The complete guide to B2B marketing

A professional marketer learns about B2B marketing strategies.

B2B marketing is a big subject. In some ways, it’s similar to B2C — but in other important ways, it’s quite different. Whether you’re new to B2B or just need fresh strategies, there is always more to learn. And the B2B world continues to change. It has evolved dramatically in recent years due to digital transformation.

This article will give you a foundation and get you caught up with the latest trends and developments. A prioritized list of strategies will help you lead your team with the essentials and step up your campaigns with unique insights.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

What is B2B marketing?

B2B marketing is an approach to marketing that promotes goods and services to other businesses instead of individual consumers. B2B stands for business-to-business, and B2B practices follow a different model than business-to-consumer (B2C) practices. While some do both, most companies target either individual consumers or business buyers. It depends on the nature of the business.

For example, car parts manufacturers and software companies make products that other companies need to do business with. B2B companies also provide services like consulting, marketing, or event planning. Some companies do both. For example, a technology company can sell a single computer directly to an individual or hundreds of computers to a company that needs to supply its offices.

There are four kinds of markets in B2B. Your company might target one or more of these:

B2B marketing vs. B2C marketing

Even within the same company, the methods for marketing and selling to individual consumers or businesses are different, so it’s important to understand the ways that B2B marketing is unique. This chart highlights the main differences between B2C and B2B.

Single. An individual decides to buy one item or a finite number of items.
Multiple. More than one person is involved in the buying decision, and purchases are multiple or repeated. Stakeholders might include directors, board members, and leaders of various departments, in addition to designated buyers.
Dollar amount
Low, but it’s relative. By nature, B2C sales are lower than B2B sales of the same item because a business is usually buying more. But individual consumers also buy big-ticket items like luxury clothes, cars, or yachts. The dollar amount in those transactions may not compare to a business order for office supplies.
High, but it’s relative. Whether ordering goods in bulk or paying for consulting services, the sale is usually larger. Individual transactions for B2B usually happen in higher dollar amounts, but they also occur less frequently. It’s just a different kind of risk and reward.
Sales cycle

Short. Although it might not always feel that way, the decision-making process is short when ordering food or choosing a movie to watch.

Consumers often encounter a product, complete the purchase, and consume the product — all within the space of a few hours. The whole sales cycle can be completed in a single interaction.

Long. Because the transaction is usually much larger or something that needs to be repeated, like a standard weekly food order for a restaurant, buyers usually spend more time researching and comparing suppliers. The sales cycle involves multiple interactions, sometimes including educational sessions, to build a trusted relationship between businesses.
Seller. The seller often initiates the transaction by introducing both the need and the product.
Buyer. The buyers often initiate the transaction by becoming aware of a business problem on their own and then seeking a solution.
Direct. Whether it’s a car she will drive for years or a candy bar he will consume immediately, the individual has a personal use for the item.
Indirect. The product is usually a means to an end, to be resold or repurposed for another set of consumers.
Emotional. Marketing to individuals often plays more on the emotions that motivate them to spend money.
Logical. Marketing often takes a more rational approach for buyers who are just looking for the most efficient way to meet a business need based on the numbers.

For more on B2C methods, check out our guide to B2C marketing.

Five great examples of B2B marketing

B2B marketing can take many forms. For an idea of what it might look like and inspiration from successful companies, check out these examples of B2B marketing strategies.

1. Account marketing by Kindred Healthcare

Kindred Healthcare is an example of account-based marketing.

In healthcare, many B2B companies use account-based marketing to sell materials and services to other institutions. Kindred Healthcare provides post-acute care services for hospitals or healthcare systems sending patients their way. The marketing team improved their interactions with referral sources by conducting surveys on their needs and then creating tailored content for those referral sources. Clinical liaisons were then able to approach sources with the most relevant educational materials for them.

This is a fantastic example of B2B account-based marketing because Kindred built relationships with individual accounts by developing marketing materials responding to the questions and concerns of individual clients. The results were a click-through rate exceeding national benchmarks and an estimated 40:1 ROI.

2. Email marketing by Lenovo

Lenovo is an example of email marketing.

While Lenovo sells computers to individual consumers, the tech company has also stepped up its ecommerce game in the last decade with commercial and data center technology.

Lenovo created a B2B expert achiever program called LEAP to educate and engage partner firms and resellers. In a 2019 effort to increase participation and sales, LEAP included targeted email in its multichannel strategy. Participants could sign up for emails with course modules, promotions, and account statements — all in sync with individual web portals.

When email is done right, it can be one of the most effective B2B marketing strategies. Far from blasting a general audience with spam, Lenovo thought strategically about how to use email to nurture business relationships, creating multiple positive interactions with other professionals who could help them increase sales.

In addition to winning an award for best channel marketing initiative, Lenovo noted that sales from participating firms were 8 to 10 times higher, contributing to 57% of Lenovo’s non-direct revenue despite representing only 11% of its distribution channels.

3. Content marketing by Roche Diagnostics

Roche Diagnostics is an example of the use of content marketing.

In the process of nurturing relationships over multiple channels and guiding customers along a complex buyer journey, B2B marketers often find success by creating and sharing helpful sources of information.

For Roche Diagnostics, content is key to customer engagement. To help leaders promote the value of labs within their organizations, Roche created an initiative called LabLeaders.

The website provides the kind of targeted content that clients are looking for. There is no paywall, but the website helps the company collect information on the kinds of customers visiting, which can then inform and help them improve their marketing strategy.

4. Social media marketing by Embraer

Embraer is an example of how a company can use social media marketing to target and reach new audiences.

Social media is growing in B2B. Both small and large companies can target and reach new audiences with creative social campaigns. Content can be straightforward, informational, and helpful, but social is also a great place to be creative, entertaining, and imaginative — even in B2B. A great example is the Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer.

A competitor of Boeing and Airbus, this company is in a high-stakes industry with only a handful of potential customers for its expensive products. But even in this highly specialized and technical industry, Embraer took a highly creative and entertaining approach. The videos — shared on paid and organic social media — feature impressive digital animation with powerful armored predators charging through the sky before transforming into the company’s new airplane, the E2 Profit Hunter.

These short videos are easily shared on social media, and they serve as previews of a longer video series. The branding is unified across events like airshows with photo ops. Whether you have the budget to invest in digital animation or you take a simple DIY approach, this campaign is a great reminder that B2B marketing doesn’t have to be dry. A great way to gain visibility and brand recognition is to use social channels creatively.

As a part of the larger campaign strategy, this approach helped Embraer reach a huge audience, increase engagement, and add 12 new customers and 86 aircraft orders of $5 billion in value.

5. Event marketing by Panasonic

Panasonic is an example of event marketing.

A fantastic example of a company that does both in-person and online event marketing is Panasonic. In 2020 Panasonic pivoted by hiring a virtual production company for the NAB trade show, creating a virtual event with augmented reality. Since then, Panasonic has crafted a strategy for hybrid events, but the company reports that virtual events sometimes generate more leads.

With over 300,000 companies relying on its technology, there is no single approach that will serve all customer needs. Panasonic sends targeted event invites in hundreds of campaigns throughout the year. This agile approach to event planning has contributed to the huge percentage of sales the company attributes to marketing.

How to get started — B2B marketing strategies and channels

Now that you have an idea of what B2B marketing is, you’re ready to explore specific strategies. Whichever channels you choose, it’s a good idea to start by making a few important moves. These will help lay a solid foundation.

First, lay the foundation

If your marketing efforts start flying out on multiple channels, or even one channel, and you haven’t taken the time to craft a brand voice, your marketing will be inconsistent. It will not achieve the recognition you’re aiming for — and worse, it might confuse and alienate your audience.

Solidify your brand voice

A brand voice is the style and tone of your communications. It applies to obvious advertising and every other aspect of your brand’s media, including public relations, internal communications, and sales. A solid brand voice is especially important in B2B, where a longer sales cycle includes many interactions.

Creating a brand voice is a great chance for you to think about who and what you want your business to be. Even the “boring” world of B2B is populated by humans who are drawn to positive characteristics.

Here are some tips for crafting a solid brand voice:

Clarify personas

The best way to understand your customers is to create and refine personas. A persona is a profile of your ideal customer. Most companies use at least three to five because they target different kinds of customers who fall into a handful of categories. In B2B marketing customers usually fall into even more specific categories, so it’s important to get them right.

Using personas is a basic marketing practice, but a key difference for B2B is that your customers include individuals with different roles and needs in the same account. To handle that complexity, personas might describe a business rather than individual consumers. Or you might have multiple personas for each kind of contributor.

Here are a few tips for creating and clarifying personas:

A B2B marketing strategy can be to gather information about the industry, location, business size, revenue, sales cycle length, and job title.

Set big-picture goals

You might be tempted to jump right in with vague goals like “generate more revenue” or overly specific goals like “get 1,000 Instagram likes.” But at this point in the process, it’s important to think deliberately about your overall strategy. When you add channels or create new campaigns, your efforts will be better spent if you know how they fit into a game plan.

Start with your mission statement and then scaffold long-term goals with shorter term goals. Consider what you want to achieve in a 2–5 year period, then what is reasonable within a year. Then break down the year into halves or quarters. Your calendar will be shaped by your industry and the relevant sales cycles.

It’s crucial that goals for marketing and sales are aligned. If these teams are not working toward the same objectives, their efforts will come into conflict or be wasted.

Common B2B goals involve:

Remember to make sure your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound).

Second, research marketing channels

A channel is the platform or means by which you reach customers, and digital marketing offers plenty of options. There are a variety of marketing channels you can use. Different audiences gravitate to different channels, and this will affect your messaging, strategy, and goals.

To evaluate and select the right channels for your business, start by asking a few questions:

As you compare and contrast options, you can also assess your competition with what’s called a SWOT analysis. Compare your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses on each channel to identify where you can fill the gaps.

A SWOT analysis can help assess a company's competition by analyzing its strengths and weaknesses.

Keep in mind that multiple people involved in the process are searching for information on different channels. And the more times they see something, the more memorable it will be.

Many of the marketing strategies and channels used in B2B are similar to those used in B2C, but some are especially well-suited for business customers, or they need to be used in a unique way. Many of these channels are also interrelated.

SEO and content marketing for B2B

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a marketing strategy that helps increase organic search traffic. A website with targeted content will show up higher on the search engine results page (SERP) when marketers take the time to create quality content and when they follow best practices for making it findable.

SEO and content marketing are inbound marketing strategies, which is a great approach to take in B2B because your buyers aren’t just anyone. The businesses looking for your products or services usually start by doing their own research. Rather than going out to find them, you can use SEO and content marketing to ensure that when they’re looking for what they need, they find you.

Keywords are an important factor in the equation, but SEO involves a lot more than plugging in the right keywords or meeting technical specifications.

There are three different elements of SEO you need to keep in mind:

  1. Technical. Ensure a website meets requirements for modern search engines, optimize meta tags, links, and site structure, and edit metadata and URL.
  1. Content. Create and optimize useful, relevant content and make sure that search engines can understand it.
  1. Reputation. Build authority, become a trusted resource, and create backlinks to validate your website as a good source of information.

The Google algorithm does more than identify instances of certain keywords. Instead, Google ranks sites according to the E-A-T acronym, which stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness and is used to determine the quality and effectiveness of search results.

With all this in mind, you’ll want to start thinking about SEO before you create content. The steps to a good SEO and content marketing strategy usually happen in this order:

Some types of content you can use are: webinars, white papers, case studies, tutorials, reports, blogs, infographics, ebooks, and podcasts.

The purpose of the content is not to directly promote your products or services. Find out what your customers want and place the focus on them. In exchange for their time and attention, your content should offer real value with information and insights that help your audience solve business problems.

You can further optimize your content by finding backlink opportunities, syndicating content, and adding alt text to images and video clips.

Account-based marketing for B2B

Account-based marketing is a common B2B strategy. It means that rather than reaching out to a general audience, marketers target an audience of one — one company or one account. Of course, the account usually involves multiple team members, and marketers usually court multiple accounts.

Account-based marketers seek to develop relationships with each business and develop marketing communications, usually involving relevant content, with a tailored strategy for each account. This highly targeted form of marketing is great for B2B because you’re looking for a particular kind of customer. And it has been shown to boost annual contract value by 171%.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Attract customers. Use inbound marketing strategies like SEO and content marketing to draw in qualified leads.
  1. Align marketing and sales. Agree on messaging and strategy. Getting those two teams on the same page is crucial for success because they create a feedback loop, each playing key roles in the customer journey from awareness to discovery to decision.
  1. Build account plans. Once you have a qualified lead, design a tailored strategy that includes the client’s goals and constraints along with relevant personas.

There is a 171% increase in average contract value for companies that implemented account-based marketing.

Event marketing for B2B

Event marketing is a classic B2B strategy. In some industries, conferences and trade shows are the best way to build networks, share knowledge, and demonstrate products. But in the digital age, especially since 2020, event marketing has taken on new meaning.

In 2022, virtual events became more common. But marketers are getting even more creative. Forbes reports that top priorities are “making events both in-person and digital scalable and measurable.” It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. That requires a lot of experimentation and personalization. Artificial intelligence can help event plannersachieve that kind of flexibility on a large scale. Reporting tools can help marketers collect feedback and leads in real time or immediately after events.

As with any other channel, it helps to follow a few best practices:

Email marketing for B2B

Email marketing consistently has the highest return on investment of any marketing strategy, and many customers prefer to receive marketing communications through email when they sign up for it. In B2B marketing, email is an excellent way to stay in touch with customers throughout the sales cycle, nurture leads, and maintain ongoing partnerships. Automation, targeting, and personalization are key to success.

Emails can include different types of content and be used for different purposes. In many cases, they should be educational rather than promotional. Newsletters are common and effective for business-to-business settings where industry professionals want to stay up to date on trends and developments. Other possibilities include everything from welcome emails, company announcements, and event invites to transaction updates, thank-you messages, and rewards or incentives offers.

Here are seven tips for achieving success with B2B email marketing:

  1. Segment your email list for different team members within the same organization, each requiring personalized communication according to their job and level of influence.
  2. Segment your email list according to different stages in the customer journey.
  3. Create a gated landing page to collect email addresses in exchange for exclusive content.
  4. Allow your audience to select what type of content they want to receive.
  5. Use design tools to craft emails that are visually appealing and easy to read, with compelling graphics and consistent visual branding.
  6. Write tailored and specific subject lines that focus on the value for the customer.
  7. Include a call to action (CTA) or two that align with your campaign goals.

Social media marketing for B2B

While it’s no surprise that LinkedIn is an important social platform in B2B, it’s not the only one. Social media is the most widely used content type in B2B marketing, and 83% of B2B executives say they use it to make purchasing decisions.

83% of B2B executives say they use social media to make purchasing decisions.

Different social platforms can be used in a variety of ways. Social media is not only a channel for paid ads and organic traffic — it’s also a great networking opportunity and a two-way communication tool. You can engage with audiences via comment sections, direct messages, networks of brand partners, influencers, and data collection.

The top social media platforms for B2B are LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

No matter the platform you’re using, stick to customer-focused content that provides value and remains consistent with your brand voice. That said, you’ll probably want to adjust for different audiences and platforms.

Any social media platform offers you the opportunity to use short-form storytelling, give behind-the-scenes peeks, and show the human side of your business. Here are a few tips for success:

  1. Embrace trends relevant to your customers and your brand.
  2. Focus on what you want your audience to feel, think, and do.
  3. Keep content visual and easy to read.

Pay-per-click marketing for B2B

Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing means that you can run ads on different platforms and pay according to how many clicks the ads get. They often show up in search results, but they can also run on social media and other platforms. It’s a helpful strategy for B2B because it’s measurable and trackable, it can be combined with multiple channel strategies, and it’s highly targeted. You only pay for traffic from self-qualified leads.

Some options for the type of ads you can try include dynamic ads (that let you choose the pages where they appear) and bumper ads (super quick videos that can’t be skipped). You can create ad groups based on keywords and funnel stages.

You can do PPC marketing well for B2B when you build a strategy based on your target audience, use consistent branding, and tie the ads to your larger goals. Then take advantage of the data that you gather and make adjustments as needed.

B2B marketing in 2023

B2B strategies are always changing, but the events of the past few years have had an especially big impact, and the transformations in the B2B world right now are especially interesting. These are the major trends that will continue to impact your marketing efforts.

B2B ecommerce is growing

The global business-to-business ecommerce market size is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 18.7% through 2028. Selling through online channels became necessary in 2020 when the pandemic disrupted normal operations, but many companies are now finding that customers expect to be able to do business seamlessly through digital channels from start to finish. B2B commerce has been slower to move online than B2C, but it is finally catching up.

To keep their place in this growing market, B2B marketers need to coordinate their efforts with other departments and teams. Marketing and sales need to be aligned in messaging, platforms, and channels so that customers can find what they are looking for and participate in every aspect of a business relationship online.

The global B2B ecommerce market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 18.7% through 2028.

B2B marketing spend is going up

A 2021 forecast predicted that US spending on digital B2B marketing and advertising will reach $15 billion this year. The money that shifted away from traditional advertising will not return. Instead, digital spending will grow.

This shift shows that in addition to improving ecommerce functionality, companies are investing in digital channels. To keep up with this trend, B2B marketers should weigh the spending currently dedicated to traditional methods and consider where that spending can be put to better use.

B2B ecommerce revenue is growing

A DHL Express report predicted that global B2B ecommerce revenue will reach $20.9 trillion by 2027. Revenue growth is expected to match the migration of business operations and marketing to digital platforms. This information highlights the direct connection between keeping up with digital transformation and profitability.

To unlock the huge potential in revenue growth through digital methods, B2B marketers need to use the newest methods strategically. They need to be ready to think creatively rather than stick to the way things have always been done.

B2B decision-makers are changing

Among 800-plus B2B executives surveyed in the Digital Trends report, 94% agreed that the current pace of change will continue. That change is reflected in the generation of young professionals currently in the 21–40-year-old demographic. This is the next generation of decision-makers who are being called BETAs (blurred work-life boundaries, evolving mindset, tech-native, activist).

To keep up with this trend, B2B marketers need to be prepared to embrace this mindset and be ready to keep changing.

The predicted global B2B ecommerce revenue by 2027 is $20.9 trillion.

B2B marketing is getting personal

Forrester has found that personalization is no longer an added bonus — it’s table stakes. In a recent survey, 52% of B2B marketing leaders said they were planning to increase spending on content marketing and personalization technology. That’s because consumers increasingly expect to see tailored content and receive only relevant communications.

In B2B, personalization is especially important to account-based marketing and nurturing business relationships over time. But the real time you have to invest in those efforts is finite. B2B marketers can keep up with this trend by researching how to achieve personalization at scale.

B2B technologies are prioritizing data and insights

In 2022, 59% of B2B executives reported that their top technology priority was data and insights. Content was close behind at 54%, according to the Digital Trends report. One challenge that goes along with the benefits of digital transformation is knowing what to do with the amount of data that can be generated so easily.

B2B marketers can prepare for digital transformation by learning how to gather and implement data and insights more effectively.

B2B operations are embracing automation

Last year, 42% of B2B surveyed executives said their top operational priority was greater operational efficiency through automation. Artificial intelligence is becoming the standard in B2B digital marketing because these tools can exponentially multiply leads and facilitate personalization on a huge scale.

To keep up with this trend, B2B marketers can research automated marketing tools and personalization.

B2B marketing tools

Business-to-business marketing can be complex. With the many channels available and the changes brought on by digital transformation, any B2B marketing strategy is a big undertaking.

The first step is to finalize brand voice, personas, and goals. When it comes to handling the rest, the right tools and software can make a huge difference. With Adobe Marketo Engage, businesses can make sense of this process from start to finish, coordinating efforts across channels to create and maintain the kinds of business relationships over time that are crucial to success in B2B marketing.

To learn more about Marketo Engage, take an interactive product tour.