Push marketing in B2B – Devil or deliverance?

We all know the script: B2B buyers have changed. They're now more impervious to marketing than ever before – they see all email as spam, they've got vendors adblocked, and they, never, ever pick up the phone.

As a result, the only way to get to them is either via social (building pseudo-one-on-one relationships when they make the first move) or via search (delivering link-worthy, high ranking content for them to discover among the millions of other alternatives). 

Tense nervous headaches

Let's face it, however, some things haven't changed. Today's business execs encounter challenges large and small every single day. In fact, the volume and diversity of these challenges has grown exponentially in recent years. And solving them is rarely simple.

Business is now inherently more complex and the pressure to keep up (with competitors, customers and shareholder expectations) is acute. The truth is, few companies have the luxury of being able to take the long view.

Sticking to the script

So doesn't this picture of spiralling complexity simply support the 'B2B has changed' narrative? Surely, these stressed, harried executives will be all over search, consuming our content like a small child in a chocolate factory.

Possibly, if they know what their problem is and if they've worked out the range of possible solutions. Then, they'll be able to Google their little hearts out for a 'cloud-based ERP solution for mid-market manufacturing businesses' or whatever.

However, many business problems are nowhere near so clear cut. They're things like: 

  • Something somewhere is causing my profitability to tank
  • How can I get more sales out of fewer sales people?
  • There's this weird thing happening somewhere in R&D – what's that all about?

And even then, the real problem might be something quite different to what they think it is.

In this case, not only will searching not turn up the right answer, it might lead them down the wrong path altogether. They may go merrily looking for a sales productivity solution while failing to realise that, in fact, they have a sales conversion problem or something even more fundamental. 

Well look at that...

Now, what if just as they were thinking that there was something rotten in the R&D department, they receive an offer for a piece of content focused on the top most commonly undiagnosed issues in modern R&D teams (and how to tackle them)? Surely, that would be a pretty valuable communication. Almost certainly worth a click. Probably worth completing a short form for too.

Yet, planet inbound would tell us that this was a dumb move. We should have created a piece of content that would have brought our R&D manager to us, on their terms. To do otherwise is to indulge in interruption marketing and, as we all know, that is a bad, bad thing (a bit like saying you don't believe in fairies at a Tinkerbell convention).

Time for a reality check?

The reality is, precisely this scenario is repeated ad infinitum across huge swathes of B2B marketing today.

While every conference speech laments the fact that 60-ish% of the purchase cycle happens before a buyer ever contacts a vendor, fewer and fewer B2B marketers are actively trying to disrupt this process. They would rather deliver a bit of anodyne 'thought leadership' in the hope that this will attract attention. Or else they're busy trying to convert prospects who have already self-diagnosed their issue (rightly or wrongly), short-listed possible solutions and are simply choosing between suppliers.

On the up-side, at least the recipients can get on with their days safe in the ignorance that a better solution exists.

A pox on your push marketing

Of course, push marketing has earned its dubious reputation. There's only so many emails I can stomach about the next must-see, first-come-first-served, totally irrelevant webinar that I so totally cannot afford to miss. Especially when that webinar is little more than an extended look-how-great-we-are puff piece for the company delivering it.

Fortunately, the unsubscribe link is generally in tiny text at the base of the email.

Push without being pushy

However, contrast our pushy webinistas with a vendor that's taken the time to think about what it's actually like to be in their customer's shoes. One that drops something into my inbox that will genuinely help my business (or those of my clients). And who doesn't try to  game my attention with all the 'RE: Sign me up' and 'Oops! Webinar link corrected' subject line tricks – or the aggressively petulant 'Response required'.

In truth, I probably won't look at this kind of me-focused communication as a how-dare-they interruption to my day. Chances are, if it's relevant, I may just check it out. I may even register and download the content (even if it simply goes into my 'Read later' folder).

Ultimately, I'll end up with a vague (and hopefully growing) impression that the sender understands my world. I'll possibly begin to think they may be able to help with my nagging R&D problem. And I might, just might, think it could be worth starting a conversation with them.

And that could be the start of something beautiful.