In marketing, choosing the right channels is important. You have to find where your audience is, make communicating convenient, and ensure that the messages you’re putting out there reach your most ideal customers.
This might sound complex, and the truth is that it can be, but it’s not impossible. When you do your research, understand your audience, and put a little effort into testing and improving, you might find that the right B2B marketing channels find you.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Before we dive into some of the most impactful and popular B2B marketing channels to help you generate sustainable growth, we have to understand a few basics.
What is B2B marketing?
B2B stands for business to business. Therefore, B2B marketing is marketing done from one business to another. This involved business transactions that take place between two companies.
A good example of B2B marketing is something like an email marketing automation tool. Your average customer isn’t some random individual sitting at home and wanting to automate their emails. Instead, you’re going to attract businesses that want to use your tool for commercial gain.
B2B marketing also occurs with physical products. Manufacturers of steel, wood, and other materials often sell to other businesses. For these reasons, B2B marketing is the largest market.
To paint this picture with a little more detail, let’s take IBM and GE, for example. A 2020 study from Marketing-Schools.org shows that they can spend up to $60 million in a single day for resources that they need to keep the company alive.
What are the most common B2B marketing channels?
A marketing channel is a group of people, activities, and organizations that are designed to work in unison to transfer goods and services from one person to another. These channels are created and used to establish a connection between point A and point B. For B2B marketing, this means a connection between two different companies.
For someone unfamiliar with marketing, they immediately think of things like billboards and TV commercials. Depending on where you are and your budget, those things could work. But your average business consumer isn’t looking for billboards, nor are they waiting around watching TV. You don’t often see commercials on TV for CRMs and other related SaaS products.
So how on earth are you expected to reach other businesses when the competition is so fierce? You have to find the right B2B marketing channel. Below, we will talk about some of the most popular channels that businesses use to reach, connect, and communicate with other businesses.
1. Conferences and trade shows
Although the digital age has led to some amazing advancements in B2B marketing, one of the most popular and overlooked channels are conferences and tradeshows.
When you sign up for something like the B2B Marketing Exchange in February of 2022, it’s more than just going and learning new things. You’re going to make connections, meet new people, and meet new B2B clients. You get a chance to represent your company, and that’s nothing to shake a stick at.
2. Content marketing
Why content marketing? Because it works well and has a pretty significant ROI. Take a look at the graph below.
Based on this graph, 30% of marketers in the B2B space believe that content marketing has the highest ROI. This is huge news, and that’s why 90% of all organizations use content in their marketing strategy.
Content marketing is one of the most prominent B2B marketing channels because it is infinitely scalable. Need to express something on behalf of your company? Put it in a newsletter. Want to target specific users based on some keywords? Write a blog article. (Don’t worry, we’ll get more into keywords and SEO in a bit). Whether they’re B2B or not, the center of messaging from a company is content.
3. SEO (Search engine optimization)
SEO comes almost hand-in-hand with content marketing. Sure, you’re going to create content pieces that aren’t SEO-focused, but to attract other businesses, you will have to optimize your content to cater to them specifically.
Something like email copy, although considered to be content by many, isn’t really SEO optimized. You’re already reaching out to them through a B2B marketing channel: email. They will almost certainly receive your email, so there’s no need to go fishing.
However, with something like a blog article, the story is much different. There are millions upon millions of articles out there. The odds are that someone has already covered what you’re trying to cover, and they are already attracting the customers you want to attract. What can you do about that?
Enter SEO. SEO helps content marketers detail their content and cater it to people looking for whatever they’re writing about. Of course, this is easier said than done, as the search algorithm changes all the time. But, for the sake of B2B marketing channels, it’s worth having someone on your team that is dedicated to SEO, researching new topics to cover, the keywords that go along with them, and keeping an eye out for rising trends to tackle before the competition gets too fierce.
4. Direct mail
Some people think about direct mail and wonder why it’s even a thing still. After all, we have email, social media, and video conferencing tools. Why would anyone want to read a letter?
Believe it or not, in B2B marketing, being direct could earn you some brownie points. Think about your business, for example. You probably have some ideal customers in mind. I’m talking about very specific businesses that you believe would greatly benefit from whatever you have to sell. Why not mail them directly?
Emails get overlooked, and they may not even be aware that they need your solution, which means they aren’t necessarily out looking. Direct mail could be just the thing to grab their attention and actually get your business noticed.
Credit card companies do this all the time. Think about how many credit card applications you get. Although they could just as easily send you an email, they don’t. Instead, they send you the fancy card, a list of all the benefits, and the form you need to get that card activated.
Why do they do this? For many reasons. Other than grabbing your attention, you can’t get rid of physical mail as easily. An email you can simply delete, never seeing it again. I know that I’m guilty of purging my inbox when it gets too full, regardless of what may be inside. When you have that application in your hand, you have to make an effort to get rid of it. Because of that, it might sit around on your desk or table for a while, constantly reminding you of its existence.
You don’t want to be intentionally annoying, but you’d be surprised at how effective direct mail can be as a B2B marketing channel.
5. Display and retargeting ads
One of the most popular and effective marketing channels, in general, are display and retargeting ads. We see them everywhere. Social media like YouTube and Instagram, within our Google Search results, and on every website we visit. They are there because they are effective, even in B2B.
This style of ad is for someone ready to commit. It’s about getting the right person at the right time, constantly maintaining that connection, and reminding them of your existence.
Think about this from a business perspective. Targeted display ads and retargeting campaigns are typically triggered based on users’ interests. As they scour the internet, looking for a solution, they might just keep seeing your ad with your solution. As time goes on, and they continue doing research, those ads will keep popping up, reminding them that you are there to help.
You don’t want to overdo it. And you want to make sure you’re targeting the right audience. Otherwise, your ads will become annoying and repetitive. Make it tasteful and keep it to the point. There is no need to waste anyone’s time or put a bad taste in their mouth for your company.
6. Email marketing
Email marketing is probably one of the most used marketing channels, period. It has proven to be effective time and time again. Why is that? Because everyone has an email, including other businesses.
From the beginning of the funnel to the end, email is typically the preferred channel for businesses trying to communicate with each other. It’s quick, easy, and in a business setting, it’s expected.
So with that said, it’s worth optimizing your email marketing strategy to be a go-to B2B marketing channel. Implementing email marketing automation so that you can reach more businesses and manage email campaigns is vital for anyone in the B2B space.
Email marketing in the B2B space functions much like it would in the B2C space, just catered to businesses. They’re designed to educate the reader about your business and convert them into marketing-qualified leads.
According to eMarketer, 49% of B2B marketers rated email as their number one choice for engagement with other companies. This is because most everyone has a business email. Additionally, 43% of them check their emails every few hours, regardless of whether or not they’re at work.
So if you think about it, you have a pretty high chance of reaching them no matter what. 43% is a very high number. Something that you won’t find in many other B2B marketing channels. So it’s worth investing a good bit of time and effort into making sure your B2B email marketing strategy is rock solid.
7. Outbound calling
We’ve covered inbound vs. outbound marketing before, so check that out when you get the chance. In that article, we talked about the benefits of both and expressed how they each have their own place.
For a company looking to attract a wide audience, inbound marketing is the way to go. It’s like putting a worm on a hook and waiting for the fish to bite. But, when it comes to B2B marketing channels, you might find some success in outbound marketing. Specifically outbound calls.
Just above, we talked about how effective direct mail might prove to be. It helps your name stand out in a crowd of competitors. Well, take that same idea and apply it to direct calling.
I’m not talking about those scammy sales calls that we get from time to time. Do you know the ones that pitch you something you have no use for? No, I’m talking about intentional calls with companies that you know could benefit from your solutions.
Remember, businesses spend a ton of money on products and services that help them do business. A single phone call could bring a huge return, so it’s worth doing your research on the business first. Take some time and figure out exactly what you want to say.
8. Paid search and PPC campaigns
If you’re familiar with your audiences and your budget allows it, paid search and PPC campaigns might be the perfect B2B marketing channel for you. These campaigns are based on many factors, but if you know what kind of verticals you are in or want to be in, it can get a little easier.
Platforms like LinkedIn allow for advertising based on industry. This is very helpful, considering most business professionals use it daily. Let’s say that you provide a tool that helps automotive dealers organize their data. Well, on LinkedIn, you can target these people with specially designed ads.
This is a very general example, as you can utilize other platforms, too. If you know what your audience is interested in based on keywords, you can create paid search and PPC (Pay Per Click) campaigns to target them.
Be warned, though. If you’re not familiar with your audience, this is a good way to throw away money. If you’re targeting people that want nothing to do with what you’re selling, there will be very low ROAS. You need to take it one step at a time and be ready to make adjustments during your campaigns. You might need to kill them completely.
All of that being said, there are few ways that are better at reaching B2B customers than through paid search and PPC campaigns simply because you can target industries and individuals based on verticals directly.
9. Partner marketing
Partner marketing isn’t always a viable option, especially for smaller businesses that don’t have the budget for it, but it can be quite an effective B2B marketing channel if executed correctly.
Essentially, partner marketing (aka, partnership marketing) is a collaboration between two or more parties. This could be two businesses, or a business and an individual (for example, an influencer).
In this B2B marketing channel, the idea is that all parties accomplish their key objectives that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to accomplish. For a collaboration between two businesses, this objective is typically expanding their customer base by selling to the other business’s customers.
Ideally, this has to be done between parties that don’t compete against each other. For example, it wouldn’t make much sense for Toyota and Mazda to collaborate, as they both sell to the same market.
Instead, look at what Nike is doing with Air Jordan and Dior. Yes, Air Jordan and Dior sell shoes and clothing, but they sell them to two entirely different audiences. Air Jordan is considered desirable but is generally much more affordable for the average customer. On the other hand, Dior is considered a luxury brand, and they have highly specific customers.
The combination of the two brands manifests in the Air Dior shoe. It is highly limited and considerably more expensive than the average Jordan shoe, but the marketing and exposure that came with it benefitted both brands.
10. Social media
People often look at social media as a consumer platform, but the truth is that it can easily be a B2B marketing channel. For example, as we discussed above with LinkedIn. Many business professionals are on LinkedIn and even rely on it to make new connections in various industries and niches.
But it doesn’t stop at LinkedIn. Facebook and Instagram have business-related tools for companies to utilize to reach customers. They even allow for businesses to advertise through their proprietary advertising platforms, targeting anyone and everyone that might be interested, including other businesses.
What’s unique about social media is that the major platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) have millions upon millions of users ready to consume media. It is perfect for advertising in every sense of the word. The odds are that your business is already utilizing social media. Why not throw it into your B2B marketing channels?
I’ve had the pleasure of hosting a few webinars in my career. If executed correctly, webinars can have tremendous conversion rates.
For example, let’s say that your webinar has about 300 attendees. For some people, that might not seem like much. And the truth is that if you think about it in terms of general website traffic, it’s not. Some blog articles get thousands upon thousands of clicks per month. In that case, 300 doesn’t seem like much.
But, for webinars, the case is a little different. You have to keep in mind that you are (or should be) covering highly specific topics that pertain to and attract certain kinds of people. These are often business owners looking for information and a solution to an issue they’re having.
If done correctly, you can expect to see a much higher conversion rate than normal. Even if only 10 of these customers convert, their lifetime value is much higher because of the way they found you and the information that they gathered in the webinar.
For that reason, I highly recommend that you do as much research as possible before starting up a webinar campaign. Be highly specific with your topics, and get a subject matter expert to host and answer questions. If you’re talking about 3rd party data and cookieless advertising campaigns, you don’t want a developer covering the webinar. Also, don’t forget to schedule automated webinar emails before and after your event.
Additionally, a good idea would be to bring in a partner for the webinar. If your business is a SaaS, bring in someone from a tool that your tool integrates with. Combine your efforts for maximum exposure, and you might just be surprised at what kind of leads you can generate.
12. Word-of-mouth and referrals
Last on our list today are word-of-mouth and referrals. This is at the bottom of the list not because it’s not important or useful, but because it typically takes place after one or more leads make it through the funnel and convert.
Word-of-mouth advertising and referrals only occur once a lead has interacted with your company and enjoyed the process. In their mind, you are the premier example of what a solution looks like for their given issue, and they recommend you because of that experience.
This is a great B2B marketing channel because business professionals talk to one another. There is an opportunity for referrals and word-of-mouth advertising in every channel that we discussed above. If you make a good impression, even professionals will talk to their friends about what they’re using.
According to Demandbase, 50% of all purchases result from word-of-mouth. But, in B2B, nearly 91% of sales are influenced by word-of-mouth. In the B2B space, the pressure for making a good decision is much higher. It’s not about giving something a test run; it’s about finding out what works. That’s why we all scroll down to the logo section of landing pages to see who else is using the tool.
Analog vs. digital B2B marketing channels
Before we close, I just want to stress the importance of digital marketing channels vs analog ones. Above, we listed a few of each, but with a heavy focus on digital B2B marketing channels. This isn’t because one is more important than the other.
In actuality, both marketing strategies can produce some impressive results, and should always be on the mind of any marketer in the B2B space. The big difference here is that digital B2B marketing channels are:
1. Easier to measure
Being in the digital age, it’s a lot easier to measure the success of anything online. With digital B2B marketing channels, you have all the data and information to make educated marketing decisions.
2. Typically more cost-effective
Typically, any conversion made through any marketing channel should be considered a success. But with digital B2B marketing channels, you can reach a wider audience. Word-of-mouth, referrals, and conferences can only gather so many new leads.
3. Much faster in producing results
Think about the effort that goes into analog B2B marketing channels. For some, it’s worth it. And certainly, any marketer will take any opportunity they get to make a conversion, no matter if it’s digital or analog, but digital tends to produce results much faster.
4. Better for generating quality leads
You can target businesses based on verticals and get very specific with criteria. The leads that digital B2B marketing channels produce are usually much higher quality, converting at a higher rate than those collected outside of the digital space.
5. Better for brand awareness
Being online and in multiple marketing channels is better for brand awareness. Think about how long it would take for you to track down and explain your business to people in person. As we’ve discussed above, this is sometimes effective, but it’s not always the best for brand awareness. Being in digital channels means more eyes can see you.
Conclusions and takeaway
B2B marketing channels are similar to B2C, but they are approached very differently. While most traditional customers want to feel an emotional attachment to what they’re buying, most businesses are about.. well, business. They want to get down to the nitty-gritty and are more concerned about finding the perfect fit for what they need.
If you’re unaware of what B2B marketing channels you need to use, or maybe you’re not sure what audiences you need to be targeting, you need to understand your customers better. Try taking the customer data you have now and creating user personas. These are profiles of your ideal customers made by you, based on the verticals, budgets, and several other factors (which can really be anything) that your current customers are already promoting.
For example, if you know that what you sell is typically bought by IT companies with 100+ employees, you can create a user persona based on this information. Once you have these profiles and better understand what your ideal customer(s) look like, you can then target them based on their preferred channels.
Planting yourself in the right B2B marketing channels isn’t just a suggestion. You must reach the right customer at the right time, giving them the information they need to convert.