Most companies think of their marketing as a way to connect with customers. But in B2B, there are many people involved in buying and selling who aren't customers. Think of all the influencers who are involved in making a purchase decision but aren't the ultimate user of the product or services. And then there are numerous people involved in the selling process - the 'internal' customers of B2B companies, like distributors, sales people, technical sales reps, agents, strategic parters and others. If you're a B2B company, chances are good that you have internal audiences. And marketing to internal customers yields as much benefit as marketing to the customers you ultimately seek.
When B2B companies think about marketing to their internal customers as well as to their external customers, they can achieve tremendous growth. It's often the internal customers (especially sales forces!) who make or break a new product.
Here are two examples of companies that market to internal audiences and what they get from it. These are real case studies from Mezzanine Growth's client base, with names hidden and some details changed to protect their identities.
Company A - Marketing to distributors
Company A is an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for a product in the retail automotive industry. Their product is used in over 15,000 locations in North America, and Company A is one of the few companies that make and service the product.
The problem is that Company A doesn’t have a sales force. It relies on distributors to get its product into retail locations. With challenges in the auto sector over the last decade, distributors have been struggling and becoming less loyal to OEMs. As a result, Company A is losing some distributor relationships. Compared to the competition, Company A may have a strong product, but when distributors struggle and turn to companies who offer them more money in their own pockets, it's a wake-up call for Company A. It can't only depend on marketing to the end user, and relying on distributor relationships that have been in place for years.
Company A's response has been to invest in its distributor relationships with more education, communications and marketing. The company has to prove its value to distributors, so that in turn, they will carry and promote Company A’s products to retailers. Sales incentives and commissions have achieved quick-win changes, and education and training programs - from a monthly distributor news update, to webinars and sales seminars - are now being put in place to acheive long-term success. Marketing, communications and education are deeping the relationship between the OEM and distributor, aligning them in each other's success.
Company B - Marketing to the sales force
The second example is Company B, a multi-national. This company is part of a traditional industry that has operated mainly in the physical world in the past, but is now going digital.
Company B's challenge is something all companies that are shifting from physical to digital are experiencing – they have an excellent sales team, but they only have experience working in the physical, brick-and-mortar world. While the industry and company is moving to digital and relying more on software, the sales team is at risk of being left behind. Company B cannot stay put while everyone else is changing, and software will be key in these changes. Customers are starting to use software - and so the sales team must learn too, in order to stay current. If they aren’t comfortable using this new tool, how can they sell it to customers?
That means before Company B markets a software solution to customers, it needs to sell it to their internal sales team first. Aside from just telling them about the software, they are educating the sales force, show them the benefits, and create an overall positive perception for these new tools. It’s important that this happens before they start receiving leads. There is an entire marketing plan to roll out to the sales team, before it gets rolled out to the market at large.
Marketing to internal customers can be more effective than marketing to external customers
When it comes to marketing for B2B companies, external marketing is still vital – after all, you want to focus a significant portion of your resources on activities that generate and maintain customers. However, internal audiences are just as important - even more so in some cases. Whether they're your sales team, distributors, or other stakeholders, internal customers are vital to the success of every B2B company.