Tony Hoevenaars never would have guessed that marketing "in a more serious way" would be his best business decision of 2011. Nor would most of his peers.
After all, Hoevenaars is the leader of a business-to-business enterprise: Brampton, Ont.-based Mirus International, a 60-employee manufacturer of power-quality improvement products. And in the C-suite of most B2B firms, marketing is rarely a priority. Operations, finance and sales claim most waking hours. Marketing? That lies farther down on the to-do list, somewhere between training people on the new office software and planning the company picnic.
But Hoevenaars now attributes his company's strong growth in the past year to an increased focus on marketing and the awareness and partnerships that have come as a result. And a small but growing chorus of B2B execs are singing marketing's praises.
They're right to do so; massive shifts in several facets of business are making it harder and harder to compete without more and better marketing. Following are the top four reasons why B2B companies need to amp up their marketing today:
B2B buyer behaviour has changed
A decade ago, B2B buyers didn't have the option of using the Internet to find solutions to their problems. Today, that's almost always their starting point. According to a study by CEB, a firm that shares best business practices among its member companies, 60% of the B2B buying process is now complete before a buyer ever engages with a vendor's salespeople. Customers are now in control. They can identify possible solutions, understand the options that various companies present and determine approximate pricing without the help of salespeople, who used to be the gatekeepers of that information. 60% of the B2B buying process is now complete before a buyer ever engages with a vendor's salespeople. B2B companies that don't promote their expertise and solutions online are much less likely to be identified by potential customers when they're looking for solutions to their problems. And if a company isn't identified as a possible solution, it almost certainly won't win any business from that customer. Marketing is the tool that makes sure B2B companies are at the table when a potential customer wants to talk about their issues. And being at the table is the essential first step in winning new business.
Global competition is increasing
Globalization has delivered many new business opportunities to Canadian companies. It also has also brought more competition. Today, companies have almost unlimited access to alternative solutions. And as buyers encounter growing pressure to spend less, even the most loyal customers may consider changing suppliers if the terms are right. Mirus, like many Canadian B2B companies, has a much larger opportunity in international markets than it does at home. The company has seen the majority of its growth in the past year come from selling overseas—from South America to the Middle East. Hoevenaars and his sales team used to spend upward of 30% of their time on the road, meeting with distributors and potential customers. That direct-selling process was expensive, tiring and limited the number of companies that Mirus could interact with because the team simply didn't have time to get to everyone.
Now, marketing tools, including public relations and webinars, bring more business directly to Mirus' door. The sales team is more selective about whom they visit in person and how often, because marketing helps Mirus stay on the radar of past customers and introduces Mirus to potential customers. Marketing means that information on Mirus' solutions is available around the clock in a variety of languages, so engineers in Brazil or Dubai can find what they need, when they need it, and contact Mirus or its distributors to have a detailed conversation about a specific situation. Marketing reaches more potential customers, in a more cost-effective way, than the sales force alone can.