B2B Marketing – How Can Canadian Companies Compete in the US?

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Thursday September 11, 2014

Web Presence ChartCanadian SMEs expanding in the US should look at their B2B marketing strategy in terms of adjusting the audience, targets and tactics to leverage maximum traction in the American marketplace.

If you asked most B2B businesses to speculate on marketing Canadian SMEs in the US, they might start spit-balling ideas about investing in a bold, attention-getting campaign.

It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but the notion of ‘big and bold’ is based, to some extent, on cultural stereotypes. It certainly isn’t based on technology best practices, data or decision-making models that drive the business environment and the development of a proper B2B marketing strategy.

Sharpening Your B2B Marketing Strategy to Expand in the USA

 We can look at the latest trends in the B2B marketplace to specify the areas where your marketing strategy should focus.

B2B Marketing Insight #1 – Your initial US presence will likely have a significant Web focus

 In the initial phase of expansion, you will establish connections through trade shows, sales trips and your website. As your growth plan unfolds, your website will play a particularly central role – it will be a touch point for your audience, the hub for your communications and outreach, and a tool for making new contacts and cultivating new leads.

Canadian SMEs should understand that surveys have consistently found that in the US, more than 70% of B2B purchases started with a web search (see Demand Gen 2013 survey (78%) and Market Sherpa 2009 survey (71%)).

According to a recent study by ABM, 80% of B2B buyers ranked websites as their primary source of information about new products and suppliers.

In those early stages of US expansion, your website will be the hub for your B2B activities, including marketing, communications, sales and other outreach.

To the extent that your website reflects Canadian sensibilities, it will need to be overhauled, with an eye to US interests.  For instance:

  • Make sure you strip your website of any Canadian jargon that won’t make sense to Americans (words like toque, pop, washroom and hydro)
  • Use measures and currency references that are consistent with US standards
  • Keep in mind that certain words are spelled differently in the US (color vs. colour), so you will want to edit your website accordingly

From a strategic point of view, make sure you are taking into consideration the specific challenges your US target customers are experiencing and how your product or service directly addresses those issues (which are potentially very different than those your Canadian customers encountered). Your website content should integrate messaging that speaks to this value proposition, striking a tone that will resonate with US targets.

And since most people will find your site through a search engine, your strategy needs an effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO) component, one that uses keywords that apply to your US market.

Keep in mind that if you are using a Google Pay Per Click campaign, to enhance your search strategy, this will likely require a bigger budget and broader reach once you expand your business in the US. Keywords are more competitive, the audience is bigger, and search volume is likely to be much more considerable.

B2B Marketing Insight #2 – Your value proposition must pinpoint the added value 

All organizations, including your target audience, are pressured by information-overload.

Unfortunately for those creative copywriters, this means that the day of the long-winded jingle or the cutesy pun may have passed. To pierce the information blizzard, your messaging must hit directly on your target’s B2B pain points by offering them effective solutions quickly, succinctly and compellingly.

The US companies you are targeting undoubtedly put resources into managing their supply chain to identify redundancies, efficiencies and points of added value. As part of their B2B marketing strategy, Canadian SMEs expanding in the US should begin by conducting the same exercise.

  • Start by taking your target industry or company, and drawing its supply chain.
  • At each point in the chain, identify the customer’s interests, along with a list of the potential risks and solutions.
  • Identify the point where the customer has a pain point and a possible decision.
  • Be surgical about targeting decision-makers at that point by making clear your value proposition.

And remember – the supply chain in Canada may be radically different than that in the US. Your existing value proposition may not directly target the pain of prospective customers in the US. Make sure you identify and address any distinctions.

B2B Marketing Insight #3 – A strong social media presence is widespread in the US marketplace

Your initial presence in the United States will concentrate on your website and should also include a strong social media presence – using available channels such as Facebook, Google Groups, Twitter and Linkedin.

It’s not a wasted effort. In fact, in today’s market, it’s almost essential.

According to Forrester Research, 91% of business buyers read blogs, watch generated video and participate in social media.

Similarly, research published in 2014 by the Content Marketing Institute measured the trends among US-based B2B marketers and found that:

  • 91% used social media marketing
  • 84% produced and distributed e-newsletters
  • 80% regularly published articles on their website

Other tactics, including blogs, case studies, videos, White Papers, Webinars and Infographics all reached more than 50% of B2B marketing companies (see slide 9 at http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Tech_Research_2014_SS.pdf)

If you want to compete in the US, you need to be active on these same platforms.

Remember that your target market in the US is likely much bigger than in Canada.  In Canada, you may have been able to get away with avoiding social media, but in the US, this would result in significant missed opportunities.

B2B Marketing Insight #4 – Acquiring a local provider offers a potential branding advantage

There is another way to make sure your B2B marketing effort hits the mark – acquire a brand that is already known to US companies.

This is how the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) built its US presence – not through its RBS brand, but by acquiring regional American banks. RBS then improved its shareholder value by consolidating its back office processes among the acquired companies, and parlaying that growth into an enhanced B2B profile with Wall Street institutions (see Harvard Business Review blog page, How to Penetrate the US Market, March 31, 2008).

While clearly RBS is not a Canadian SME, it is an example of how expanding into the US market, and leveraging the brand equity of a local provider, can yield long-term benefits.

Expand in the USA with a B2B Marketing Plan

To expand into the US market, a Canadian firm must have a comprehensive marketing strategy that focuses on its website, digital marketing and a sharp value proposition.

To learn more about Canadian SMEs’ experience in this area, and to read more articles about Canadian companies expanding in the US, subscribe to the free, Expand in the USA newsletter.