Five actions to improve your B2B marketing in 2021

Five actions to improve your B2B marketing in 2021

Meet some customers

A previous boss once included this in my annual plan. What a great idea! It forced me out of the office to have conversations with real customers. I learned loads. such as why some customers wouldn't adopt eLearning. The answer - because their perception of elearning was watching someone staring at a camera, talking for an hour. In a business selling training services, that kind of feedback was invaluable. Telling real-life customer stories always gives marketers better credibility with client-facing colleagues and can lead to more meaningful internal conversations. So hop on Zoom and start some conversations with customers.

Make a plan 

You may be thinking ‘We don’t do annual plans anymore, we don’t know what we’re doing in 12 days, let alone 12 months.' Long term planning in the middle of a pandemic might seem especially challenging, even irrelevant right now. But targets don't disappear, and you'll still need to explain your forecast for next year’s budget. So use the opportunity of a long term plan to take a step back from your business. As Rory Sutherland says in his book 'Alchemy': ask yourself some ‘apparently fatuous’ questions. Like ‘why are we in this business?’ Check if your value proposition still stacks up. Scrutinise your right to win in your market. Find out if you have the right skills. I’m a big fan of working in an agile way as well, but you don't have to choose between the two. 

Ask this question

A great question to ask yourself and colleagues is ‘so what?’ You’ve got 50,000 Twitter followers, so what? You had 700 people attend your webinar, so what? Say it nicely so it doesn’t sound rude. But after a while, your colleagues will get the hint. So what? It means, how is this helping the business, how is it getting us to forecast, how is it building customer loyalty? So for example, next time you hold a webinar make sure there’s a plan for before, during, and after it. What’s the hook in the webinar that will make a conversion? Maybe it’s a workshop that leads to a sales call. Think CTA and keep asking so what? until you really understand how tactics will lead to the company achieving its goals.

Use SOUP for content

Content marketing is an essential tactic in B2B marketing, but it needs to be well-planned. I've devised 'SOUP' to remember four key rules for content marketing. Soup stands for

  • Shareable - make your content so useful that prospects will want to share it on social media.
  • Optimised -  make sure users can find it in Google (but without the keyword stuffing)
  • Useful - create content that will really help your prospect. 
  • Purposeful - what’s the next step for the user, is there a CTA?

Be aligned with your sales team

Win yourself fans in your sales team by doing some research on social selling and share what you've learned. Some salespeople may feel unprepared for the world of LinkedIn engagements and Twitter lists. So if they need some help, show them their SSI score. Then, suggest a chat to identify prospects, develop rapport, and build a pipeline on social media in a way that colleagues feel comfortable and get value. Want to know more about social selling? Drop us a line on our Contacts Page and we'll describe how to build a social selling programme in your business. 

Doug Marshall portrait 1Doug Marshall
Achieve B2B Marketing

Five influencers that edtech and learning services marketers should follow

Five influencers that edtech and learning services marketers should follow

If you’re responsible for marketing edtech, training, or elearning services you need to stay up to date on both L&D and marketing. Here are my five top recommendations for who to follow in 2021 to keep yourself informed.

Nick Shackleton-Jones

If you’re a business owner or marketer of learning services you’ll want a big say in product development. Shackleton-Jones’ 2019 book ‘How People Learn’ offers fascinating perspectives on how providers can make learning more effective. If you want to challenge learning myths and help your organisation develop training services that really work, Shackleton-Jones is a must to follow on Twitter.

Mark Ritson

There are many reasons to follow the Marketing Week columnist and brand consultant. His videos on LinkedIn help marketers better understand complex marketing concepts. Plus there’s a bonus, you’ll have aLearning Now TV great example of how to market learning services using social media and video. Ritson actively engages with comments, and his videos are great content marketing - useful whilst being easily digestible. 

LearningNow TV

Presented by L&D experts Nigel Paine and Kate Graham, LearningNow TV provides a magazine-type show that offers brilliant and timely insights on the world of L&D with interesting guests. To better understand your L&D customers and the sector generally, follow them on Twitter to catch the programme each month.

Donald H Taylor

The Learning and Performance Institute's chair publishes his annual L&D Global Sentiment Survey. It takes the pulse of the L&D community world-wide by asking. “What will be hot in workplace L&D next year?” Follow Donald and check out the results for 2021 to have more informed conversations with customers.


Webinars will continue to be an important tool to engage prospects in 2021. As a software service, ON24 is a cobbler with polished shoes with great webinars on, well how to do great webinars. Brilliant presenter Mark Bornstein offers a masterclass on webinar presentation by, you’ve guessed it, presenting great webinars on how to produce great webinars.

Keep up to date with how to market your edtech and learning services in 2021 by following Achieve B2B Marketing on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Why your marketing needs to be less rational to understand customers

Why your marketing needs to be less rational to understand customers

There’s a false assumption in market research that customers are rational beings, conscious of all their feelings and actions. As advertising legend David Ogilvy stated ‘The trouble with market research is that people don’t think what they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.’ 

Rory Sutherland's 2019 book  ‘Alchemy, The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense’ offers many insights to help business leaders and B2B marketers better understand their customers. Sutherland argues that if you look at customers through a less rational lens you may be able to understand them better. 

Uncover your customers’ unconscious motivations

A great example that Sutherland quotes is Uber. Research on their consumers’ rational needs might have focussed solely on the need for a speedy service rather than less rational, often unconscious motivations. But Uber's real genius is the reduction of anxiety when waiting for a cab. Unlike a phone-booked minicab, you’re not anxiously looking at your watch, uncertain of where your car is. With Uber, it’s there on your mobile, a little animated car on your screen, just two minutes away and coming down the road! So how do you better uncover unconscious motivations in your organisation? Sutherland has a suggestion: Create an atmosphere in your company where people can ask apparently fatuous questions. Asking for example what people hate about taxis might reveal their anxiety about waiting, rather than other more rational issues such as speed and price.

Ask apparently fatuous questions

archieveb2bmarketing 4Let’s take education technology and learning services as an example, an area where I provide marketing services. What would happen if you asked more 'apparently fatuous' questions such as ‘why do people want to learn?’

Recently I’ve seen great examples of companies growing learning services whose focus didn’t seem to follow traditional thinking that the rational, conscious motivation for learning is solely to improve job prospects.

FutureLearn, for example, has tapped into learners' desire for social learning by enabling users to exchange ideas. FutureLearn says it wants to create a learning environment ‘more like a chat with friends about your ideas and what you’ve learned.’

Tap into gamification

Language learning specialist Duolingo puts much of their global success down to the company's gamification strategy, created to keep users returning to the service. I know from my two of my extended family, how Duolingo cleverly creates competition amongst users which acts as a highly effective learning motivator.

The truth is there’s more than one answer for why people want to learn, and it might not be the answer a delegate gives on the feedback form. Asking more creative questions can lead to a better understanding of the real value of your business or learning service.

By better understanding unconscious motivations, you can be better armed to ensure your communications and the product itself offers real value for your customer.

Like this article? Discover how to improve your B2B marketing 2021.

Doug Marshall portrait 1Doug Marshall

Achieve B2B Marketing

How to enable client-facing teams to sell using social media

How to enable client-facing teams to sell using social media

How can you help your client-facing teams adapt to changing buyer behaviours? Traditional selling techniques are becoming less effective as buyer behaviours continue to change.

Two big changes are necessitating a rethink on how to engage with B2B prospects. Firstly, buyers do more extensive research before they want to talk to salespeople, with content marketing and online information replacing phone calls early in the sales cycle. 

Secondly, with working from home predicted to double in 2021, the sheer ability to reach people by phone is only going to get harder.

Help your salespeople to adapt

So salespeople need to adapt, but how? Speaking with some highly successful salespeople recently there’s something they have in common. They adapt to new ways of selling, using digital techniques to engage with prospects. One that’s really standing out is using social selling. 

What is social selling? Essentially it’s when salespeople use social media to interact directly with their prospects. Social selling can be used to identify and attract prospects and engage with them in a way that adds value to both sides.

But when it’s a tool that’s used badly it can have the opposite effect. For example, I recently spoke to a buyer who blocks cold LinkedIn connection requests. That can damage not just your reputation but also prompt platforms to limit your ability to use their tools. It's also a mistake to think of social selling as a replacement for techniques such as telephone calls. It's an additional technique to engage with prospects where they happen to be. It's worth bearing in mind that some prospects won't be active on networks like LinkedIn, so it's best used selectively with those that are.

How to do social selling well

So how can social selling be done well? The first thing to bear in mind is that social selling is not a quick fix. It takes time and resources which won’t be appropriate for all types of B2B companies such as those with low prices and high volume sales. The second is attitude. Social selling can only be done well where there is respect for the prospect and a genuine attempt to provide them with value, even when it won't always result in a sale. The clue is in the name. It's as much about being social as it is about selling.

If you're advising sales teams here's some guidance to give them: An important piece of preparation is considering both your personal brand and audience. What value can you offer on social media? What's your area of expertise which prospects can benefit from? Secondly who is in your audience? What information do they need that you can offer? 

Once you've done this initial preparation a good place is to look up your social selling index. This is a free service (and a great piece of marketing) by LinkedIn. Your score can be compared to your peers. Most importantly it also gives you four key insights on where to prioritise your efforts. 

The first of these is to review your LinkedIn profile. If it simply resembles your CV it’s probably not going to attract or interest potential buyers. Refocus your profile with your potential customers in mind. Make sure your job title and summary include search terms that help prospects to find you, and that it clearly explains how you can help your prospect and articulates your personal brand.

How to be active on LinkedIn efficiently

Secondly use the advanced search functions in LinkedIn (and if you have a licence LinkedIn Sales Navigator) to identify prospects. Rather than connect with them coldly, ‘follow’ them initially instead to see their activity. 

Thirdly, start to be active on LinkedIn. A good way for salespeople to do this is to engage with the online activity of prospects. If they’ve written a post, comment on it by offering your own valuable insight. Remember though to keep it ‘social’. Be authentic and don’t do any selling at this early stage. It's important that sales and marketing work well together. Having a marketing calendar helps sales and marketing people be aligned on future activities such as events being attended, scheduled content marketing such as webinars, and national 'days' that can be engaged with.

Fourthly, connect with your prospect when you’ve built up sufficient rapport. Carefully craft your invitation request, explaining helpfully why you would like to connect. Don’t stop there though, continue to offer valuable insights. This will help you know whether and when to suggest a call. By building a reputation for being both helpful and knowledgeable your call has a much better chance of success. 

If you're a marketer keen to build mutually beneficial relationships with sales colleagues, advising them on social selling is a good place to start.

Interested in knowing more about social selling? Sign up to my regular newsletter on marketing for business and learning services. 

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Achieve B2B Marketing


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