trying to figure out what sofa size and type of fabric would best suit their family room and lifestyle. They’re in full-on research mode, and this is precisely the time when personalized messaging, high-value content and program automation could help ensure that your company gets the sale.

Supporting Longer or Complex Buying Decisions
If you plan on establishing a dialogue with your customers or prospective customers, the first goal is to get anonymous Web surfers to reveal their names and email addresses. This can be as simple as allowing prospects to sign on with their Twitter or Facebook login information. With a name and valid email address, the marketer can begin segmenting and targeting the message. Over time, additional information could be gathered that would allow the marketer to further refine offers and provide information the shopper would see as increasingly valuable in his or her research and decision process—all the while helping the recipient become an advocate for your brand.

This type of behavioral marketing has the power to dramatically increase the success of your programs. Educational messages and dedicated landing pages or microsites can deliver relevant information that’s needed to make a decision. In the sofa example, these messages might include information such as fabric choices and delivery options. As more data points are captured during subsequent website visits, you as marketers will be able to further refine your messaging to the prospect.

Let Automated Program Delivery Orchestrate the Engagement
From the first site visit to the final sale to the sharing of rave reviews on social networks, a well-planned and relevant program—enabled through marketing automation—will orchestrate the offers and information the customer wants and needs to make an informed purchase.

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