Piret Vahter, B2B Marketing Manager, Telia Eesti AS (photo: Marilin Leenurm)
Piret Vahter, B2B Marketing Manager, Telia Eesti AS (photo: Marilin Leenurm)
Telia Eesti AS is one of the largest telecommunication companies in the Baltic states and member of Telia Company. Piret has been responsible for Telia's B2B marketing since 2013.

·     In recent years, we have been hearing more and more how B2B is merging with B2C. There’s even a modern new acronym B2H (business-to-human). What’s your view on this?  

Be it a business relationship or not, at the end of the day you’re still dealing with another person, not an anonymous client or company. It’s up to you to provide answers to their questions and problems. I have always approached each case in this manner.  

·     How would you describe a typical customer journey? Say you have an IT product aimed at a medium-sized company with several decision makers. Let’s go through the steps.  

Start from awareness, you need to get yourself into the picture as a possible player. You can’t book meetings from thin air. When it comes to SMEs, the customer journey is quite similar to B2C making traditional marketing relevant in this situation. If you’re targeting  bigger companies, it’s crucial to establish yourself as an opinion leader: be a regular speaker at industry events, publish articles in relevant media, etc. Being part of the conversation demonstrates deeper know-how, which might be useful for your target audience. It’s about moving the industry forward and raising your value in the process.  

Afterwards, you need to figure out a way to reach the decision makers. Smaller companies may come to you first, but it’s rarely the case with bigger players. Therefore, it requires daily mapping and a good overview of latest developments in the market. Keep an eye on industry media, scan through LinkedIn, use customer databases – the possibilities are endless, you just need to find what works for you best. It’s also important to identify the right people: who’s opening doors in this organisation and who’s the one making the final call? There are a couple of good questions requiring straightforward answers. Do you find this offer interesting? Who else within your organisation is involved in this topic? Start the conversation and see how it unravels. Moreover, don’t be afraid of C-level, moving downwards on the ladder has proven to be quite effective, hence it pays off to be brave. On the other hand, you need to be aware of the fact that your client is not always ripe for the final deal. Maybe they are still testing the waters. The realisation that there’s a real need for your product or service may come later.  

Talking about a straightforward approach, I’d say even a cold message on LinkedIn can work wonders. Industry events are a great place for pre-booked meetings. Propose a short chat (and be honest about your intentions) to discuss possible cooperation and see how it goes. It’s a more laidback environment compared to the office, but people are still looking for answers to their problems.  

·     Given the client might not be ready for a final deal, how do you maintain the relationship throughout the long cycle?  

It’s one of the biggest challenges in B2B marketing because the cycles are much lengthier. There’s a lot of empty space between the initial offer and the final deal, naturally some leads will be lost in the process. This is where content marketing comes into play: case studies, articles in industry media or just a regular overview of latest developments. These tools are very handy for your sales people because it keeps the conversation going. If you see a lead cooling off, it’s the right time to send them a reminder. As a marketing manager, it’s up to me to maintain a regular flow of fresh interesting content.  

·     In a good case scenario the deal will eventually go through and according to a widespread understanding the relationship shouldn’t end there. What’s next?  

You should never give promises you can’t keep. If you promised to be there 24/7 it means you need to be. This is part of the customer journey and something I personally find to be of the outmost importance.

You can’t just disappear once the deal has been signed. If you’ve been feeding your clients with regular content then stick to it. Make sure you share your small victories, because your clients are the enablers of success.  

·     Most customer journeys start from a simple Google search. By the time they reach you they have already covered most of the journey independently and it’s only a matter of final formalities, meaning you don’t have a say in the early stages. What’s your experience here?  

Sure, we all google stuff, but if we’re talking about complex IT solutions, it’s very hard to map each and every aspect on your website. Google will determine whether you make the first cut or not. It’s up to you to keep your digital channels engaging, which proves to be difficult for B2B companies. I’ve seen some terrible websites with no brand experience nor a single emotion. It’s a pity because there might be a very good product or service hidden behind this mess. B2C has spoiled us with excellent UX. This realisation has yet to hit the B2B sector. Today, most companies are still missing a marketing manager. You should never underestimate the importance of marketing and the upper management needs to realise that it’s a vital element in each organisation not just another useless expense.  

·     Social media and B2B, what’s the relationship between the two?  

Referring back to my first answer – at the end of the day, you’re communicating with another human being. We all consume social media during our work hours. The lines between entertainment and work have been blurred. Social media is another channel for gathering information and it would be foolish to ignore that. I can’t see a reason why B2B shouldn’t be a part of it. Another issue is producing attractive content, which is very tricky in our sector.  

·     Producing attractive content can be rather expensive and it’s hard to measure the outcome. Social media requires a good balance between sales and value. Any tips?  

Setting relevant KPIs has been a big challenge for me. I’ve reached a point where it’s correlated with leads and closed deals. I’m lucky enough to have a team who shares my believes. On the other hand, I do think that each activity should have a purpose. Prior to creating a new piece of content ask yourself: what am I hoping to achieve? Sales or awareness? I don’t think we have the luxury of just throwing out content and hoping for the best.

When it comes to bigger clients, there’s not much point in using social media for sales, it’s more about awareness. If your targeting SMEs then every second post should have a clear CTA. Again, your social media channels should have a purpose. For many B2B companies it’s about employer branding and has nothing to do with sales.  

·     You’ve been operating in this field for quite some time now. What are your biggest learnings so far? 

It’s important to engage your whole team. You may think you have a genius marketing idea, but your account managers may not agree. The people who are in daily contact with your clients should be as excited about your ideas as you are. It’s never a good idea to present a final concept, get your team involved in early brainstorming sessions. Make sure they have a part in this.

Finally, I would advise you to test your marketing messages on existing clients. It sounds strange, but they’re actually happy to help. The fact that you know what you’re talking about doesn’t mean your potential client does. Sometimes we get stuck in our own little worlds and loose a sense of reality.

Interviewed by Hando Sinisalu.