Upgrade Your B-to-B Multichannel Marketing Strategy
Multichannel marketing, the catch-all phrase that typically groups consumer marketers’ catalog, Web and retail channels, often represents a different scenario for B-to-B catalogers, with diverse marketing channels, business practices and goals.
Coordinating the assorted multichannel B-to-B mix of outbound telemarketing, field sales, tradeshows and others with catalog and Web channels is a challenge that often requires extensive cooperation between sales and marketing departments, regardless of the channels involved.
“In an ideal B-to-B multichannel marketing environment,” says George Hague, senior marketing strategist at Mission, Kan.-based catalog consultancy J. Schmid and Associates, “sales and marketing vice presidents should discuss how they’re going to contact the customer base and how they’re going to go about prospecting.”
Further complicating the appropriate coordination between channels, many B-to-B catalogers still haven’t conquered the relatively new e-commerce channel. “The Internet isn’t a situation where you can ‘build it and they will come,’” Hague says. “In fact, there’s a negative impact for those companies who’ve only put up a simple site, but haven’t added any special functionality to it.”
To address both the issues of cross-channel coordination and e-commerce implementation, consider the following multichannel marketing strategies and tactics to help your B-to-B business better maximize all channels.
Coordinate Sales, Marketing Efforts
Not only should the same message be promoted in all channels, but the individual channels also should reinforce each other. Hague notes that while it’s easier to keep the message consistent if one person runs both sales and marketing, this isn’t the case with most catalogers because each division requires different skill sets and personality types.
Typically, a marketing executive provides a sales executive with catalog delivery dates so outbound calls or field visits can be planned around the catalog drop. Hague says that while this practice is common, marketing also should provide recency, frequency and monetary-based contact lists so outbound efforts can be planned more precisely.
Marketing Talks to Sales
“The sales director can use this information to see which contacts are the best customers, which were good last year but haven’t ordered yet this year, and which might be on the verge of not ordering again,” Hague says. The last category requires special care from the sales staff.
To keep messages consistent between channels at West Chester, Pa.-based scientific equipment cataloger VWR International, all marketing efforts are centrally managed, says Lynn Homann, its director of marketing communications, North America. Typically, the marketing team develops a message to impart to VWR’s customers, then evaluates the best channels to deliver that message, whether they’re the catalog, direct mail, space ads or e-mail.
And although VWR closely manages its marketing voice, the company gives its sales reps a bit more flexibility. While not requiring that sales calls be coordinated with marketing efforts, the marketing team does “provide the tools for the reps to manage that on their own,” Homann says. “If we have product X being featured on our Web site and sent out in an e-mail, we’ll also release literature about that product and make samples of that product available [to the sales team].”
With a sales team that’s limited to a small portion of its business, educational lab science supplies cataloger Carolina Biological Supply primarily relies on its 1,000-page catalog to drive much of its sales. And while it mails the big book just once a year, the company mails 10 supplemental catalogs and many more small flyers annually to stay top of mind with its customers, says Dan James, vice president of business development for the Burlington, N.C.-based company. The supplemental catalogs typically are less than 100 pages, while the flyers are two to eight pages.
Because the big book contains so many products, the supplements are designed to focus on specific segments within Carolina Biological Supply’s customer base. James notes that he regularly produces elementary and middle school catalogs, with other rotating supplements depending on certain products’ lifecycles. For instance, the company distributes a microscope supplement every few years because microscopes have a particularly long repurchase cycle.
Other catalog supplements are created based on the exhibitions Carolina Biological Supply attends in a given year. “If we’re attending multiple shows or teacher conferences on environmental science or biotechnology, we’ll produce supplemental catalogs to market more effectively to those customers,” James says.
Web for Relationships
While B-to-B catalogers traditionally have been slower than consumer mailers to adopt the Internet as a transactional platform, they shouldn’t necessarily follow the B-to-C model. “The greatest shortcoming in the B-to-B space is that people look at the Internet as a transaction medium,” says Vic Hunter, president of Milwaukee-based B-to-B consultancy Hunter Business Group. “B-to-B is a relationship business, not a transaction business.” One your Web site, Hunter says, focus on building relationships rather than going for the immediate sale.
In fact, Hague notes that the most successful B-to-B Web sites enable customers to customize products and solutions to specific needs, and offer detailed product specifications that aid in researching the best solution.
B-to-B auto parts cataloger Mid America Motorworks has fulfilled both of these requirements as it has expanded its Web site. About a year ago, the Effingham, Ill.-based cataloger added an interactive Flash application that allows Corvette dealers to see what their cars would look like with Mid America custom wheels. Dealers can choose the color and model of their cars’ online doppelgangers, then change the wheel style to see what looks best. To cross promote the tool, the company placed call-outs for the interactive application in its catalog. Since the implementation, wheel sales have tripled, says director of catalog and Web marketing Ed Coffin.
Coffin notes that the catalog increasingly acts as an advertisement for the functionality of the company’s Web site, which has more than three dozen interactive Flash applications. “Our Web site gives us the opportunity to educate and give some peace of mind to the customers that what they’re buying actually is what they want,” Coffin says.
Likewise, VWR also uses feature-rich e-commerce to appeal to customers. “The Amazons of the world offer features that, as you’re checking out, make your life easier and aren’t necessarily things you’d see on a B-to-B site,” Homann points out. “It’s the blend of these two worlds that creates the best online experience for our customers.”
One such feature is automatic approval routing. If a customer needs internal approval for a purchase, his shopping cart automatically is routed to the appropriate internal manager then sent back to VWR once the approval is received.
After the Sale
Another way to build multichannel relationships is to develop your Web site as a tool beyond the sale. Carolina Biological Supply maintains more than 10,000 Web pages devoted to nonsales information.
From articles on lab safety to tips on how to teach dissection to middle-school students, the cataloger provides free educational material to its primary customer base, teachers. James notes that this service continues a tradition started in 1927, when the company mailed its first Carolina Tips newsletter.
Until the advent of e-mail, Carolina Biological Supply mailed just one version of its newsletter, the contents ranging from elementary school to graduate school topics. Now that the newsletter is sent via e-mail, Carolina Biological Supply is able to more economically segment and deliver multiple versions to its customers. «
B-to-B Multichannel Prospecting Tips
Space ads: There typically are two ways to use space ads to prospect, says George Hague, senior marketing strategist at Mission, Kan.-based catalog consultancy J. Schmid and Associates. You can acquire new customers by offering an introductory package or best-selling product at a special price, or you can offer a free catalog and follow up with these leads via outbound sales calls.
Hague notes that space ads work best for B-to-B catalogers with a narrowly defined niche. This makes it easier to find publications that target your specific audience.
One way to simultaneously garner inexpensive space ads and increase your credibility is to write an article for the publication in which you’d like to advertise. Hague cautions that in order to be effective, the article must be objective and not self-promotional.
Mine the Internet: Although it works best for niche catalogers, some of Hague’s B-to-B catalog clients have successfully created lists by searching the Internet for companies that match their customer profiles. “These tend to be fairly small customers, perhaps newer businesses, folks who aren’t hitting on normal B-to-B lists,” he says.
(Word of caution: Creating lists in this way is quite labor-intensive, so don’t try it if you can’t narrowly define your customer base.)