Saturday 24 Feb 2024
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on December 12, 2022 - December 18, 2022

In the last decade, digital marketing as a career has experienced a boom as companies hired in-house talent to enhance their visibility, focusing on the business-to-consumer (B2C) sector. But in recent years, the demand for business-to-business (B2B) marketing has skyrocketed — thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic — but the intricacies of effective B2B marketing are yet to be understood.

The rapid digitalisation during the pandemic saw companies seeking products and services to help them grow technologically, but the B2B space was filled with marketing pushes that did not quite reach the right companies. Companies that were trying to market to other companies and wanted to gain valuable, long-term customers needed a way to cut through the marketing noise.

This was happening predominantly in mature markets, such as the US, as marketing talent was scarce and expensive to hire. In fact, the return on investment (ROI) was not justified at all, even for a big company, says Domenic Colasante, CEO of 2X, a B2B-focused marketing-as-a-service (MaaS) firm.

Colasante says the US became an “employee’s market”, where marketers could name their price.

“The last couple of years, marketers have demanded an increasingly higher salary, and so the cost of labour has dramatically increased in the US, to the point, I would argue, where the ROI equation is broken because companies can only pay someone based on the work that they do,” he says.

“So, what we did was bring talent from Malaysia to clients in the US, resulting in significant labour cost savings, but also allowing us to hire marketers here and offer them higher salaries and benefits.”

Colasante, together with 2X’s chief people officer and managing director Yong Siew Mee, set up the marketing firm in 2017, along with a group of other marketers who were not only privy to the talent supply and demand issue, but also wanted to build a company that addressed market gaps that they themselves were facing.

Marketing increasingly became a technology-centric job and the manner in which marketing labour was acquired was shifting, with companies deciding whether talent should be in-house, outsourced, via agencies and consultants, or a combination of methods.

On top of that, Colasante says most firms in the marketing space did primarily B2C work and the B2B segment was an afterthought. Some B2C marketers did B2B work as well, but their skills were not specialised enough.

2X — headquartered in the US but working out of Malaysia — aimed to close that gap by offering personalised B2B services. The company started off small with one American client and, through word of mouth among industry leaders, it grew rapidly from four people in 2017 to almost 500 people today. The company’s revenue has grown 100% every year for the last four years, says Colasante.

“This unique thing that we built in Malaysia got people’s attention because we had really good talent as well as an interesting economic model for US companies to hire resources that are here in Malaysia,” he says.

“We have done the benchmarking. We are paying higher, attractive salaries, which means we’re also able to invest a lot in [our staff] and provide training, certifications and expertise for B2B marketing. There is also a lot of room for career growth and providing a holistic employee experience beyond just salary.”

B2B versus B2C

The goals of B2B and B2C marketing are similar, but the expertise and marketing strategies differ greatly between the two. With B2C marketing, consumers are typically making decisions on a whim based on the type of marketing that is targeted at them. With B2B, however, the company takes time to research the solutions and products available in the market before deciding. This cycle can take up to six months, says Colasante.

“Consumers might make an impulse buy based on an emotional decision and what advertising influences them more and thus they make purchasing decisions quickly. For the most part, businesses tend to have different people involved in the decision, which happens over a longer period of time.

“The chief financial officer needs to make a decision and get approval, and other parts of the organisation will tend to make decisions based on very specific facts and evidence before making a purchase that is of value to the company.

“Art and creativity still matter but for a business, it’s more about targeting individuals who make the decision and companies that are actively seeking a solution. Their first interaction with a company can be six months before they ultimately buy it.”

2X works predominantly with larger, US-based technology (hardware and software) and services companies, such as those in insurance or IT services, that want to sell to other companies. The companies serviced by 2X sell products with a complicated value proposition that require more attention when conveyed to the right audience.

The messaging between the two is different as well. While B2C marketing may focus on forming an emotional attachment between the product and the consumer, B2B marketing tends to be more factual. The focus is typically on things that will make a company better or help it solve a problem to achieve business results.

In some ways, the personalisation in B2B marketing is more compared with B2C, says Colasante. “In B2B, the thing that you are buying tends to be more expensive, like a million-dollar software package, or something bigger. And if you are selling something at that scale, frankly, you can spend a lot more on marketing to that one customer because you are not selling products like laundry detergent or any other small ticket item,” he says,

Yong adds that the nature of the marketing needs to be more intelligent as it is targeted at a decision-maker who is an expert in the industry. To appeal to them, marketers need to be intelligent to build credibility quickly with the company.

“We pay much more attention to the messaging to the story because if we don’t sound credible, they will write us off and ignore any interaction,” she says.

Technological development still a challenge

There are overlaps between B2B marketing talent and technology as a lot of the marketing functions cannot be done without technology. On top of that, the buyer in most B2B situations prefers to remain anonymous and will only talk to the salesperson when he or she is ready to make the purchase.

Colasante says companies want to independently consume information on the web and carry out their own research of the product or service in need, which includes applying for demonstrations and comparing the products in the market.

The change in buyers’ behaviour has left B2B marketers to work with the unknown as it is not clear who is interested in the product. “This is where technology will help marketers and push materials to those in the early stages of showing interest,” he adds.

“That’s the only way marketers are going to get on a company’s radar because when companies are researching solutions, if they don’t find you, you barely even get considered and lose the deal before it even starts. Technology is super important, along with the people who know how to use it. There aren’t enough agencies that know how to serve the market.”

Colasante believes B2B marketing is still in its early stages and with that comes the anticipation and opportunity to follow the technology evolution in this space. A marketer who decides to enter the B2B space will have a career that is in high demand, with plenty of job opportunities globally.

If there are 10 people who can do a specific marketing job in the B2C space, there will be only one person who can do the same job in the B2B space. “Take Marketo, for example. There are 5,000 people who are certified by Marketo and all of them are already employed. There’s a huge shortage for these types of skill sets and we’re going to see people getting certified for different technologies so that they can support companies,” he says.

Marketo Inc is a US software company that develops and sells marketing automation software for account-based marketing and other marketing services.

There will also be a lot of technology innovation going forward, driven by the shortage of labour as well as the value and importance of B2B marketing. Colasante expects to see a lot more investment in this space by private equity firms, enabling the technology to advance and making B2B marketing more efficient.

The education system will also be paying this area more attention, he adds. Already, 2X is doing its part by collaborating with several local universities to bring the concept of B2B marketing into the classroom.

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