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Has mobile failed in business-to-business marketing?

Aside from texting within conferences and the use of applications as repeat-business tools, what has mobile to show for its role in business-to-business marketing? It is time to acknowledge the apparent lack of publicized success stories or frank discussion over the challenges of mobile B2B marketing.

B2B marketing is defined as organizations such as commercial businesses, governments and institutions, facilitating the sale of their products or services to other companies or organizations. The mobile industry is swarming with business-to-consumer brands that have seen success using the medium and B2B seems to be lagging behind.

?I do not believe that mobile has failed in B2B marketing,? said Steve Timpson, president of Siteminis, Atlanta. ?It is still in the infancy stage.

?There are examples of how mobile can work in these types of relationships, such as office supplies, where B2B is starting to gain traction,? he said.

Mobile can work for B2B
A good example is Intel?s ?Meet the Processors? brand campaign that drove consumers to the technology giant's mobile Web site via mobile search and banner ads (see story).

Mr. Timpson said that the key is thoughtfulness in the use case for a mobile site deployment.

?If your business does a healthy volume selling products to other businesses you should adopt early,? Mr. Timpson said.

Make sure that order tracking, stored shopping carts and past order information is available on the mobile device.

Additionally, basic functionality such as click to call and store locator is valuable as well.

A company can start simply by offering information and sales offers to get started. In fact, Staples in Canada has started a blog just for its SMB customers. This is all viewable on mobile.

Mobile B2B in infancy
Bruce J. Hershey, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Adz2Mobile, Naples, FL, does not believe that mobile has failed B2B.

On the contrary, the medium has not been exposed properly in B2B.

?I am not sure it has failed so much as it hasn?t really been tried all that much,? said Neil Strother, Kirkland, WA-based practice director at ABI Research. ?Remember, mobile marketing to consumers is relatively new, and I think the B2B side is going to be a follower in this case.?

Mr. Strother explained that the process of marketing to businesses is different.

Businesses often buy in larger quantities at wholesale. So, traditionally, there has been more of a face-to-face interaction between buyer and seller.

A business often has a vendor representative that it deals with, and often that interaction is face-to-face, or by phone or email.

So, the marketing is a little different, and it has not gone mobile because the existing channels seem to work fine. Mobile has yet to be explored much, Mr. Strother said.

Alistair Goodman, CEO of Placecast, San Francisco, said that by its nature B2B is about much smaller and more highly targeted audiences.

However, there is the potential for this application.

Placecast ran a program last year where it geo-fenced a large conference of medical professionals for a large insurance company.

That is an example showing that there is a way to create a really relevant program. But the economics are just not there.

?A B2B marketer might want to spend $5,000 or $10,000 on a marketing program ? but you don't necessarily get that much for that amount of money ? but when you're distributing across tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of users, the cost comes down,? Mr. Goodman said.

B2B marketing technology advances tend to lag consumer advances, simply because there is less room for experimentation and failure, according to Brennan Hayden, vice president of WDA Mobile Marketing, East Lansing, MI. 

Once the kinks are worked out using consumer marketing as the test ground, which has more tolerance and sheer numbers for testing, B2B will follow.

?The more ways we invent to communicate, the face-to-face encounter becomes that much more valuable,? Mr. Hayden said. ?In consumer marketing, this crucial point is academic, because the requirements of scale push irreversibly to greater automation.?

Consumer businesses are breaking tradition and trying to depend less on one-on-one human interaction to lower costs.

For example, a lot of brands are using SMS to lower their call center volumes.

For B2B, however, the value of live, one-on-one encounters increases with each technological development.

?Until this means of selling becomes impractical, investments in technological advancements, whether mobile or video or whatever, will be weighed against investment in one-on-one, in-person selling,? Mr. Hayden said.
?This competition for dollars will slow investment in mobile for B2B, but only relative to consumer investment,? he said. 

The investment will still come, but B2B will always be looking to afford more one-on-one interaction, even while demanding that each encounter is of ever higher value.

In fact, the best B2B investments in mobile would be those that focused on just that ? increasing the value of an in-person sales call, Mr. Hayden said.

Getting personal
Placecast?s Mr. Goodman said that anything in mobile needs to be one-to-one regardless of whether it is B2B or B2C.

The real question is, is location as relevant for B2B on mobile?

?We believe it is, we believe that location is the defining characteristic for mobile,? Mr. Goodman said. ?Where you are and when you're there is critical ? the key is to make location-based messages relevant.

?So, when you're at a trade show, yes, location will be relevant for B2B, but maybe it's not as relevant when you're commuting to work,? he said.

WDA Mobile Marketing?s Mr. Hayden said the personal nature of mobile should play favorably with B2B.

Connective convergent devices are on the rise and will be fruitful ground to till with a B2B mobile play.

?Think of the opportunities with field sales forces, health care and pharma businesses, as well as industrial contractors,? Mr. Hayden said. ?The ability to access information data bases is important for personnel on the road.?

Final Take
Giselle Tsirulnik is senior editor of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily