Today, more and more B2B IT providers understand that marketing can make or break a product. And there’s no doubt about it – good marketing is digital. Whether you’re selling an IT solution, a managed service or a reseller license, your digital presence is the most important tool in your arsenal to set yourself aside from the competition and drive sales.
B2B inbound marketing is a crowded field. It’s more difficult than ever to find that unique brand message that can drive an all-important conversion. So, what’s the solution? With end-to-end IT marketing strategies, you can create a clear pathway through digital content that will support and encourage a conversion.
Easily said, less easily achieved
There’s a lot of information online about how to create content, drive sales, use your CRM, write personas and much, much more. But if you’re trying to create a marketing strategy that supports customers from first awareness right through their customer journey, it can be difficult to understand how these different IT marketing strategies link together to create a bigger picture.
Good B2B marketing isn’t simply about creating a great piece of content. It’s about identifying the customer you need to target that content towards, allowing them to easily find it, directing them to explore further, then supporting and guiding them towards a conversion. It’s also about using the information you acquired through the process to create a sustainable and positive relationship with the converted client. Creating that journey isn’t easy – but it’s the key to standing out in a crowded sellers’ market.
On this page, we chart a journey through planning to conversion that will allow B2B IT marketers to improve the quality of their marketing, sales and conversion cycles.Whether you’re planning an entire strategy, or simply improving a small part of something wider, this is everything you’ll need to know to succeed with your IT marketing strategies.
1. IT marketing challenges in 2020
In the 21st century, marketing isn’t easy. Customers have never been more diverse – and buying has never been more democratised. There’s so much choice and competition in every sector that marketers have a tough job on their hands standing out from the crowd. This is just one in a range of IT marketing challenges that make a successful digital presence more difficult to achieve than ever before.
In the IT world, however, the challenge is even harder. That’s because the average IT buyer has specific needs, challenges, and pain points that must be addressed. As well as this, the complexity of the technology being marketed creates a whole new level of difficulty.
Luckily, IT marketing strategies have never been more advanced or effective as they are today. That’s because modern day digital marketing practices are uniquely tailored towards the sceptical IT buyer – since they specialise in educating users and building trust. The rise of effective and targeted digital marketing material has been among the most noticeable IT marketing trends.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s plain sailing for B2B IT providers. Challenges still remain – and effective digital IT marketing must address these if it hopes to target the right audience. In many ways, the recent success of the inbound approach has in itself created new IT marketing challenges. That’s because the more B2B IT marketers that join the inbound bandwagon, the more difficult it is for any one of those to stand out from the crowd.
1.1 The most important IT marketing challenges
Today, there are four main IT marketing challenges that B2B IT marketers should seek to navigate if they want to stand out from the crowd and achieve their marketing goals.
Managers and C-suite officials might have the best interests of the company at heart – but they’re rarely marketing experts. And since the managerial ranks of a company are often populated by more experienced employees, they’re less likely to be experts in the recent inbound marketing innovations. For someone who cut their teeth in the era of traditional ad-based marketing, the ‘educate first, sell second’ focus of more modern practices can be a difficult pill to swallow.
Getting management buy-in and managing their expectations is one of the most difficult parts of B2B marketing. The trick to doing this successfully is being up front about the challenges and realities of the sector. There’s no point selling digital marketing as the hot new way to generate leads in seconds because you’ll end up looking pretty silly when results take longer to materialise.
Finding the right audience
For most marketers, particularly in the B2C sector, it’s enough to simply target your marketing material towards ‘those who are interested in buying your services’. In the B2B world, and even more so in the IT world, the situation is much more complicated. B2B IT audiences are hyper specific. Marketing must be tailored not just to a particular business in a specific sector, but down to the individual decision-maker in that landscape.
Most B2B IT companies will find there are several different buyers within a company that might make purchasing decisions. This includes the C-suite officials, HR managers, line of business managers, or IT staff. Each of these workers will have different priorities that marketing material should aim to isolate and target. This is easier said than done. To achieve this, IT marketers need to define these different buyers, flesh out their needs and pain points, and carefully aim different pieces of marketing towards them. Jump to our section on personas for more detail on this process.
Turning coding into marketing
Almost by definition, technology is complicated. The challenge for marketers, then, is to turn these incredibly technical concepts into simple, digestible language that wins people over and drives sales. Easier said than done.
It can be easy to get bogged down in listing endless features; talking about how your solution has the best package of integrations, customisations, or mobile compatibility on the market. These all have their place. But to be effective, you need to drill through the noise. That means referring back to your personas and user information and identifying the specific user’s problems that your software or service addresses. The key to translating your coding into good marketing is to explain how your product achieves that, using simple, accessible language.
Creating an end-to-end customer journey
As we mentioned earlier, B2B buyers are more likely to take time over a decision, knowing they’re answerable to other people in the company for the decisions they make.
When considering the complex nature of IT services, this is even more likely to be the case. Buyers want to do their research, and technology isn’t simple. That’s why IT marketing trends for some time have been moving towards content that’s more targeted, but can also act as part of a larger, more thorough digital strategy.
The challenge for the B2B marketer is to allow customers the space to complete this research in their own time, without risking losing a valuable lead in the process. The best way to do that is to create a clear and structured user journey that progresses from awareness (via social and paid media), through content, case studies, and in-person conversations. The customer journey should then continue as the lead becomes a client, allowing marketers to promote new products and services, assess satisfaction over time, and approach happy clients for accreditation, testimonials and case studies.
These four IT marketing challenges represent a helpful overview of the difficulties that modern day marketers face. But to construct comprehensive end-to-end IT marketing strategies, there’s plenty more that you need to know. In the remaining sections, we’ll discuss and outline how to plan, create, execute and measure your marketing plan for IT services.
2. How to create an IT services marketing plan
When a B2B customer identifies a potential solution, there’s a good chance a few key factors are on their mind:
• Does this solution do what I need it to?
• Is it worth the price?
• Is there another solution that does it better or cheaper?
If you want to successfully identify how to sell managed IT services and software solutions, you’ll need to define the answers to these questions. That requires a little bit of research before you put any words to a page.
In marketing, preparation is everything. There’s no point shouting about how great your product is if you’re discussing the wrong features with the wrong people. You need to understand who your audience is and what they’re looking for from your products or services. Vitally, you also need to do some competitor research, so you can understand exactly what similar companies are selling, how their products differ from your own, and how you market yours against them.
2.1 Competitor research
Competitor research is a vital part of discovering how you’re going to position yourself. Without it, you risk marketing the same products in the same way as everyone else – and getting drowned out by the noise.
The first step involves requires identifying your competitors. There are plenty of sophisticated tools out there to help with this, but a lot of the time a simple Google search will suffice. After all, that’s how customers are most likely to find your marketing. Use Google Trends or Keyword Planner to identify popular search terms, then run these through Google to identify who is best ranking for them. Alternatively, if you don’t mind paying for a premium service, a number of tools like Moz and SEMRush will crawl your website or your competitors’ to deduce what keywords the website is ranking for.
Once you’ve done that, it’s helpful to complete a thorough analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. These questions are a useful guide to get you started:
What is the unique selling point of the product?
Which buyers are they targeting?
How effective is the content strategy and website design?
What content types and channels are they using?
What messaging are they using to promote their product?
Once you’ve got the answer to these questions, the next thing you need to ask yourself is ‘how can I do this better?’. That’s the key to understanding how to sell managed IT services and will provide you with the important basis for a unique and successful IT services marketing plan.
2.2 Customer research & personas
The next step is to identify your own customers. This should involve information you currently hold on existing customers, as well as identifying potential customers and markets to target. You should ask yourself who they are, what position they hold in their company, as well as what their priorities and pain points might be. It can be helpful to get in touch with existing customers for this, perhaps offering a discount in exchange for help and guidance.
The goal here is to flesh out this customer research into a series of personas, which can be defined as ‘fictional representations of your ideal customers’. Give your character a name, a job title, and consider the reasons why they’d be interested in your product. Then, flesh out the ‘pain points’ – the reasons they’d be reluctant to purchase, and consider how you’ll address this.
Ideally, you’ll want a persona for three or four of your most frequent customers. With these in mind, you can then effectively tailor the marketing material you create to the needs and pain points of your personas.
2.3 Value proposition
A value proposition should take the information you’ve learned across competitor and customer research, and create some messaging based on it. It outlines the basis for all the consumer facing marketing material that you’ll produce from here onwards – across your various IT marketing strategies. The value proposition should define how you’ll stand out from the competition and address the pain points of your ideal customers. Then, you need to ask yourself:
What messages will you use to target your customer?
What language will attract them?
What content will most appeal to them?
Once this research in place, you’ll be ready to think about creating the content that will make up your strategy.
3. Creating a B2B buyer journey
Once you’ve completed your market research and defined your messaging, it’s time to develop a content plan. This requires some consideration of the marketing material you’ll create, how that’ll be targeted and how different pieces of content will work towards a larger B2B content strategy. For managed service providers and software vendors, it’s particularly vital that content can contribute to a clearly defined customer journey. For all the reasons we outlined earlier, B2B buyers want to take time over their decisions and have all the facts at hand. When creating your B2B buyer journey, it’s your job to guide them through this process.
3.1 The buyer journey
When creating your B2B content strategy, it’s important to consider where your customer is – as well as who they are. There’s no point creating a great product page if the reader isn’t ready for that kind of information.
People often think of a buyer’s journey as a linear timeline, beginning with awareness and ending in a sale. If this is the basis for your B2B buyer journey, you’re missing a trick. An effective journey should be considered more of a cycle than a line – the relationship doesn’t end with a sale. Effective marketers understand the value of their existing customers, both to help advocate their services to new leads, and upmarket new services outside of their current package. When you take these factors into account, the B2B buyer’s journey begins to look a bit different.
Let’s consider a fictional example. Tim is an IT manager who needs some help from a managed service provider to help maintain and optimise his IT systems. The B2B buyer journey he goes through looks a little like this:
By the time he’s reached the last stage of the journey, Tim is helping to create content that can reassure new customers in the first two stages. And thus, the circle of B2B marketing continues. The challenge for B2B marketers is to create the content that will convince Tim to progress through the B2B buyer journey at each individual stage.
This is where the content strategy comes in. It’s vital that before creating any marketing material, you plan out a customer journey that will allow Tim to progress seamlessly from prospect to advocate. To do this, you need to target different types of content to his needs and pain points – as they change over time.
3.2 Planning the B2B content strategy
Different pieces of content lend themselves to different stages in the buyer’s journey. So, the next step in developing your content marketing plan is to identify which content to create. Here are some ideas.
1. Paid media
Paid media is helpful for targeting users in the early stages of the buyer’s journey, making that first point of contact and encouraging users to access further information and content. Paid media is generally good for getting a short term initial push to a campaign that can be supported by other media later down the line.
2. Organic media
Organic content, such as social media on Twitter and LinkedIn, is good for increasing awareness and attracting potential leads. It generally works better on a long term basis, since it takes time to build an effective organic presence.
3. eBooks and whitepapers
eBooks and whitepapers are detailed outlines of your product or service, and why a customer should consider it against the competition. Customers will generally access them during the research and assessment stages, when they’ve already identified your business as a prospect and want to further explore their options.
Blogs fulfil a similar function as eBooks and whitepapers, but in more specific cases. If you’re looking to expand on specific users, features or industries for your product, the blog is the form for you. These will also be invaluable to customers in the second, third and fourth stages of the buyer’s journey. Blogs can also be a good way of marketing further services to existing customers in the later stages of the buyer’s journey.
5. Case studies
Case studies are even more specific than the content you’d put in a blog. Using a real life example of an existing customer, you can tell the story of how your services or products have been used in practice. The case study is useful for customers in the third or fourth stages of the marketing journey, who are aware of your services, but want to explore further and accredit your marketing messages.
6. Email marketing
Email marketing is uniquely qualified to target customers at any stage in the marketing journey. Since messages can be sent directly to individual customers, they can be microtargeted to their needs and pain points.
These are the main types of content that should influence the B2B content strategy you create. Of course, there’s much more to it than this – and if you want to get even further into the details and complexities of creating a content marketing plan, take a look at our recent eBook: A fool-proof guide to content marketing.
But if all you’re looking to do at this stage is put together the fundamental bones of a campaign, this information should stand you in good stead to get started.
4. How to convert leads into clients
The goal of IT marketing strategies is to generate leads – preferably high quality and lots of them. But finding leads is only half the story. If you want to turn that potential into business, you need a clear process that will allow you to convert leads into clients.
Essentially, this involves encouraging your readers to move along to the next step in the customer journey – all the way to conversion. There are several ways you can do this:
4.1 Traffic vs. value
Marketers often mistakenly think that to get more leads, all they need is more website traffic. That’s easy enough in theory – most people can generate a bit of website traffic with some decent SEO strategies and a paid media campaign. But if 98% of those people read your content and then leave your website, you won’t increase your lead generation by much. That’s why it’s more important to turn to conversion rate optimisation (CRO). This involves increasing the percentage of people that move on to the next stage in the customer journey.
Creating a B2B sales funnel is a long-established way of identifying how effectively traffic flows through your website, from the first contact to conversion. It maps a route to conversion through the content you create, assigning specific pieces of content to each stage in the marketing journey – from awareness to conversion.
What’s the value of this? The logic follows that by mapping the ideal process that your customer should take, you can more accurately assess and optimise how many do make that journey. And if your website analytics tell you that successful leads are arriving to conversion via a different route, that gives you the information you need to improve your funnel and the content that forms it.
Let’s take a look at a sample B2B sales funnel based on the first four stages of the customer journey that we outlined in the last section.
This is designed to be a very basic outline. In reality, there’s a whole range of different types of content that could contribute to each stage of the process. And on an individual level, the journey will undoubtedly be more complex, with viewers progressing back and forth between various types of content before making a conversion.
Once you’ve identified the customer journey your prospects should be taking, it’s time to decide how well they’re doing it.
It’s at this point in the process that many people consider whether it’d be better to create the content they need in house or look for some expert help from an external agency. As a specialist external agency for B2B marketing companies, we’ve got a lot of ideas about how we can craft a winning content strategy that drives readers where you want them to go. Check out our services if you want to find out more.
4.2 Where are your customers going?
Most of the decisions you make when optimising your conversion rates depend on knowing a bit more about your website visitors:
How many people are viewing your website?
How many view individual pages?
Where are people travelling to from those pages?
Which pages are readers leaving your website from?
Where are they arriving on your website from?
This crucial information will allow you to understand how effective the flow of traffic is between constituent stages in your customer journey. Luckily, almost anybody can access this data for free with Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is a big repository of data about how people interact with your website. This includes everything you need to know about how effectively users are progressing through your website.
One particular Google Analytics feature allows you to visualize where readers are travelling to and from between pages on your website. This is called the User Flow, and it looks a little bit like this:
The different pages can be customised based on your requirements. For example, you can create a different pillar for each piece of content you think should lead to conversion or contact, allowing you to easily see how effectively you’re achieving that.
As well as this, you can also set up goals in Google Analytics that allow you to isolate and measure specific metrics, such as the amount of users that progress from one page to the next, and track overall conversions. Once you’ve got that information, the next step is to optimise, optimise, optimise.
4.3 How to convert leads into clients – step by step
We’ve covered why it’s important to optimise your conversion rate, and how to decide where optimisation is needed. Now, we’ll consider how to go about optimising those pages, CTAs, emails and social posts. If you’re a savvy marketer looking to get the most possible leads out of the content you produce, there are a few options open to you:
Creating content campaigns
Step one involves ensuring the route you want people to take is a desirable one. Think about your average customer for a moment; they want to find out more about your product or service before getting in touch with you, preferably through content that addresses their pain points in increasing levels of detail. It’s important to ensure that the information you’re drawing them towards is relevant and elaborates on what you’ve already told them. Make sure the next stage you draw your readers towards is going to deliver value.
Leverage high performing pages
Consider the following situation: You’re setting up a short campaign to drive interest in a promotion or product. Perhaps you’re offering a discount on the latest upgrade to your SaaS solution. The content you’ve produced for this campaign is ranking well – but perhaps not performing well. One way to boost focused traffic to your new content is by drawing attention to it from existing high-performing pages. The best example of this is a homepage, where many of your visitors will end up at one point or another. Consider creating some banners or CTAs that draw attention to your new content, and direct traffic through your B2B sales funnel.
Calls to action
If you’re struggling to encourage readers towards the next stage in the customer journey, you can have another think about your CTAs. The traditional way of doing CTAs involves putting a link at the bottom of a piece of content. But often people skip over this or click off before they get to it. For this reason, many marketers have found success in improving their conversion rates by making these CTAs easier to see, with more eye-catching messages.
For instance, instead of writing a simple piece of text, why not create a banner or image that can catch the viewer’s eye? And consider moving the CTA higher up the page, perhaps integrated within the content so that viewers can access it sooner.
Landing pages, by their very definition, are designed to attract attention and channel it in a specific direction. This could be towards a particular piece of content, a trial or demo, or a contact form. If you’re trying to get as much traffic as possible towards your latest content, creating landing pages is a great way of doing that.
Landing pages work because they’re simple and stand apart from the rest of your website – meaning they can rank well in Google, and viewers don’t get distracted and end up clicking elsewhere. Either they go to the place you want them to, or they leave – simple. If you want to improve your conversion rates, create some landing pages for your hero assets. With some SEO keywords and a little paid media, you should get the traffic jam up cleared in no time.
Including banners and links to the landing page from other parts of your website, social media and email communications is also a great way of focusing travel back in the right direction.
As we move into the later stages of your customer sales journey, email marketing becomes increasingly more important. Compared to other types of content, emails are unique in their ability to target customers right down to the individual. That makes it absolutely great for retrieving potential customers who have fallen off the customer journey. Consider, for example, if a user downloads an eBook or whitepaper, giving their contact details in order to do so, reads the content, and then doesn’t proceed any further. There’s every chance that they’ve found value in the content, gotten distracted and never got around to proceeding any further. With their content details, you can follow up and drive them back to a conversion-focused conversation with your sales staff. Email marketing is a key driver in ensuring you can convert leads into clients at a better rate than before.
A/B testing is a great way to test which messages work for your customer base, whether that’s landing pages, CTAs, social posts, or email newsletters. Finding the right language is a vital part of encouraging potential customers to take the next step in their journey. A/B testing allows you to find winning messages that will improve your conversion rates. This involves comparing two similar versions of the same email, newsletter or social post, and seeing which is most successful. Once you’ve found the most successful messages, you can focus your efforts on that, and use your learnings to improve your future content.
This is particularly successful in email marketing, where you can easily segment your marketing list at random. With webpages, it can be more difficult, but there are tools such as Google Optimise that allow you to create variations of the same page, which can be shown to different users at random.
If you’re looking to convert leads into clients at a better rate, these methods should give you a great idea of how you can get started. Of course, no trick or tactic can substitute for good marketing and great content. But if you’ve got a coherent marketing strategy, good messaging, and a product with real value, then a little tweaking around the edges with CRO can make a real difference.
5. How to get started selling to existing customers
Of course, getting your leads to convert into clients is only one half of the customer journey. Effective marketers know that nurturing existing customers is as important as acquiring new ones. Too many companies take their existing customers for granted, only realising the perils of this approach once it’s too late. Selling to existing customers is just one part of getting the most out of your customer relations, but there’s plenty of other ways you can do this as well.
In this section, we’re going to discuss the final part of the IT marketing cycle: customer relationship management. Getting this right is the key to developing a marketing strategy that not only sells, but also sustains.
5.1 Customer relations: How and why?
If you’re not making customer relations an integral part of your IT marketing strategies, here are three good reasons to start.
As we mentioned in the first section, B2B buyers are considerate, deliberate and want to make sure that they’ve made the right decision when deciding whether to invest in a product or service. That’s why it’s so vital that you make the best use of existing satisfied customers to create case studies and testimonials that can reassure new customers that they’re about to make the right decision.
At some point, the original contract you negotiated when your client converted is going to be up for renewal. When that happens, you’ll want to ensure the customer is in a position to enthusiastically renew. If not, you risk undoing the hard work you put in during the earlier stages of their journey.
If your client has downloaded your product or is using your managed service, they’re infinitely more likely than an unqualified lead to be interested in the rest of your offerings. This makes selling to existing customers an invaluable way of generating more business.
5.2 Selling to existing customers with a CRM
Over the last two decades, one type of tool has become an established way of allowing companies to better manage their customer relationships at every stage of their journey: customer relations management (CRM). Essentially, this is a large database that records every interaction made with a customer from anyone in your business. This includes responses to emails, customer service queries, contract details and much more. The idea is that when a client, customer or lead gets in touch with somebody from your business, staff members should be able to easily view and update the entire history of their interactions with the company.
CRMs come with the powerful potential to improve your customer relations. This remains the same whether you’re trying to upsell new products, manage difficult client relationships, or recruit advocates for case studies and testimonials. Let’s look at some of these in practice.
For any company, it’s vital to understand what your customers think of you. To do this, many companies circulate a regular survey for their existing customers. But with a CRM, you can take this information to the next level, by storing each individual clients’ responses, perhaps even ranking them on a satisfaction scale.
Compiling and storing this information in a centralized location provides a lot of opportunities to improve the customer experience and drive effective upselling. Most importantly, it allows you to identify which customers need more support and better customer service in order to improve your customer reputation and improve rates of the contract renewal. It could also be helpful to incentivise less satisfied customers to renew by targeting discounts on future contracts.
Upsell tactics: Using your CRM effectively
Selling to existing customers can be a profitable but risky game. Sending a blanket email to all your existing customers every time you want to market a new service can do more harm than good. If customers feel like they’re being spammed or excessively upsold to, your business relationship with them will likely suffer. For that reason, it’s important to target correspondences, so communications will be sent to those customers that are most likely to respond effectively. One of the most vital upsell tactics is knowing when not to market – as well as when to.
The benefit of a CRM here is clear. Effective CRMs can be configured to automatically record how people respond to communications. This allows you to target marketing messages to those customers who have clicked on, responded to, or otherwise expressed an interest in your products or services. As well as this, you can use information from your customer satisfaction surveys to target messages to those customers who have already expressed satisfaction with their existing products or services.
Creating case studies
Creating case studies is a great way to encourage new prospects to become leads and for leads to convert into clients. Unlike most other types of content, they provide a real-world application of how your solution or services have helped real businesses. But finding the right client to approach for a case study can be difficult. You need to find a client whose problems and pain points reflect those of a particular target customer, so that the final case study can work as an effective piece of marketing material. As well as this, you need to find someone with enough good will to put their name to a piece of marketing material and offer the time required to help create it.
This is where your CRM information can help. Using information derived from customer surveys and past interactions with your company, you can effectively identify those clients that are more likely to agree. Additionally, by accessing information that the sales department inputted when the client was themselves a lead, you can identify the problems they faced when they were approaching conversion. This information allows you to identify which clients are likely to be both successful at and amenable to creating case study material.
A CRM is an enormously versatile tool, for both marketing and sales – and the potential applications are endless. It’s vital to understand and appreciate the value of this knowledge when identifying what your customers are looking for – and how you can provide it.
At Fifty Five and Five, we work every day to create this end-to-end marketing journey for our clients. We’ve learned that creating great marketing messages and supporting content is only the first step. If you want to stand out, you need to consider your customer’s context, situation and problems – and how you fit into that backdrop.
Creating effective IT marketing strategies is rarely easy, but it is worthwhile. If you can follow the steps we outline in this page, you’ll be well on your way to achieving that oft-spoken but rarely achieved phenomenon: Standing out from the crowd.
At Fifty Five and Five, we’re experts in creating dynamic IT marketing strategies that are unique, valuable and informative. Working with clients such as Microsoft, Nintex, MessageOps, and ShareGate, we know how to create a truly end-to-end, user-focused marketing journey that will drive up that all important conversion rate.
If you’ve made it all the way to this point, there’s a good chance you’re serious about creating about creating an end to end IT marketing plan that will generate those all-important leads. And if so, we want to help. Take a look through full package of digital marketing services for tech providers – and see what we can do for you.