Business-to-business (B2B) marketing comes with a unique set of challenges such as relatively longer sales cycles, smaller audience markets, and higher unit prices. In addition, businesses must first generate leads to follow up on as opposed to selling a product directly.
Not surprisingly, translating your website, attending one Chinese event and waiting for Chinese clients to contact you isn’t a template for B2B digital marketing success. This is because China is a complex market with its own unique language and technology ecosystem.
This article taps on a customer journey approach (need arousal, research, outreach + evaluation, procure, and advocacy) to evaluate the most appropriate Chinese B2B marketing strategy for your business. Please see a summary below of a typical Chinese B2B customer journey.
Value-add of B2B Digital Marketing
Before we start with our customer journey approach, let’s briefly highlight how B2B digital marketing helps businesses. Generally speaking, B2B digital marketing seeks to cut down the lead time it takes to close a deal by:
- Becoming a destination for research in your business’ core expertise
- Serving as a shop window for your business and let leads learn more about your team and build up a sense of familiarity
- Providing data, stories, and insights that matter to leads and walk them into a sale
B2B digital marketing is a long-term play. A key ingredient is continuous content creation, and this requires a content-creation mindset within your business. This means the third objective (develop data, stories, and insights that matter to leads) becomes particularly important as your team’s content has to move beyond self-promotion to make it worthwhile for leads to track your content pieces. Only then can your digital marketing initiatives overcome potential objections and demonstrate value before leads are ready to reach out.
Motivation is the activation of goal-oriented research that involves your product or service. This research may be triggered by a pain-point or business objectives, e.g. expansion to a new market and must be strong enough such that this potential client is willing to invest their search time and implementation effort.
Given the above, it is not surprising that these B2B researchers start with a generic search as they may not have a particular solution in mind. According to Google, 71% of B2B researchers start their research with a generic search. In addition, while 64% of the C-suite have final sign off, so do almost a quarter (24%) of the non-C-suite. In addition, 47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales representative.
Looking at the B2B customer journey (Fig 1), a translated website by itself is insufficient as there are more readily available channels such as word-of-mouth, online platforms, and WeChat.
Against this backdrop of multi-channel options, your business may wish to consider:
- Establish a local social media presence through WeChat, Weibo, Zhihu (the equivalent of Quora) and Youku (the equivalent of Youtube).
- Since most B2B researchers start with a generic search, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is imperative. Since Baidu search engine has about 80% market share in China, your efforts should be allocated accordingly. Verify your website on Baidu Webmaster and get listed on Baike (Baidu’s version of Wikipedia) or its Enterprise Zone.
- Creating a positive buzz (which we define as getting others to talk about your product) is critical so shortlist relevant platforms that are relevant to your product. Using technology products as an example, the three largest platforms in China are 51CTO (targeting senior executives), CSDN (targeting programmers) and OSChina (targeting open source community).
- Publish fresh and relevant Chinese content regularly on the Chinese version of your website. There is no shortcut, as Baidu, like most search engines, will rank regularly-updated sites more highly.
SEO is just a necessary first step in our era of information overload to get noticed but what sort of content will persuade B2B researchers to reach out to you? Apart from SEO considerations, our team recommends leveraging on Data, Stories, and Insights (DSI) to make your content more memorable.
Let’s explain each trigger in turn:
- Data: Data serves to frame the pain-points or potential benefits, e.g. size of the potential market, discussed in any content piece. Data, particularly for B2B marketing, is helpful to help your readers objectively evaluate their available options. Therefore, we propose incorporating data or quotes from reputable sources in all content pieces.
- Stories: Provide a story arc that your readers find easy to follow. Frame and indicate what readers can gain from continuing to read. For example, 96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders. Therefore, your business may wish to leverage the reputations of experts to build trust and catch the eye of your audiences, e.g. interview an opinion leader to substantiate your claims, such as a Fintech expert if you wish to discuss opportunities for Chinese Fintech industry.
- Insights: Any B2B content piece should provide takeaways that readers have not previously known. Therefore, when planning content, you should always focus on enhancing these takeaways.
- You may wish to approach the platforms that you have shortlisted earlier and offer to host “Ask me anything” sessions or translate relevant articles into Chinese. These are relatively quick ways to engage your target audience to create a little buzz about your product.
- Moving beyond digital marketing, the Chinese B2B market can be rather traditional with a premium placed on face-to-face interactions. If your team is speaking at a Chinese conference, you should publicise in advance through all your channels, e.g. email lists, social media, blogs and website banners to give leads a choice of meeting your team.
- In the Chinese context, Wechat offers a multi-purpose tool to integrate online/offline marketing at your events. For example, your business may engage attendees prior to events through surveys and reward them with cash credited to their Wechat accounts, offer QR code registration scanning and analyse attendee profile data. This offers you greater insight into your attendees while enriching their event experience.
Outreach + Evaluation
Let’s assume that B2B researchers are now aware of your products or services and are keen to reach out and evaluate. Your next task is to ensure they have a frictionless and positive impression of your brand.
Using SaaS (software as a service) products as an example, if your servers are based in the U.S, this means that your potential Chinese leads are going to experience intermittent connectivity and long download times which reduces the chances of conversion.
- Make it easy for Chinese prospects to contact you. List a WeChat or QQ ID in your Chinese website under “Contact us”.
- As mentioned earlier, as China’s ecosystem is very different from your native market, your team should actively solicit the opinion of your lead Chinese users and address their top concerns through specific customisation.
- There is no point investing in great content if your evaluation experience is poor for Chinse prospects. Using SaaS products as an example, you should evaluate leveraging on a local partner to provide a trial server located in China. If a Chinese server is not available, seek Hong Kong based servers to enhance your trial users’ experience.
At first glance, procurement shouldn’t be a painful touchpoint. But in the Chinese context there are foreign currency controls in place. To remit funds to a foreign bank account, your clients need to do paperwork to seek official approvals. Another point is that Chinese clients are likely to seek an official invoice as there are tax benefits involved.
The most obvious solution to these two issues is to set up a Chinese entity to eliminate the need for foreign currency transactions and issue official receipts. We will cover how to mitigate these issues if setting up a Chinese entity isn’t an option for your business for now.
- If your B2B product has a relatively low-price tag, say less than USD5000, set up a credit card payment option which doesn’t require foreign currency remittance paperwork.
- To cater to official invoice requests, you may wish to leverage on a third-party payment provider that will collect a fee which can be recharged to clients.
Genuine word-of-mouth references from B2B clients, such as reviews, social media shares and recommendations, are worth their weight in gold. However, to scale those efforts, we recommend that operationalising advocacy through a formal advocate marketing strategy.
- According to a Forrester report, Advocate Marketing Creates B2B Customer Relationships That Last A Lifetime, creating a more engaging advocate marketing program requires:
- Focusing on advocates who already share, network and engage with your business and your other clients.
- Committing to regular, ongoing communication with advocates. This means understanding what motivates them to make it worth their time to participate and providing an array of activities that deliver value.
- Downplaying monetary rewards. Celebrate advocate achievements and show heartfelt gratitude instead.
B2B marketing in China is a complex undertaking with plenty of unknowns even with meticulous preparation. But as you get started, you need to be conscious of collecting data, e.g. what types of content are more popular, such as reads, shares and common characteristics of your inbound leads. This data will help you to enrich your B2B client personas and journeys, to continuously enhance your marketing initiatives.