neon sign reading "market" over and over again
PHOTO: Karine Germain

Marketing technology — and martech skill sets — have matured significantly over the past decade, and that has broadened the horizons and transformed the possibilities for marketers. We now have the wherewithal to deliver customer experiences that are personalized, responsive and interactive at every step of the journey.

But overall, B2B marketers have lagged behind their B2C counterparts. While ecommerce companies like Amazon and Zappos have elevated CX to a veritable art form, B2B businesses have invested more conservatively in technologies and strategies that support CX excellence. And it shows in the experience they deliver overall. According to a McKinsey study, B2C customer-experience index ratings hover around the 65%–85% range while B2B companies average less than 50%.

The reasons for this disparity are myriad: B2B marketers must contend with a much longer buying cycle, a more complex, multi-person buying unit, and a more conservative business environment. But while B2B companies may be behind their B2C peers, many are starting to catch up by taking ideas from the B2C playbook and applying them to the B2B experience. Here are some inspiring examples:

Attract and Engage Your Audience With Content

B2C companies were among the first to recognize that they could reach potential customers by sharing ideas and information with their audience. The Michelin Guide has increased tire sales by encouraging families to take recreational trips for more than 100 years, while newer consumer brands such as WealthSimple and Red Bull have invested in print and digital magazines that demonstrate thought leadership and generate demand. 

A private equity firm, LLR Partners, decided to try something similar to reach its target audience of business executives at high-growth companies. In 2016, it launched "GrowthBits," a knowledge center featuring insights and best practices from leaders in marketing, sales, HR, strategy, finance and talent. The following year, it added an annual Growth Guide in both print and digital formats to roll up the year's best content and create a premium format it can use to generate leads and inspire prospects. Not only has this commitment to knowledge-sharing expanded LLR's database by 82%, but it has given it valuable insights into the topics that are most important to its audience.

Related Article: Now Is the Time for B2B Marketers to Lead Customer Experience

Shift From Static to Interactive Formats

From the perennially popular "Choose Your Own Adventure" books to the latest Netflix offerings such as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Interactive Special, interactive content has always attracted attention. But while B2C brands have been quick to take advantage of new content formats, B2B has largely focused on traditional business content such as case studies, reports and white papers in static PDF formats. Yet a 2019 Demand Gen report shows that that 86% of B2B buyers prefer interactive content over static content formats.

B2B marketers have slowly begun to integrate interactive content such as chatbots, ROI calculators, and self-assessments into the marketing mix, and many are seeing impressive results. Ipreo, a financial technology company (now part of IHS Markit), decided to experiment with interactive content to capture the attention of investment management firms. It took content from a relevant and topical article that had failed to gain traction in a static format and converted it into an animated, fully interactive, responsive experience that revealed a new element of the story each time the viewer scrolled or swiped. By presenting the content in this new format, Ipreo saw a significant increase in engagement with its target audience. The interactive piece boosted traffic to its website by 33% and generated its single largest opportunity to date, with nearly $1 million in new opportunities and $6.2 million in directly influenced opportunities.

Related Article: B2B Customer Experience Doesn't Have to Lag B2C

Track Behaviors to Personalize the Experience 

B2C marketers — especially those in ecommerce — have pioneered the delivery of highly personalized experiences by creating customer segments, tracking customer behaviors, and using that information to customize the browsing and buying experience. Amazon, for example, collects demographic data and tracks the products you browse and buy on the site so that it can dynamically suggest other products you might be interested in.

B2B marketers are now using the same type of behavioral tracking on their business customers. Rather than using behavioral tracking to promote and sell products, they are using it to deliver personalized content experiences that inform and nurture customers throughout the lengthy, complex B2B sales cycle.

For example, Magento, an Adobe company and a leading platform for open commerce innovation, used its marketing automation platform to segment leads in the database according to business type, opportunity stage and level of engagement. Customized content was emailed to leads based on their unique profiles, and the email cadence was automatically adjusted based on the way each lead interacted with the content they received. By moving from a "batch-and-blast" email approach to a personalized, responsive nurture, Magento was able to boost levels of engagement in its database by 400%.

Related Article: B2B Customer Experience Fundamentals: Starting Off on the Right Foot

We Are Marketing to Humans, Not Businesses

"B2B" stands for "business to business," but B2B marketers can't forget that we are ultimately marketing to human beings — human beings who have become accustomed to the ultra-personalized, engaging, relevant experiences delivered by consumer brands. By adapting B2C techniques and technologies for the B2B space, marketers can elevate the customer experience and create more rewarding and profitable touchpoints with business buyers.