Every business wants to choose the best marketing tactics to position themselves and to create demand. As you’ll see in this article, there is no single set of ‘best’ tactics. But there is most certainly a best path to choosing the best tactics for your own business.

Why choosing the best B2B marketing tactics is complex

In choosing the best tactics for your B2B sales and marketing, we need to answer a handful of key questions, not the least of which being:

  • What works and how do I decide?
  • And does that change over time?
  • What’s the scope of our tactical pursuit? Marketing, Sales, both?
  • What’s the relationship between one tactic and another?
  • What does ‘best’ even mean in regard to the choice or execution of a tactic?
  • How should we measure the efficacy of a given tactic?
  • Does brand matter?

When I started my first sales and marketing strategy consultancy, I was blessed with an amazing team and customers who stretched us. We were successful – winning toe to toe with the larger, branded consultancies. It was a heady time in the lead up to 2000.

But we were not delivering change, or growth. Great strategies, clearly bought into. Just not being acted on. We closed the business in 2000 and I started a new consultancy focused on operationalising strategy, rather than forming it. We set out to help customers answer the “what will we do on Monday” question that is often not asked after the strategy has been formed. We now advise businesses in 32 countries and take on the execution for a good many of them too – typically running or contributing significantly to around 50 complex B2B sales and marketing ‘engines’ on any given day / week / month.

Most of my waking hours, and some of those while sleeping, have been given over to thinking about how businesses can select the right tactics for Marketing and for Sales (and anyone else who contributes to helping buyers to progress) through their journey from “who are you?” to “thank you”.

In the few short weeks between abandoning pure strategy consulting and setting out on the new path of helping businesses to operationalise their strategy, it became clear that my life’s purpose, and therefore that of the business I lead, was to help make B2B marketing a respected management science globally. Clearly a goal to which many would need to and want to contribute, but I was willing to be one of them.

I changed the business, wrote The Leaky Funnel, started video blogging, speaking at conferences around the world, and blogged here on the align.me site as a part of that contribution. All that to say, I am not ‘new’ to this conversation.

Let me just expand a bit on the questions I posed earlier before I offer a few of the insights I feel you might value.

  • What works and how do I decide?

Opinions are cheap, unless you include the cost of a failed experiment. In that case, opinions are expensive. Every selling business is different from every other business in some regard. Some are wildly different. Copying from one business to another is clearly ‘courageous’, as is taking generic advice from a vendor or a thought leader. What works for you will likely differ from what works for another.

  • And does that change over time?

Of course. Once many players ‘pile on’ to a tactic, the efficacy of that tactics deteriorates quickly.

  • What’s the scope of our tactical pursuit? Marketing, Sales, both?

Um, both.

  • What’s the relationship between one tactic and another?

An email is an email, unless it’s a part of a stream. Consider list -> ad -> landing page -> remarketing ad -> 2nd landing page offering an asset -> email containing the asset. Contrast that with how a cold outbound email would be received. Context is everything.

  • How should we measure the efficacy of a given tactic?

Do we measure response rates? Recall rates? Net contribution to a string of tactics in a campaign? Closure rate of leads generated from this campaign? Can we take a 10% drop in the conversion rate of a tactic if the effectiveness of the next tactic in a sequence goes up by that same 10%?

  • Does brand matter?

Can the efficacy of a tactic increase – or even decrease – as a result of the brand reputation of the business?

We could ask more, but you get the point. There is no ‘top 10’ list for B2B. How then can we help you to find the ‘best’ tactics for your business?

I could share many lessons learned from serving growth businesses from 32 countries for the last 20 years. These are the lessons that mater most:

1. You will need to choose many B2B tactics. And the little ones matter

In consumer marketing, there may be many tactics chosen, but the energy, budget and impact will disproportionately be assigned to only a few.

When we build B2B go-to-market plans in Funnel Camps (under our own brand), Funnel Masteries (SAP), or Partner Transformation Programs (AWS), we typically identify 40-50 tactics. And every single tactic matters.

Let me use two somewhat-random examples to make the point. I could choose any tactic to make this generalisable point, so try to not focus too heavily on the example. For our outbound tactics, we might need a list. We likely need that list to exist both in our CRM / marketing automation platforms and in LinkedIn. Because we must build these lists from different sources, that’s two tactics: list in CRM and list in LinkedIn. Within those lists, we probably need one list of people who have been in their roles for a long time, and another of people who are new to their roles as the receptivity of this second list will be high, even if the size of the list is small. So now we have four tactics.

And we can look at what might appear at first blush to be a very minor tactic. The follow-up email from your BDM to her prospect locks in whatever progression was achieved from each meeting. If the meeting went well, then when the BDM next meets with the prospect, they’ll want to launch off this progression to achieve another. Absent a simple “here is where we got to” email, the second meeting often becomes a repeat of the first.

Long story made short, you need to plan on selecting and using many more tactics in B2B marketing than in B2C marketing.

2. You will need tactics for Marketing and for Sales (and Pre-Sales, and …)

Whereas in consumer marketing we’re building a plan for marketing, in B2B many roles in your team will impact the customer. For this reason alone, we need congruency between tactics chosen and message conveyed by all players. But the need for whole-of-team tactics is deeper and more impactful than this.

Your marketing, inside sales, sales, pre-sales, and consulting teams will all play a role in earning the right to serve more customers, and to serve them more completely. Purely in pursuit of completeness, we will need tactics for every step. For every ‘touchpoint’ with potential buyers.

Finally, we need tactics to be congruent for the buyer. We need each ‘next’ step to feel appropriate for the buyer. We simply can’t do that if we fail to plan every single step.

3. It doesn’t matter what you do to your buyers, but what effect it has 

If your salesperson meets the prospect and leaves with her head full of great insights about that prospect, but the prospect still thinks exactly the same as he did before the meeting, then the meeting was mostly wasted. The job of a meeting (or a webinar, an email, a web page, a reference call, a proposal a…) is to move the buyer. Buyers move from one thought to a next though – either with your help or not – so it’d pay for us to map out what those progressions will typically look like, and then to choose tactics to help with each of those progressions. I’ve written a ton about the buyer’s journey since coining that term in my 2003 book The Leaky Funnel, and our definitive guide to the buyer’s journey summarises those thoughts. if you’ve not already read that essay, you might want to now.

Consider any B2B marketing tactic. Picture one now. That very tactic could well be used in the early journey stages (positioning in category, establishing interest), the middle of the journey (establishing a clear need and understanding options), or later in the journey (arriving at a preferred option and deciding). It likely can’t do a good job of helping buyers through all of those stages.

4. Your selected B2B tactics should create pain before salvation

Your product or service is better than others’ in some regard. Maybe in many regards. But those points of difference are interesting to one buyer and not to another because those two buyers have different needs. Or at least they think they do.

There are some needs for which you are well positioned, and others for which your competitors are better positioned. Dig a little further back: why does buyer A have need A, and buyer B have need B? These two buyers are likely trying to address different issues (gaps, challenges, impediments, barriers, problems…).

Just as there are some needs for which you are better positioned, there are some gaps (problems, challenges, gaps etc.) for which you are better positioned. And there are insights that you and your team hold about those gaps that set you apart.

All of our tactics, whether designed for early or late in the buyer’s journey, should leverage unique insights into those gaps. Certainly, this is true of blogging (what do you know about the problem that will bring it to the surface and shape buyers’ thoughts about that problem?) but is also true of any other tactic that stands to influence your buyers.

You need to position your company as the best guide to, through, and out of that world of hurt. 

5.Your tactics need to be rhythmic

Not so many years ago, we used to say that a buyer needed seven ‘touches’ before they were ready to buy. Today, seven is just getting started. It might be more like 20. Regardless, if there are significant delays between each touch, whatever effect we managed to achieve with one touch will have been lost by the time we achieve the next. Instead, we need there to be a short-enough gap between each touch that the effects of the previous touches are still felt – at least in part. Rhythm is key.

Now consider a nurture email series – opt in of course – and consider the effect of rhythm. Years ago, a friend of mine was a little bored (and perhaps a little tired) and decided to pause his very successful nurture email series for three months. On resumption, he had a 15% unsubscribe rate. He even received angry emails about his spam emails from people who’d been receiving his opt in email for years. Rhythm is key in B2B.

Finally, consider kaizen – continuous improvement of a well-defined process. In B2B, we tend to choose tactics of the day (or often, of the quarter). Instead, we need tactics that we can execute rhythmically so that we can improve, so that we can have a built-up effect, and that will allow us to ‘touch’ our market often.

6. Ideate + experiment + measure

A final ‘truth’ about B2B marketing tactics, is that there are so many – and their shape so varied – that we often just guess about what to do and guess again about whether our last guess worked.

Instead, we can build hypotheses like “Our conversion rate would go up if the form was at the top of the page”, then build tests to prove or disprove that hypothesis. In B2B, we often lack the volume to do so-called A/B tests well, but there are ways to make this work. Here are a couple that we use:

  • Run the test over many iterations and over a long time. For example, if your hypothesis is about how you can improve the conversion rate for your emails, run the same test (long vs short, solution vs problem orientation…) across every send this year, change nothing else between your A and B versions every month, and aggregate your results.
  • Team up with a dozen other businesses and run the tests across all businesses. This is easier for us to do than you, perhaps. We have 50 active retainers and can run tests across 10 or 20 clients at a time to find a result, but you can buddy up and achieve the same result.

In the case of an A/B test, you are therefore measuring whether your idea (hypothesis) was proven or disproven. Not your closure rate or any other measure. Just: did we prove or disprove our hypothesis.

That’s taking a micro view and is very effective at helping us to optimise.

Chunking up a bit, you can measure using what many call ‘vanity metrics’ like likes, shares, opens etc, or you can measure closure rates by lead source. For example, if one segment of your market has unusually low open and click-through rates for a B2B ad, but they have a great closure rate, do you care?

Consider these two examples:

A B
Impressions 100,000 200,000
Clicks 5000 5000

Which do we like the best?

Let’s add click through rate and see if that helps.

A B
Impressions 100,000 200,000
Clicks 5000 5000
Click through rate 5% 2.5%

Now which do we like?

How about if we added in cost, and that this cost was different for each ad?

A B
Impressions 100,000 200,000
Clicks 5000 5000
Click through rate 5% 2.5%
Cost $50,000 $30,000

Now? Still on your same choice?

Now let’s display the cost per click (total cost / number of clicks).

A B
Impressions 100,000 200,000
Clicks 5000 5000
Click through rate 5% 2.5%
Cost $50,000 $30,000
Cost per click $10 $6

Do you find yourself still on the same horse? Or are you shifting as the data reveal a different story?

Let’s add in some data about the number of conversions.

A B
Impressions 100,000 200,000
Clicks 5000 5000
Click through rate 5% 2.5%
Cost $50,000 $30,000
Cost per click $10 $6
Conversions 50 100

And the conversion rate.

A B
Impressions 100,000 200,000
Clicks 5000 5000
Click through rate 5% 2.5%
Cost $50,000 $30,000
Cost per click $10 $6
Conversions 50 100
Conversion rate 1% 2%

And cost per conversion (total cost / number of conversions).

A B
Impressions 100,000 200,000
Clicks 5000 5000
Click through rate 5% 2.5%
Cost $50,000 $30,000
Cost per click $10 $6
Conversions 50 100
Conversion rate 1% 2%
Cost per conversion $1000 $300

You should be flip-flopping like mad by now.

In the case of a marketing tactic like an ad, we might stop there. But what if we added data about converting to a proposal and win rate from proposal. Would that change anything?

A B
Impressions 100,000 200,000
Clicks 5000 5000
Click through rate 5% 2.5%
Cost $50,000 $30,000
Cost per click $10 $6
Conversions 50 100
Conversion rate 1% 2%
Cost per conversion $1000 $300
Progressed to proposal 10 10
Proposal rate 20% 10%

Confused yet? And what if the conversion from proposal to win differed? And what if the value of those wins differed?

A B
Impressions 100,000 200,000
Clicks 5000 5000
Click through rate 5% 2.5%
Cost $50,000 $30,000
Cost per click $10 $6
Conversions 50 100
Conversion rate 1% 2%
Cost per conversion $1000 $300
Progressed to proposal 10 10
Proposal rate 20% 10%
Number of wins 5 2
Value of wins $100,000 $200,000
Value per win $20,000 $100,000

I was being quite mean by presenting data that should have had you switching from A to B literally every row. So now, calmly, is the ROI of ad B evidently better? For fellow math snobs ROI is 567% vs 100% as ROI is return on investment, not income on investment. So the calc is (Value of wins – Cost) / Cost.

That rather long-winded ‘reveal’ was to make the point that we need as much data as possible to compare tactics if you want to take an ROI perspective rather than a simpler optimisation perspective. In my example, I have used a single tactic (ad) but this comparison would also allow us to compare dissimilar tactics.

Let me argue two final frameworks for thinking about how to select B2B marketing tactics before offering you some examples.

Be strategic, systematic and open tactics

  • Strategic
    • Who are the buyers we are targeting?
    • What problem(s) do they have that we are focused on solving?
    • What solution(s) do we offer to solve that problem?
    • What sales channel(s) are we using to work with those buyers?
    • Who else solves that problem? And how do we plan to compete?
  • Systematic
    • What progression of thought does this tactic need to achieve?
      • This is better known as ‘the buyer’s journey’.
      • What can we reasonably believe prospects think before experiencing this tactic?
      • What do we need them to think as a result of this tactic?
      • What other tactics will play a part in that progression of thought?
  • What velocity does this tactic need to achieve?
    • How many buyers need to experience this tactic?
    • What progression rate (from current thought to new thought) do we need?
    • How long do we have to achieve that progression?
  • Open
    • New hypotheses – let your market educate you
    • Avid reading / listening / talking

And be systematic and measured in executing those tactics

  • Systematic
    • Brief the chosen tactics precisely. For example, rather than simply “please build us a case study”, the brief should include “about a customer who had [this problem] for which 100 prospects in [this role] can view the case study to help them move from [this stage] in their journey to [that stage] at 25% effectiveness over 4 weeks, preceded by [a] and [b] tactics, supported by [c] and [d] tactics, followed by [e] and [f] tactics.
    • Establish hypotheses about ways that you can optimise the effectiveness of execution and set up A/B tests to prove or disprove those hypotheses. For example, “We think that conveying problem subtly will outperform a more assertive articulation of the problem by 20%”. Treatments and execution should be identical in every regard other than to test this hypothesis.
  • Measured
    • Measure actual progress through the journey of each treatment, and overall. The measurement you are interested in is not “did we do the thing?” but “did we move the buyer?”. It is for this reason, we need to consider renaming the stages in our CRM to reflect the buyer’s journey, with each stage indicating not “what have we done?” but “where are they?”.

The ‘best’ B2B marketing tactics for you are the ones that best meet those tests I have just argued. And for you, they will be different than from even your most-similar competitor, and certainly from where you last worked. I can, though, give you a good sense of the most common tactics used in the world of complex buying and selling that we all call ‘B2B’.

In another of my longer-form ‘definitive guide’ articles, I argued that every business needs to craft its own set of tactics for each stage of the buyer’s journey. And they should have the CEO (or divisional head) and the heads of each of Sales, Marketing, Pre-sales in the room when they craft their tactics for the buyer’s journey, and often a half a dozen others who report to these leaders. And they probably should have an experienced facilitator lead them through the process of considering, debating, forming their tactics roadmap for the buyer’s journey

The result might look something like this:

And for buyers who leaked from the funnel and needed to be nurtured before returning to the funnel, we might expect recycling tactics like:

  • Email blog to those we have email addresses for
  • Google remarketing for website visitors
  • LinkedIn remarketing for the subset of our website visitors who also meet our ideal client profile as defined in our LinkedIn filters

In our Funnel Plan we’d represent this as a series of inter-connected tactics:

In our go-to-market planning workshops, we draw on many tactics. 70 that have names, and many that don’t yet. For each, we have a page or so of best practice that we draw on when briefing, along with explanation of the buyer’s journey stage, and the context of the specific go-to-market plan (objectives, market, solution, problem solved, sales channel, adjacent tactics). So, a brief to execute a single tactic might run to 10 pages, and a typical go-to-market plan might have 30-40 tactics. Executing a B2B marketing tactic then is about executing it perfectly.

I didn’t say this was easy.

We’re not going to make B2B marketing a respected management science if we’re not willing to execute perfectly. Fortunately, we make considerable use of automation in the production of these detailed briefs which allows us to be super diligent, but also hyper-efficient ™.

Further reading.

At the time of writing this article, we had almost 200 articles on the align.me site about B2B marketing tactics. There may be more by the time you read this (we wrote this blog to be evergreen). Check out the extended list here.