It is often said that business-to-business marketers should look to their counterparts at consumer brands for inspiration.
The ability to build brands, balance long- and short-term activity and demonstrate creativity are all attributes B2C marketers employ on a regular basis, according to received wisdom. Meanwhile, those in B2B marketing roles are perpetually stuck at the bottom of the funnel, generating leads and serving up opportunities for their colleagues in sales.
As much as this might be true to a point, there’s plenty B2C marketers can learn from B2B. Not least, the ability to manage multiple relationships across an organisation.
“B2B is actually quite complex. My parallel [for consumer marketers] would be, do you know the whole household versus the individual consumers? That’s what you must do in B2B. You have to know the whole account,” says Salesforce CMO Stephanie Buscemi.
“It’s not a one-to-one, typical purchase. You are selling one to many and there’s a lot of complexity with that, as you can imagine. You are looking at who is the actual buyer, who are the influencers, who are the CXOs. It’s multi-layered within an organisation.”
Despite spending her entire career in B2B, Buscemi understands the necessity of pulling on many of the same marketing levers previously seen as the exclusive domain of B2C.
Salesforce’s brand is riding high. Kantar’s BrandZ ranking, which values the contribution of brand to the total worth of the company, put Salesforce as the 46th most valuable brand in the world with a value of $26.9bn (£20.6bn) earlier this year. Its 58% year-on-year increase made it the fastest growing B2B brand in the list.
My parallel for consumer marketers would be, do you know the whole household versus the individual consumers? That’s what you must do in B2B. You have to know the whole account.
Stephanie Buscemi, Salesforce
Operating in the increasingly competitive and crowded software-as-a-service market, Salesforce has looked to differentiate by highlighting its customers’ successes – individual and company “trailblazers” transforming their businesses. This, in turn, presents Salesforce as a facilitator of excellence, rather than simply a technical solution.
It’s an approach requiring a more creative and longer-term approach to marketing communications, according to Buscemi.
“We eradicated stock photography. We believe it’s about making personal connections based on shared experiences. All our content, those are real people,” she states.
“We are telling the stories of individuals and companies and their success. You will see our trailblazers in a lot of our things – people who have professionally and personally transformed their business. These are the stories we are telling. To make meaningful connections with authentic storytelling that builds trust.”
Trust is key for Buscemi and Salesforce. In the tech-driven, relatively young cloud-based sector, the company believes involving its customers by co-creating marketing communications with them is another means to earn their trust and distinguish it from competitors.
“I would advocate that there is nothing more important that cultivating and communicating community. I can’t be transactional. The customer relationship is now the biggest competitive differentiator,” she says.
“And so how do you build relationships and customer centricity? At every touchpoint it’s about creating an amazing experience. But it’s more than that, it’s about creating an amazing rich community with your customers and that community allows for authentic conversations; for a bi-directional conversation about product development, customer care, and how people purchase and transact from you.”
Purpose has also been identified by brands as a way to differentiate themselves. B2C brands in particular appear on a quest to identify and communicate their brand purpose, to achieve sustainable business growth by doing the right thing.
Some brands have drawn criticism, however, for talking about purpose without foundation. Buscemi believes purpose has to be authentic.
“Your brand has to be a direct expression of your core values and then every company has to demonstrate they are living their core values. It can’t be a plaque on the wall or something in a 10k [annual report],” she explains.
“Now more than ever, companies need to be able to show they are living their core values. Salesforce equals trust, customer success, innovation and equality, and equality is a core value because when we look at our employee or customer base we see diversity in there.”
She points to the company’s decision to halt its plan to expand its operation in the US state of Indiana following the passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which it was said discriminated against the LGBT community.
“We see it as a responsibility of a company to ensure diversity can exist. When some regulation came forward in Indiana [a couple of years ago] that impacted equality for all, we stood up against that and we said we won’t carry on having a business here in this state if this regulation is passed,” she says.
“It’s not to say the company needs to lean in on every issue, its about what we are passionate about, and equality is near and dear to us.”