Essential marketing tools


The 7 essential marketing tools for B2B businesses

B2B business owners have a dilemma: they need to balance their marketing budget without scrimping on the essentials for growth.

There are some vital tools – the tech stack – that will give marketing efforts the best chance of success. And while we’re the first to argue that solid strategy comes before any technology, this ecosystem, when perfectly aligned, streamlines marketing performance, offers powerful insights and delivers tangible results.

So what are these essential tools, how can business owners get the most out of them, and what are some common mistakes people make with each?

Customer Relationship Management System (CRM)

What is it? At its most basic, a CRM tool is the device with which businesses organise, track, shape and guide relationships from initial enquiry through to long-standing and loyal customer.

Even the most basic system should help manage relationships, track leads and sales, and allocate tasks to teams. Most can also retain project, product or service information, and create groups of customers and employees to help manage company events.

What will it cost? CRMs are priced ‘per seat’ (you’ll buy a licence for a user account). They range from free to hundreds of pounds per seat, and all have pricing tiers – the more functions you want, the more you’ll pay. They also generally offer different levels of complexity. Hubspot CRM, for instance, allows you to track sales pipelines, add customer information and allocate tasks for free. Once you start adding marketing functionality on top, however, prices can rocket – its Pro package is £655 per month.

What might trip you up? CRM systems are invaluable as long as everyone in the business uses them properly. If someone has spoken to a customer about an upgrade to their service, for instance, that call needs to be logged, the lead added, and all the information about the conversation housed on the CRM so anyone in the business can access it.

This means training, onboarding and buy-in from everyone; often a shift in culture from notes scribbled on paper and email trails that plague so many SMEs. This is often the hardest part of implementation.

Further reading:  What’s the best CRM on the market? It doesn’t matter…

Websites and CMS

What is it? We would hazard a guess that very few people reading this don’t have a website. It should almost go without saying that it’s a crucial element of a marketing stack – a central space to detail products and services, provide deeper background information about the business, reflect brand values, generate leads and more.

What does it cost? Website costs can spiral out of control if you get carried away, adding bespoke designs and functions you don’t need.

A bare-bones, six-page website can be built for under £2000, but that’s extremely bare bones. The average site, with a couple of videos or interactives and 20-30 pages, will run at £15000-£20000, with another £2000-£5000 set aside for Search Engine Optimisation.

What might trip you up? While there are still a few web vendors who will want to use their own custom-built Content Management System (CMS), a smarter choice is an out-of-the-box option. The most popular CMS by far is WordPress. Its ubiquity means there’s no shortage of developers around, and there are a multitude of plug-ins from third party developers which can add all manner of functionality – from SEO to e-commerce. It’s a solid choice, but far from the only one. Drupal, Squarespace, Joomla, Ghost – the list goes on.

Using anything built bespoke usually means that you’ll be locked into the original supplier for maintenance and development at whatever price or service level they choose –  forever.

Further reading: 6 things to watch out for on your next web build

Marketing Dashboard

What is it? Marketing is all about monitoring: regular, transparent tracking of activity right through to the sales generated and beyond. With these insights, you have a view on what budget is being spent on, and exactly how this is improving results for the business as a whole.

That’s what a marketing dashboard does. It can be as simple as regular emails and a spreadsheet or two, or it can be a dedicated, web-based solution that collects and houses data for your entire team’s reference and use.

Basic functionality can be achieved with good old Microsoft Office (or Google Docs if your team need to access the dashboard anywhere). If you want something less labour-intensive and easier to read at a glance, Klipfolio or Geckoboard work.

What does it cost? Google Docs is free. MS Office is available on a per-user basis, ranging from £4 to £8 per user per month, or you can flat-out buy licences for individual computers. A Klipfolio or Geckoboard setup will cost up to $50 per month for a board which any user can access.

What might trip you up? You’ll need to set your own terms of success and your dashboard needs to reflect this. If you’re focusing on lead generation, you’ll be tracking cost per lead and cost per acquisition. If your project is brand-building, then you need to track engagement metrics like website visits, social media interactions and press mentions. Your dashboard will change as your marketing needs change.

Further reading: What should your marketing dashboard look like?

Website Analytics

What is it?  Analytics are the tool by which you measure your other digital tools’ success. The data you collect from email, search and social traffic to your website helps identify customers’ typical journey, valuable information you can build your sales-marketing efforts around.

What does it cost? It’s hard to beat Google Analytics here – the data giant’s service is free, powerful and comprehensive.

What might trip you up? The real cost is in terms of expertise – you need someone who can set up reports, manage tags, and clearly define goals so that you’re actually doing something with the data, rather than hoarding it for no good purpose.

Email marketing tools

What is it? There are two things everyone should know about email marketing. Firstly: it’s effective, providing an average ROI of 38x budget spent. Secondly: it’s complex enough that we wrote a three-part series on how to deploy email marketing in B2B, starting here.

The cost: Email marketing costs range up to hundreds of pounds per month, depending on the number of users and contacts involved. MailChimp – one of the easiest and most popular tools to use – is the only major provider to offer a free (albeit basic) account and a pay-as-you-go option.

There are others available, and it pays to shop around: Campaign Monitor ranges from $9 per month for up to 500 users, all the way up to $491 per month for up to 150,000 subscribers, while dotmailer (although it has a free trial) is around £250 per month for its cheapest package.

What might trip you up? Email data. How clean is yours? Do you know who’s on your list, when they were last contacted and whether their email addresses are up to date? If you get a high bounce rate (i.e. number of undelivered mails) following an email campaign, this can affect your sender reputation, meaning you’re more likely to end up in a spam folder than an inbox. Do that too often, and you might even find yourself blacklisted. And this is before new data protection laws are implemented, which will give customers additional powers over your use of their data.

Further reading: B2B Email basics Part 1: Analytics

Social Media Scheduling tools

What is it? A social media scheduling tool is a software package linking social networks, platforms and apps, automating what can be automated and reducing the overall workload involved. HootSuite, Buffer and Sprout Social all offer streamlined posting, tracking and management for your entire social media presence through one screen. Simple.

The costs: All the major providers offer a free trial, and some website providers (such as WordPress) have a degree of social automation built in. After the trial period, social media solutions can run up to £100 per month, depending on the number of users and channels.

What might trip you up? Across the board, the right tool is the one that helps you achieve your goals. None of these tools can magically produce leads out of the air; they require upfront strategy, ongoing management, and buy-in from the team. What you’ve paid for is only part of the ROI puzzle – the other part is how you use it.

Marketing Automation tools

What is it? Marketing automation systems bring together a lot of other tools – email, web tracking, social posting, keyword research campaign management and more – in a way that is simpler, more powerful and better integrated than the individual tools.

For complex businesses, marketing automation can present the right content to the right people based on their actions on-site. New clients or customers can be traced back to their initial contacts with a business, giving clear reporting on which marketing activity is generating the most revenue,

What does it cost? Marketing automation costs from £400 to £2000 per month, generally depending on the number of contacts you have, the number of users and the functionality you need. HubSpot Pro, for instance, costs £655 per month, Infusionsoft $99 per month, and Agile Enterprise from $47.99 per month.

As well as the monthly outlay there will be setup and training costs. These will generally come from a certified consultancy, with prices rising depending on the scale of training involved.

What might trip you up? Firstly, businesses need a firm handle on their data: Who is in the database? Are they customers or leads? Are they from specific industries? Automation only works if a company has the right contacts, content and processes in the first place. Without blog content, lead magnets like e-books or newsletter sign-up boxes, marketing automation will be wasted.

Marketing automation shouldn’t be the first thing on the list: it’s possible to get similar insights from standalone tools, but for ease of use and nuanced marketing activity, they’re hard to beat.

Enjoyed this article? Now learn how to run your next marketing campaign more effectively, here.


Image credit:

CC 2.0, Florian Richter via Flickr