What Business Owners Should Know about Effective B2B Marketing
Q&A with Innovaxis Founder and President Sean Parnell
Q. What made you decide to make B2B marketing the focus of Innovaxis?
When I started in 1996 for a market research and consulting firm, all of our clients were B2B. We interviewed and researched their channel partners, customers and even competitors and reported on market sizing, brand share, new product development, pricing, channel programs, customer satisfaction, and competitive intelligence. We created strategies for our clients to grow based on this information and they did. I then went to work for Shure, an internet startup, and Bell + Howell in a product marketing, product development, and project management capacity.
As a result, B2B is where all my experience has been and, considering that most agencies are focused on B2C and dabble in B2B, they lack effective strategies to effectively serve their B2B clients and fail to generate results in terms of demand capture and generation, lead generation, and sales. To make matters worse, many agencies do some really silly things on social media for their B2B clients.
This is why we feel that B2B is a massively underserved market. That’s why we targeted B2B for Innovaxis and we’ve really excelled there.
Q. What marketing concerns do you hear most often from business owners curious about what you do?
It often boils down to the fact that a design-first, project-based approach to marketing doesn’t generate the results they really want: increasing the value of their business. The problem is usually one of two things:
- They’ve thrown a lot of money at marketing and it’s not working because they’ve taken an opportunistic, rifle-shot approach instead of a holistic and strategic approach to marketing, or
- They’ve never prioritized marketing in the first place, instead focusing on traditional sales teams, show attendance, and advertising
Q. What are some of the most common misconceptions about B2B marketing that you hear when speaking with prospects?
The misconceptions are more about what they think they need. I remember one client who said, “We need to do blogging.” Others will say “We need a new web page.” It’s not a web page, or blogging, it’s your entire online presence. It’s the digital version of all your thought leadership. It’s your 24/7 salesperson and can be your biggest lead generator you have if it resonates with prospects and pulls them in.
There’s a lack of understanding of branding vs. a brand story process. Branding is more of a design focus. The logo and design of your website needs to be attractive and professional, but there’s no substance.
There are a million brand agencies out there, but few take the time to understand the business of their clients and a lot can go wrong from there. You probably don’t need a whole new website; you need powerful messaging, an ability to convey thought leadership in the language of your prospects, and a marketing strategy that ties it all together.
When marketing agencies work on a project basis, they can’t invest the time to really understand the business of their clients. They’re trying to bang out a website while beating the bushes for their next project. Their work might look good but there’s no substance because there’s no strategy.
Q. What do you tell business owners who say marketing doesn’t work?
Marketing works, but only when it’s done with an experienced, strategic approach. When adding up the new business generated for our clients over the last 17 years attributed to marketing, it’s at least $150 million – and this is for businesses and divisions with $5m to $75m in sales (and includes our own).
The best results come with clients who are open-minded, collaborative and who recognize marketing as an investment, not a cost. If you’re just doing design-focused things, it’s a cost, but if you’re attracting and resonating with prospects and lead to sales, that’s an investment.
Q. What is the most important thing a B2B business owner needs to understand about marketing?
When it’s done with a good fit partner who can work strategically, who has a process, good examples, case studies and evidence that the strategy works, then investing in marketing is investing in growth – not just growth in revenues but growth in the value of the business overall.
We’ve had several clients who weren’t looking to sell, but got an offer they couldn’t refuse because not only did their strategic marketing approach attract prospects – it attracted buyers.
Q. Does your role as a business owner influence the kind of advice you give your clients?
Absolutely. As a business owner, I have similar hopes and dreams as other business owners. That’s one of the reasons we target small, often family-owned businesses. We understand them and there’s a lot less bureaucracy involved, so we can move very quickly. We don’t spend months and months on strategy – we spend one to two months, and the same people creating the strategy are the ones executing it, and course correcting. We spend a lot of time focused on results: what’s working, and what isn’t. We’re also B2B, so we apply our strategies to our own marketing, and it has worked.
We work with marketing leaders, sometimes a VP of sales or marketing and I’ve been in their shoes, especially in manufacturing. We understand their world, what they want, and the pressure they’re under. We always have that in mind. We work collaboratively business owners and their sales and marketing leaders. We present what we think their strategy could be, but always get their feedback and work it into something aligned with what they want to achieve, in marketing, with sales, and for the business overall.
Q. Is there such a thing as marketing your way through a recession?
In recessions, people often cite Warren Buffett and his investing strategy: the best time to invest is when there’s blood on the streets. The natural inclination is to batten down the hatches and cut everything to the bone to survive.
Instead, the savviest are those who see recessions as the time to invest time and build new things so when the good times return—as they always do—you come back stronger than ever. It takes a lot of guts to do that, as Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”
If marketing has been ineffective, then yes, you cut it. But if its effective and you cut it, you’re cutting your own throat.
Q. What does Innovaxis do better than other marketing agencies?
Our team covers the 16 different skillsets in marketing for the cost of one person – often less than one person. Being strategy-first, is a big one. We are always looking at what’s the end goal? – and working backwards from there in the spirit of the Merlyn Principle. We look at the big picture: what is your exit strategy, what do we need to do to achieve your five year goals, and what do we need to achieve over the next 12 months?
We listen to what our clients want to achieve, and craft a strategy based on that. Given the time and the investment, what’s the most we can do with inbound, outbound, and traditional content strategy? That’s why we’ve conducted marketing audits since 2012. The audit is a deep dive into their situation: what is working, what’s not, what could be improved, where is the low-hanging fruit, and where are the Blue Ocean opportunities.
The second step is to create a custom B2B marketing program. Once recommendations from the audit are prioritized, you have your marketing strategy and plan for at least the next 12 months. That’s how we’re able to achieve dramatic results for our clients.
In the first three months, we rebuild your marketing foundation and target low-hanging fruit. At 3-6 months, we start to see some momentum. At 6- 12 months, we see acceleration of demand capture, lead generation and sales. Our goal is always to generate a 300%+ return on your investment in partnering with us in the first 12-18 months and to make your competition irrelevant.
Q. What is the best way to explore a partnership with Innovaxis?
Schedule a call with me to talk about your marketing challenges and opportunities.