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How to bring your B2B marketing strategy to Millennials in 2014

Millennials are buying, they're doing it online, and they're doing for their bosses. Businesses are increasingly putting the corporate credit card in the hands of the Gen-Y staff — entrusting them with corporate purchases. As a result, online shopping has finally come to the B2B market.

According to digital marketing company, Acquity Group, Millennials were responsible for up to 89 percent of business related purchase decisions in 2013. The study also found that 40 percent of B2B buyers expect to spend even more of their budget online in 2014. For B2B marketers, these numbers mean it's time to say  farewell to direct mailing, cold-calling and trade shows — it's time to get ready to join the B2C retail ranks if B2B marketers want to stay relevant as they ring in the new year, they must adapt.

Here are some ways to make the transition:

Embrace millennial buying behavior

Company purchasing decisions are no longer in the hands of baby boomers. Millennials are accustomed to purchasing online and are following suit when they purchase for their businesses. Acquity Group reports that Millennials are 131 percent more likely than those 35 and older to be making the buying decisions for companies—and theyre not going to trade shows — they’re reading the company blog, signing up for email, researching competitors, and even checking out brands on Twitter — before they make a buying decision.

Smart B2B brands have to create new ways to connect with customers in order to meet these new demands. According to a study by the Corporate Executive Board, 77 percent of B2B buyers said they did not talk with a salesperson until after they had performed their own independent research — online. As such, developing a digital relationship with the buyer at the top of the sales funnel, through email, display and cross-channel marketing,is extremely vital.

Act like B2C buyers

For many purchasers — both B2B and B2C — online shopping is easier: it can be done from the comfort of the office or the home with a simple click of a button. Initial product research is much easier online, too. Now,employees in charge of corporate purchases can conduct their own buying research faster and more efficiently from their desk than they would traveling and meeting with sales teams. Acquity Group's researchers found that 13 percent of B2B buyers with budgets of $500 million or more purchased directly online.

Despite these compelling stats, B2B marketing is still stuck in the past: 87 percent of B2B marketers worldwide continue to rely on trade shows for marketing, while 81 percent still use cold calling and 63 percent use direct mail, according to eMarketer.

Extend the sales relationship to email

Email is a powerful medium for B2B marketers. Social media and mobile advertising may be dominating the marketing air waves right now, but email is still the best way to reach buyers. Marketing analytics company KISSmetrics reports that there are almost three times as many email user accounts as Facebook and Twitter combined.

Instead of resorting to a batch and blast email marketing scheme, B2B marketers should try the following tactics:

  • Move beyond the newsletter: Rather than allowing a salesperson be the main point of contact for the customer, try to replicate the beginnings of a customer relationship through triggered email programs.
  • Take a customer-centric approach: Use customer data to design (and redesign) email marketing campaigns. Just as a great sales rep would revise and fiddle with a sales pitch marketers should actively manage and update the email program.
  • Personalize everything: Not only is email is the most transactional medium through which marketers can reach buyers, according to D Bnonn Tennant, author of 5 Sales-Spiking Website Tweaks Web Designers & IM Guus Don’t Know, it is also a more personal avenue from a business perspective. Today’s corporate purchasers expect to receive relevant emails that are personalized and meet individual business needs.

Take digital marketing cross-channel

The savviest B2B marketers have discovered that the best return comes from being proactive. While email is important, it can't be the sole tactic for B2B marketers. Eventually, email activity wanes for large segments of any subscriber base due to long sales cycles. To combat this, B2B marketers should develop a cross-channel contact strategy to keep subscribers engaged:

  • Integrate display: By creating a cross-channel marketing campaign that integrates email and display advertising, companies can see increased conversion rates. Industrial supply company, Grainger, for instance, saw a stunning 20-40 percent increase in conversion rates after implementing the practice.
  • Utilize mobile: Even established brands like John Deere are going mobile. The agricultural manufacturing company is known for sending exclusive texts to its best customers ahead of time when new tractors are coming out.
  • Create a digital sales rep: When designing a cross-channel marketing program, think about the best account manager and clone him — digitally. The cross-channel strategy should be just as (or more)relevant, and helpful as the best real-life account manager would be for potential buyers and customers.

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