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10 B2B Marketing Strategies for a World Without Face-to-Face Events

The pandemic has taken away one of B2B marketing’s steadiest, most reliable sources of lead generation and customer engagement, on a global basis.  What’s to be done?  It’s not easy to replace a marketing channel that represents on average 20% of our marketing mix—with many marketers devoting as much as 60% of their budgets to events. 

The last pre-pandemic study I saw pegged event marketing usage among B2B marketers at 91%.  It’s been an essential B2B marketing tool for decades—even centuries. Why? Business events are simply the most efficient means for enabling face-to-face conversations at scale. 

But now—we need workarounds. 

Here are ten ways we can mitigate what might seem like a disaster:   

  1. Make the most of what’s still here.  Many of the B2B trade shows, conferences and meetups already on your calendar are going virtual, so you have plenty of opportunities to still take an active role, for lead generation, and for deepening your relationship with current customers.  Ideas:
    • Take out sponsorships, to gain visibility and perhaps a speaking slot.
    • As an attendee, get active in the chat rooms and networking sessions found in many of these platforms.
    • Do some competitive sleuthing in the expo hall.   
  2. Pump up your omni-channel marketing.  During the pandemic, your customers and prospects could be anywhere, physically. But online, they are literally everywhere. This is the time to get your identity capabilities updated, so you can recognize your targets wherever they are, on whatever device. New “identity graph” technologies are now available to help you develop a consistent experience for your customers, online and off.   
  3. Get to know the person behind your business customer. Reach your business contacts when they are working at home.  Your business buyers and prospects have personal lives that can add richness to your understanding of their needs and preferences.  So, take the initiative to link the consumer record to your business customer files. Not only will you gain unexpected insights, but you will also expand your breadth of communications options.
  4. Create your own proprietary virtual events.  Proprietary events are a fast-growing marketing medium, having proven their worth over decades. For current customer marketing, B2B marketers have long operated successful user groups.  Many have become more ambitious, organizing public events to both deepen customer relationships and generate new prospects.  Your existing client conference calendar can be converted to virtual.  Consider launching a public virtual event, to attract new prospects.
  5. Take the opportunity to clean up your customer and prospect records. Review your marketing database to assess its accuracy and completeness.  This is a good time to engage a vendor to help you correct errors and fill in the missing elements.  Identify any important data that is unavailable from vendors, and conduct survey campaigns to collect what you need. 
  6. Deploy small-group meetings. Video conferencing tools are most effective when applied to groups of fewer than ten, when all participant’s faces are visible, and everyone can feel comfortable enough to really engage.  This is a perfect medium for small meetings on niche topics of special interest, or a series of invitation-only events on more general topics.  Guided by a moderator, attendees can get to know one another and converse, sometimes even more intimately than face to face.  Position the event as peers sharing ideas and experiences.  Add a short talk by an interesting speaker as an extra attraction. Look at this as a form of content marketing, so make it informative and not sales-oriented. 
  7. Expand your webinar and podcast programs.  Identify key problems that your customers face, and build content around addressing these problems.  Promote the programs through multi-channel communications. Repurpose the content for use in multiple channels: Social media, blogs, email, and more.
  8. Pump up your website chat tools.  Chatbots are growing in sophistication and functionality.  Take advantage for purposes of customer engagement, data collection, and customer service.
  9. Build a community.  This is a strategy proven successful, where you control the ultimate in owned media. Follow the steps in Michael Brenner’s comprehensive guide The Content Formula to attract targets to a content-rich environment where visitors get answers to their pressing business problems.  Look for inspiration at Adobe’s CMO.com,  SAP’s Digitalist and Bank of America’s Business Advantage.
  10. Convert your social media followers to multi-channel connections.  Very likely you have followers on Twitter and other networks whose names are not in your marketing database. You can access full records of these followers through reverse append services. 
Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens is a senior advisor for Consultants Collective. She consults on customer acquisition and retention, for both consumer and business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is a guest blogger at AdAge, HBR.org, and Target Marketing Magazine. Her newest book is B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results. She is also the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, Trade Show and Event Marketing, and co-author of the white paper series “B-to-B Database Marketing.” Ruth is a sought-after speaker and trainer, and has presented to audiences and business schools in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM. She studied marketing management at Harvard Business School, and holds an MBA from Columbia University. Learn more at www.ruthstevens.com.

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