Snapshot : First, we’ll define the context of Business-to-Business (B2B). Learn key differences in the B2B buying process. Then, we’ll talk about B2B CRM programs and the activities needed to support them. We’ll share an example CRM project, and its connection to other marketing activities. Finally, we’ll outline the skills needed to run successful B2B CRM programs.
It’s been a while since we last covered Customer Relationship Management (CRM). We spend so much time doing CRM, sometimes we forget we need to talk about it too.
But that’s about as far as it got. Clearly there’s more to CRM. Much more.
For example, for Business-to-Business (B2B) organisations, CRM comes with it’s own set of challenges because the context is so different. This week, we start with an outline of why customers in B2B are different and what that means when you set up a B2B CRM Program.
We’ll share activities and experiences from a real-life B2B CRM project we worked on, and we’ll close with learnings you could use to run your own B2B CRM program.
B2B Context – What’s different?
With Business-to-Consumer (B2C), customers buys brands for themselves, their family or as a gift for someone else. It’s obvious who makes the buying decision and who pays.
The steps in the process are relatively simple.
However, with Business-to-Business (B2B), customers buy brands on behalf of their business. Who decides and who pays is less obvious.
The steps in the process are often more complex.
For example, the B2B customer can be a procurement specialist whose job is to negotiate the best deal on items like office equipment, company cars or raw materials.
But the B2B customer could also be an expert influencer who recommends what to buy.
For example, companies may target expert professionals like dentists, university lecturers or hairdressers to recommend certain products to their customers. So, a certain type of toothbrush or toothpaste. Specific textbooks for students. Or specific shampoos or conditioner for hairdressing clients.
The example we’ll share comes from this B2B influencer group (sometimes also called B2B2B – or Business-to-Business-to Consumer). But first, let’s look at why B2B buyers are different.
B2B makes professional and informed decisions
Unlike B2C buying decisions which are based on personal buying preferences, B2B buying decisions are based on a professional approach. Deciding what to buy is someone’s job (or it’s a group’s job).
There’s more at stake when it’s someone’s job. This leads to slower, more considered decisions. Impulse buying isn’t really a thing in B2B.
B2B buyers gather information before making buying decisions. They identify options. They compare these options and discuss them with colleagues, users and other relevant decision-makers. And it’s only after all these steps that they make an informed decision on behalf of the business.
So, more information, discussion and thinking go into the decision. B2B buying decisions are driven more by logic and less by emotion. B2B customers often have to justify their decisions to others. They want a clear and defendable rationale for each decision.
B2B influenced by organisational culture and processes
This professional decision-making and justification is part of the buying organisation’s culture.
It’s particularly noticeable in professions such as healthcare, education and law. There’s little room for emotion or favouritism. Decisions need to be based on logic and then validated to demonstrate professional integrity.
Organisations often put controls and systems in place to validate the integrity of the buying process.
For example :-
- committees who approve decisions so there’s no individual bias .
- rules and checklists governing what buyers and recommenders can do.
- complex submission, approval and review processes for big buying decisions.
However, the hurdles are also put in place because there’s much more at stake in the B2B buying decision. The value of a single B2B sale will be much higher than a single B2C sale.
B2B sales – more value per sale and customer
This increased value arises because there are more users in a B2B sale. More users means more consumption and bigger purchases. The B2B buyer buys for a group of people, or makes recommendations to a group of people.
That means the individual “value” of a B2B customer is high. When selling B2B, you need to factor that value into how much you’ll invest to try and win the business.
Typically, B2B businesses invest in :-
- sales teams to contact customers and have one-to-one selling conversations.
- meetings, events and other public relations activities to build connections.
- B2B CRM systems, processes and resources to manage customer relationships long-term.
B2B Case Study - context
This case study comes from a B2B CRM program we previously worked on.
For confidentiality reasons, we’ll obscure a few facts (the company name, category and target audience), even though the market and context has changed significantly since this project.
Any similarity to a real brand, company or set of activities is accidental and all that other usual disclaimer stuff.
Let’s call this business “Sustenagen”.
It makes medical devices which it sells to consumers and hospitals. They see Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) – doctors and physiotherapists – as their main B2B customers. These B2B customers decide which products to use in hospitals and make recommendations to their patients.
Sustenagen believe their product is the most advanced on the market. Quality is high and it has many functional benefits. It’s the most premium priced product in the category, and has a brand identity based around expertise in health and well-being.
You see this identity in their choices of tangible brand assets. For example, their brand colours are purple which signifies authority (purple) and blue which signifies trust and calmness. (see our article on colour psychology in marketing for more on this).
Their brand tone of voice is rational, professional and references lots of scientific evidence.
Their intangible brand assets such as their essence, values and personality, include words like “professional”, “pioneering”, “expert”, “confident” and “the best”.
(Note, this sort of identity and competitive strategy could apply to many businesses who work in the healthcare category).
Strategy and purpose for B2B
Though the company also markets to consumers, legislation on advertising medical products limits how much they can do. For example, there are limits on which products they can talk about and what claims they can make.
Because HCPs are seen as independent unbiased expert advisers on the medical products, the company invests in B2B activities to drive HCP recommendation of their products.
As a business strategy, HCP recommendation has two clear benefits.
Firstly, the HCP sees multiple patients. When they recommend a product, that recommendation drives sales through all those patients. There’s a high sales value to the recommendation because of the high number of customers it influences.
Also, patients get better after using the product. They leave the category. There’s few repeat sales. But the HCP stays in the category. They recommend products over a long period of time. So, there’s also a bigger lifetime value of winning the HCP recommendation.
The strategy is to persuade HCP recommenders that Sustenagen products offer superior health benefits. This superiority should encourage HCPs to recommend Sustenagen products to their patients.
Sustenagen’s B2B marketing plan covers three areas of brand activation.
Firstly, advertising in Healthcare professional journals to drive awareness.
Secondly, using a national sales team. This team’s main role is to meet HCPs face to face for conversations about the products. The aim of these meetings is to drive trial and maintain loyalty.
Finally, there’s their B2B CRM system. It connects these other two activities by driving consideration. The advertising regularly promotes the CRM program (website links and promotion of content and resources for example), and the sales team integrate their contact data with customer data from the CRM database.
This integration helps the business prioritise.
The sales team focus on high priority customers, while the B2B CRM system helps maintain contact with emails to lower priority customers. (e.g. customers who already recommend).
It’s also used to send out invites to HCP events organised by the sales team. At these events expert professional speakers talk about topics relevant to the HCPs. The invites only go to HCPs known to be interested in that topic and who live within reasonable travelling distance.
Sales team members can check the contact history with the HCP from the CRM database. This helps them understand the HCP’s likely needs before contacting them and setting up a meeting.
Let’s look at how all this works in practice.
B2B CRM – Membership
The key entry point to the program is the sign-up and membership section on the B2B CRM website. As per our article on design psychology, entry points are important because they set the tone and expectation for everything which follows.
The B2B CRM website has content for non logged in users. But logged in users have access to more valuable content, especially the popular downloadable resources.
A lot of effort goes into making content and resources that are genuinely valuable to the HCP. They’re developed by experts and designed to be educational and practical.
The company are keen to avoid the trap of “email grabbing” ie. making big promises to get customers to register, but then not adding value once they do. Unsubscribe rates are typically less than 10% per year.
That combined with membership grow averaging 50% each year, shows the “promise” of the B2B CRM program is meeting the needs and wants of its HCP target audience.
B2B CRM - Regular contact
Once the HCPs sign up, they receive an email welcome AND are mailed a welcome box This contains printed materials and practical items to use in their day to day practice.
This includes a useful product comparison chart which highlights the features and benefits of all products in the category.
The company use independent experts to create this chart. It doesn’t overtly state that Sustenagen products are superior to competitors. But, the facts re clear, and it trusts HCPs to work this out on their own.
B2B CRM – quarterly newsletter
After the welcome pack, the HCP receives a quarterly newsletter. This is the backbone of the B2B CRM program and goes out to every contact in the B2B CRM database.
However, though it appears to be one newsletter, there are in fact three slightly different versions. They each have the same core category relevant articles, but the introduction and call to action differ based on the role of the HCP – doctor, physiotherapist or “other”.
Typical “news” in this newsletter include details of new resources and materials, and information about updates to the product or changes in the packaging.
The newsletter also shares a calendar of upcoming HCP events.
B2B CRM – e-mail contact
Separate to the quarterly newsletter, the B2B CRM program also sends out regular targeted emails.
These are specific to each HCP type (e.g. doctor-focussed content versus physiotherapist-focussed content) and the HCP’s location. (e.g. notification of a nearby upcoming events).
Email frequency varies by HCP, but the aim is to have an average of around three informal contacts with each HCP between each quarterly newsletter.
B2B CRM - website content
The B2B CRM website acts as a central hub of information. It’s where HCPs interact with the brand online when they can’t or don’t want to speak to a real person.
It has good SEO ranking, many backlinks and is regularly updated.
Its content sections have useful articles, information and references for HCPs to use in their day to day jobs as well as relevant information about the products and the science behind them.
The resources page is the most visited part of the site. On this page, HCPs can download articles, tools and other digital materials or request that physical items be sent out to them.
These sent-out items include educational information-based materials, and relevant practical items to use in their day-to-day practise, such as stationery and memory sticks.
B2B CRM - Event calendar
The website also holds a calendar of the different HCP events coming up across the country.
HCPs can directly book tickets via the calendar. For some events, they can sign up for webinar broadcasts to view live or watch afterwards.
Event speakers are all expert HCPs with a relevant and interesting topic to share. They received a speaking fee for appearing.
The biographies of each speaker are included in the event information.
B2B CRM - Sales team face-to-face meetings
On the website, there’s also contact information for head office and for each sales representative by the area they cover.
The technology isn’t quite there yet to synchronise calendars to directly arrange meetings with the sales team, but we know that the marketing technology isn’t that far off to do that.
Before each face-to-face meeting, the sales representative looks at the HCP’s contact history on the CRM database.
This is a record of their interactions with Sustenagen including events they attended, materials they’ve requested or accessed and summaries of previous meetings. This single customer view means that face-to-face meetings run more efficiently.
There’s no need to repeat previous messages or spend time regathering information. It also means that if a sales representative leaves the business, their replacement can access the history and maintain continuity.
B2B CRM – Pulling it all together
Using different brand activation to interact with customers at different points of the brand choice funnel is a common marketing approach in this category.
It may seem complex to manage, but the customer doesn’t see that. They only see what’s relevant for them. Regular (but not too regular) contact via the newsletters and e-mails of the B2B CRM program. But most of the activity, the HCP themselves chooses what they want to interact with – like the website and the events.
Three underlying skills support managing this sort of B2B CRM program.
Project management skills
Firstly, you need excellent project management skills.
There are lots of “mini” marketing projects here like the newsletter content, the event management and the website updates. These need to be briefed, created, approved and dispatched on a regular basis. This takes good project planning and organisation to make sure everything happens when it needs to.
Customer experience and marketing communications
Then, you need skills in customer experience and marketing communications. Every interaction between the customer and the B2B CRM program is an opportunity. Solve problems. Educate or inform customers. Make customer lives better.
Look at all the communication skills like advertising, public relations and digital marketing we mentioned. It’s not just one skill you need. It’s a whole co-ordinated program of activities to drive awareness, consideration, trial and loyalty.
Finally, there’s also a strong marketing technology aspect to running a B2B CRM program.
Though we’ve written about CRM from a mainly marketing point of view, the systems, processes and IT set-up require a solid knowledge of how to set up the technical side of CRM.
There can be significant martech challenges with a B2B CRM program. It needs to work seamlessly, it needs to be secure and it needs regular maintenance and upgrades.
For example, there’s a strong digital data system that underpins the program to make sure each HCP receives an experience tailored to their specific needs. You need to understand what marketing technology is available, how to set it up and use it, and how to apply the insights it generates back into improving the B2B CRM program.
Did the B2B CRM program work?
Though we’ve talked about the B2B CRM program as if it’s a live entity, as we said, it’s actually based on some work that’s a few years old now.
We checked “Sustenagen’s” current B2B CRM program and though there have been some changes in the company’s circumstances, the strategy and activities are largely the same as what we covered here.
That the company has continued to invest and support the B2B CRM program indicates it’s a strong proposition that continues to add value. We know their product has continued to grow market share and retains its position as the most advanced product on the market.
Net Advocacy Rating
Part of the regular evaluation and reporting on this B2B CRM program was a variation of the Net Advocacy Rating score (also known as the Net Promoter Score). We were able to track changes in this score and compare them to sales trends.
The correlation between NAR and sales over time was consistently high, and though correlation and causation aren’t the same thing, it was a strong sign that engaging HCPs with a relevant B2B CRM program helped drive sales.
We were also able to track the levels of HCP recommendation by asking consumers directly whether they’d received a recommendation.
The HCPs themselves were often hesitant to talk about this. They were worried about the perception they’d been unduly influenced by commercial factors. (remember the need to maintain professional integrity).
But of course, consumers didn’t really care and were happy to share. So we could track the B2B CRM program effectiveness though the HCP to the end consumer. (essentially measuring our B2B2C impact).
It was clear HCP recommendation was a major influence on consumers. Drive recommendation and you drive sales.
The B2B CRM program helped those HCPs become better informed about the category and about Sustenagen. With an integrated series of activities, it drove recommendations, and built valuable on-going relationships.
The program helped create a very healthy business with strong recommendation and loyal customers.
Conclusion – Get the most out of B2B CRM programs
Business-to-business (B2B) marketing follows the same principles as Business-to-consumer (B2C), but the buying decision has a different context.
It has to factor in professional (rather than personal) considerations, that organisational culture influences the decision, and the actual decision or recommendation has a larger value.
In our example, we showed how a B2B CRM program isn’t a stand-alone activity, but links together different marketing activities targeting customers at different parts of the brand choice funnel.
Advertising drives customers to your B2B CRM website. Then, you use the website to sign them up and contact them regularly through newsletters, emails and events. This gives you a “relationship” to “manage” with the “customer”. They’re happy to hear from you, and to interact with your sales team.
Handshake : Photo by Cytonn Photography on Pexels