StructuredWeb’s Nissan: We’re Just Starting to See the Complexity Curve Going Up

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StructuredWeb is a channel marketing platform primarily serving large manufacturers and software companies, helping them sell locally. Prior to founding StructuredWeb in 1999, president and CEO Daniel Nissan worked at two companies — VocalTec and NetGrocer — that were at the forefront of bringing now-fundamental technologies to the local space. Nissan spoke with Street Fight about what makes local B2B marketing distinct.

What are some of the defining characteristics of B2B marketing right now, and how do they differ from B2C?
The major and most dramatic difference is in the nature of the buying cycle. The consumer space is more promotion-driven — you bring people into the store and have a transaction that typically happens very quickly. In B2B, it depends on both the product and the value of the transaction. If it’s a transaction for $5,000, that’s quite different than a transaction for $300,000 or $3 million. Channel partners, when you sell through resellers in the B2B space, face these types of situations a lot. The sales cycle for our customers, from a lead to a close, can take anywhere from six months to three years.

StructuredWeb president and CEO Daniel Nissan
StructuredWeb president and CEO Daniel Nissan

A second difference is the size of the market. When you deal with B2C, you have a very large audience that you target, and you go through more massive advertising, including supporting local marketing with national campaigns. In the B2B space, this doesn’t happen often. You have it with big brands, but most B2B products don’t have national campaigns, and when they do local, they have to be very precise and very targeted. Their target audience is relatively small when you compare it to the consumer market. There’s a level of precision that you need to have in the B2B space, because otherwise you can spend a lot of money without seeing any results.

To find the right audience; to build a marketing journey that follows the whole cycle of the awareness, consideration, and buying decisions; to be there in front of a buyer for sometimes six months, a year, two years; and develop what we call account-based marketing — to execute against all of that brings a degree of complexity to B2B that doesn’t happen at all in B2C space. When you deal with consumers, it’s probably one person, maybe two, but in B2B it could be a committee of five or forty people.

Businesses are putting a lot of effort into tailoring their communications with consumers for social media. Where does social outreach fit within B2B?
We divide it into two things: social media [sharing] and advertising on social networks. We find that some people confuse the two. The second one is more leveraging the fact that social media drives so much viewer time, so it’s a great place for paid advertising. For content sharing, we find that Twitter and LinkedIn are very effective. Facebook is extremely effective when it comes to social advertising.

We actually leverage more tools in the advertising space when dealing with B2B. It could be anything — traditional email campaigns, display campaigns, Google search campaigns. Retargeting is very important in B2B, because the nature of the buying cycle is long-term. We also incorporate the offline stuff that is a critical part of the buying cycle. Our customers use events, direct mail, and telemarketing to complete the touchpoints and communicate and influence the B2B decision-maker.

Do you think B2B can learn from B2C and vice versa?
B2C is larger in scale, in the number of resellers, media spend, and overall, so there definitely is. I would encourage people in the B2C space to go to B2B events and conferences, although there aren’t nearly as many of those as there for the consumer space.

You’ve been involved with companies that were ahead of the curve in so many areas that are now key to local. What do you think lies ahead for B2B specifically and local more generally?
What we’re seeing now in marketing and local, in both B2B and B2C, is just the beginning of a huge opportunity for companies. We’re just starting to see the complexity curve going up — the ability to apply very sophisticated technologies to precisely target. We’re getting to this phase of one-to-one marketing, and the reason that represents a huge opportunity is because I don’t think most companies will be able to keep up with the pace of innovation in-house. I believe that marketing will eventually go back to where it once was, with agencies, but those agencies will be different. There will be creative agencies and marketing technology companies, like StructuredWeb and others in the space.

That was the reason I started StructuredWeb. Think about what’s happened in the market since I founded the company in 1999, and the level of complexity today. But people are the same. When you deal with specific brands and local resellers, they’re not experts in marketing. They never chose to do [marketing]; it’s not their profession, otherwise they would be working in our industry. But we’re getting to military-grade intelligence. We try to pinpoint and find an individual somewhere, with all the chatter and data around, and to mobilize the right messages. You need a very sophisticated organization to do that, and do it at scale, with efficiency, for results.

Annie Melton is Street Fight’s news editor.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.