The Linkedin B2B Institute recently published a whitepaper with the Ehrenber-Bass Institute (of Byron Sharp fame) on “How B2B Brands Grow”. The whole thing is worth a read whether you’re in a B2B or B2C business – there’s tons of good research and insight in there (although you’ll need to set aside a few hours as it’s 60+ pages!). But there’s one fascinating stat and takeaway that’s worth highlighting here: the team found that 95% of B2B buyers aren’t in the market at any one time. 95! If you looked at the way most B2B marketing works, you’d think it was the other way around…here’s why that matters so much:
“This [95-5 rule] is a deceptively simple fact, but it has a profound implication for advertising. It means that advertising mostly hits B2B buyers who aren’t going to buy anytime soon. And in turn, that tells us about how advertising works: it mainly works by building and refreshing memory links to the brand. These memory links activate when buyers do come into the market. So, if your advertising is better at building brand-relevant memories, your brand becomes more competitive. The question to ask is – does our advertising do that?”
The stat might be more relevant to B2B (although chances are it’s still the majority of your buyers who aren’t ‘in the market’ when your advertising hits them as a B2C brand as well), but there’s something here for any marketer to reflect on and figure out how to apply with their own teams and campaigns. Most B2B marketing meetings, ideas, and campaigns are focused on how you move the customer down the purchase funnel. You know your audience, you might already have a connection to them, but you want them to buy now. So you put out marketing (ads, content, events, etc) that tries to get them to buy. But it’s almost 20 times more likely that they are NOT looking to buy right now. There’s still value in the marketing you’re doing – it’s still good to have that touch point, get that awareness, capture that new piece of customer data. But fundamentally, if you are trying to get someone to buy when they are not in a buying cycle, your marketing is focused on the wrong thing. It will be less effective and less efficient because it doesn’t align to the needs of the customer.
Traditional B2B businesses are sales-led in their approach to growth. This is because the buying cycle is more complicated and less frequent, and because you can know and connect directly with your buyers. A sales-led approach works well for that 5% of the time when customers are looking to buy, but not as well for the other 95% when they’re not…people don’t want to be sold to when they don’t need to buy anything. What they are open to is a brand adding value to their professional lives. They are open to brand-led content and community marketing.
The opportunity is massive for B2B businesses to be marketing-led in their approach to growth. Marketing is much more fit for purpose to deliver on customer needs during that 95% of the time that they aren’t actively looking to buy. Marketing can build brand awareness, consideration, and equity so that when the customer is ready to buy they think of your business. You’ve built those “brand-relevant memories”, which really just means you’ve built a relationship with them.
Marketing and sales both have a key role to play in the growth of a B2B business. The balance between the two and the specific job they need to do will depend on your industry, audience, business, and team. But marketing tends to be overlooked and underinvested in most B2B businesses, which might feel right on the inside, but doesn’t reflect the realities of most B2B markets.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a marketer who already knows the value of brand-led content and community to grow your B2B business, it’s likely someone else internally you need to convince to change and do things differently. Hopefully this report and our analysis can help you nudge things in the right direction.