Uthpala Kumara is head of sales at JKCS, a software engineering company based in Sri Lanka, with domain expertise in aviation and hospitality industries.
I invited Uthpala to Marketing Smarts to discuss B2B marketing strategy for companies operating in an old, traditional industry, with a limited number of potential buyers and a long, complex decision process. We cover everything from mobile and social to the continuing marketing value of an old-fashioned phone call.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:
In B2B marketing, connecting with clients means focusing on their needs (03:21): "It begins with uncovering a need—let's say with an airline or ground handling operation at an airport—it always begins with a need, because if we don't identify and address a need at the very beginning, everybody's wasting their time. So we try to first uncover that—and if it's not readily apparent (and it often isn't, because airlines and airports are used to working in a certain pattern)."
To overcome resistance, show everyone involved in the buying process how change would benefit them (02:37): "Commercial aviation is 100 years old this year, and sometimes it feels the processes and technology [are] as old.... We try to have a consultative process with the decision-making units of these airlines. There's often lots of people involved in the buying cycle. There will be the operations people, the commercial people, procurement, IT—everyone. And the buying cycle can be anywhere from 6-8 months, which would be a short period, to several years, which would be pretty normal with a buyer like that.
"There is a lot of turnover with these teams. People come, people go, and we try to maintain a relationship and a connection always with that underlying need. We try to create a change in the way that they've always been doing things, and we try to emphasize the benefit at the end of that change. So, we have to put in very tangible terms, what a change would translate to in terms of speed, flexibility, cost-effectiveness, all of that, and we have to make it relevant to each of those stakeholders that are involved."
Form partnerships with existing vendors to help you research and penetrate your target market (06:09): "Now we have a cloud-based product line called Evinta, but when we entered the market, we had to build lots of partnerships with companies that were already in that space. Many of them were IT companies that were created out of airline consortia and those airlines and airports would buy only from those IT companies. So...we began as a tier 2 company, and we'd take small projects that they were willing to outsource. Slowly, we built our connections in the industry. You have to take a very long-term view when you're working in this space. We moved up the value chain, and we saw areas that definitely could benefit from what we could bring to the table. Evinta was a line of products born from that understanding of where the gaps were."
Even B2B companies in highly technical industries can benefit from using social media (23:43): "We don't really look for a target of Likes on Facebook and things like that because, at the end of the day, our metrics come down to the prospects and the kind of business volume we are looking at. But for the social channels, we look at things like the database of prospects we could have or the database of interested parties we would have, and we look at that for SEO—bringing visibility of the brand up on the Internet—and we also look at gathering interested leads or email leads, where we can send out email campaigns and newsletters. [Social media] would create that opt-in list for us."
Uthpala and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.
Uthpala Kumara, head of sales—aviation solutions, at JKCS, a software engineering company with domain expertise in aviation and hospitality industries.