Last year, I switched from working with one of the fastest-growing 4PLs serving merchants of all sizes, to working with a boutique, white-glove fulfillment partner that only works with sellers moving a minimum of 20,000 units per month (and often much, much more).
The mental shift I had to make when adjusting to this intentionally narrow market has been stark and even shocking at times. In addition to different marketing styles (voice, content, hierarchy of pages), the business goals for marketing were also unique.
Whereas acquisition was the north star of a B2B startup, branding and confidence building content was the north star of B2B enterprise marketing. It was less about organic acquisition and more about sales enablement.
In this article I’m sharing a few differences that stood out the most over the last year, so other B2B enterprise eCommerce marketers can get a head start and begin where I am now instead of where I was.
8 Lessons from B2B enterprise eCommerce marketing
1) Less focus on volume, more focus on depth
Coming at this lesson from a content perspective, the engine I’ve had to build when marketing to enterprise sellers has had a larger focus on depth than volume. Instead of jumping on the latest news and putting out short SEO pieces to get seen, we build out pillar pages with 10,000+ words across the main article and supporting blogs.
For example, this article on DTC eCommerce acquisition channels and supporting blogs totals to 16,800+ words (and growing). This one on eCommerce customer retention and its supporting blogs totals 10,600+ words and is far from complete.
These pieces operate primarily as guides for our existing merchants and a value added service to build confidence across our seller base. These topics are seen mainly through our customer newsletter instead of being found in search.
2) No out-of-the-box solutions
When working with enterprise merchants, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Everything we do is more customized and tailored toward a specific merchant and business model in mind.
You can see this in everything from how merchants communicate with us (they all have direct lines to our founding team) down to how we’ve configured certain warehouses specifically for unique enterprise seller needs.
For example, athletic shoe seller Pacers Running needed a custom warehouse set-up, including unique racks and a new process to prep their shoes for DTC fulfillment and FBA prep.
The advantage of MyFBAPrep is the flexibility I have in working with them to make my own path and figure out what this looks like together. There is no one size fits all.
— Chris Farley, Pacers Running President | How Pacers Running turned logistics into their competitive advantage
Instead of trying to fit their business into a mold that wouldn’t work for them (what many fulfillment companies do for the sake of ease and speed), the founders of MyFBAPrep got to know the Pacers Running business, business model, existing internal processes, and more before they brainstormed a solution together.
MyFBAPrep invested in warehouse renovations to make it work, and in the months following implementation, they observed, adjusted, and optimized based on Pacers Running’s priorities.
3) Customer listening vs. mass-SEO
With enterprise clients, direct voice and feedback trumps SEO research and industry bandwagons. I rely much more on customer interviews and direct customer listening to determine what we focus on every month and quarter.
In a startup focused on growth and scale, SEO is the easier (better?) choice when building content calendars, because you can apply mass trends and blanket data to predict what will do well with the majority.
However, in a business that serves a select number of enterprise clients, even a one-woman marketing team can conduct a few customer interviews a month and have a firm grasp on what our market cares about that year. This surfaced lessons I never expected, and taught me that listening to customers is just as important as telling them what’s important.
Note that we still do talk about trends, as these are important to share with our customers and gives them more bang for their email subscription. Check out this piece on live shopping, something that has boomed during the pandemic thanks to shoppers who want to see and experience the product without risking physical contact.
4) Longer sales cycles, less attribution
In every sale, there are more discussions that happen at a higher level of the companies of both parties involved. There are longer sales cycles, more email threads, and bigger meeting rooms with more people.
Because of this, I had to train my immediate-reward-driven brain to switch from chasing conversions to enhancing conversations.
I got used to seeing a conversion cycle that looked like this:
- Unique visitor finds us through a blog
- Visits a few more times
- Signs up on our self-onboarding tool
In B2B enterprise eCommerce, conversion cycles look vaguely like this:
- We reach out to brands that would be a good fit
- Marketing materials serve to build confidence and nurture
- They speak with our founders / sales team / product team / all of the team
- I don’t see them in our funnel again
- They sign up and I learn they discovered us through search thanks to a post-signup acquisition question field
There are not only more steps, the steps go in different orders. But at every stage, I’ve had to focus less on “does marketing get credit for this conversion” to “how can marketing elevate these discussions?” In this sense, marketing takes more of a support role than center stage.
5) More people in the room
We have had to be very intentional with who we speak to, from finding our ICP to understanding the differences between our users, buyers, and decision makers. In an enterprise brand, these can all be different people, and marketing needs to create content for all of them.
For example, our “user” might be the director of fulfillment, who wants to see evidence we are easy to work with and reliable. Our “buyer” might be the head of finance, who wants a checklist-style compilation of our certifications, insurance, and financial competitiveness. Our “decision maker” might be the founder, who wants assurance that s/he can brainstorm founder-to-founder to find the best custom set-up for their business.
For the above situations, I’ve written case studies, added top-level webpages, and created custom demo scheduling pages to serve what each person is looking for.
6) Focus on brand vs acquisition
Although you can expect a few good organic inbound leads, the majority of enterprise clients usually come from intentional outreach. By focusing on branding and building confidence, marketing can enhance the substance and success of every outbound email that our sales and business development teams send out. This is a switch in what I was used to, which was relying on marketing and partnerships to bring in leads in the first place then using sales to qualify them.
Top-down versus bottom-up sales models: What they mean and how to use them
This lesson was perhaps the most surprising to me, because I had yet to work with a company where branding was more important than reach. When your market includes small and mid-sized merchants, you’re always looking for more signups, more customers, more visitors, more acquisition…more, more, more. When your market is enterprise, you need to showcase your brand and significance.
7) Capacity drives intentionality
Here is one of the best problems to have in a business; having to increase selectiveness due to bandwidth. Through the lens of an eCommerce fulfillment company, when you work with already-large enterprises, 1% growth for them could mean thousands more units flow through your prep and fulfillment network every week.
That’s a lot to prepare for, and we need to consider constraints based on capacity. We have to be much more intentional in our marketing materials and the topics we cover, so that no one incorrectly assumes we can serve everyone. That means losing out on some traffic, because we eliminate any entry-level content, but it helps us set expectations upfront that we cannot accommodate certain audiences.
8) Compliance over convenience
Although every good fulfillment partner should offer both convenience and compliance, I’ve noticed a merchant gets disproportionately more concerned with compliance the larger they are. There’s a warning in “the larger they are the harder they fall” that every large brand should and usually does take seriously. Knowing this, their priorities are to cover all their bases.
Instead of broadcasting convenience, the true way into enterprise systems is through ensuring compliance. Each customer will be different, and concerns vary widely (some brands care about scale over sustainability, etc.), but most agree on the importance of compliance.
Wrapping up – Shift to a tailored customer focus when marketing to B2B enterprise eCommerce brands
It’s been excellent education and far from over, but hopefully these lessons will help you start off strong when marketing to B2B enterprise brands. Remember to narrow your focus and hone in on your customers, keep your messaging intentional and tailored, and focus on supporting every conversation your sales, founding, and customer teams may have with a seller.