Sep 2016

Back to school – what B2B marketers can learn from retailers

Written by Paul Maher

Back to school – what B2B marketers can learn from retailers

Napoleon once described Britain as ‘A nation of shopkeepers’. Recent media scandals though have depicted British retailers as feisty business folk who are at war with regulators, pensioners, the media and even Her Majesty’s Government.
Maybe the diminutive French general was right. Online retailers in the UK are on a tear. Success stories like Ocado, Asos and The Hut, show they know how to create next-generation online shopping experiences. We Brits are fast learners too. The UK’s recent scrappy adoption of Black Friday, saw retail sales reach a ten year high and the post-Brexit fallout has seen another spike in retail sales.

Retailing and technology are intimately linked in B2B as well as B2C. Whether selling new PCs to university freshers on the consumer side, or selling new servers and additional web services to retailers, the show must go on. The cost of downtime can be millions. So retailers need to  avoid surges in buyer interest descending into embarrassing outages.
Where next? Could e-commerce continue to break records? Perhaps we should turn to our US cousins for inspiration. Their ‘Back to School promotions have provided another vital, non-year end spike in sales just like Black Friday and Cyber Monday do, this one perhaps a little more traditional.

Tech companies like Apple have been exploiting this sales spike to their advantage for decades, offering smart discounts on new devices and hoping to use the age-old theory of ‘get them while they are young’ to create customers for life. Actually in Apple’s case this may be critical as it tries to bridge the ever-more-clear gap in their innovation funnel.
There is a tendency by some in the UK to dismiss global consumer retail trends as nasty foreign invasions of our culture. While this has some resonance to it, Back to School, perhaps more than others, is event-driven marketing at its best and could really hold lessons for B2B marketing professionals.


  • Focus on real-life customer behaviours – Back to School presents a clear buying signal for online sales because it comes at the end of real – world holiday seasons.
  • Always be prepared for spikes in web traffic – cloudbursting for ad hoc availability increases makes this more feasible than ever.
  • Great marketing pros look for the ‘next bounce of the ball’ – kids back to school also means back to work for adults – more time to focus on work, changing commuting patterns, perhaps an appetite to focus on career and learn new skills.

Finally,  as many in the B2B market know, traditionally the last quarter of the year can bring a thawing of once frozen project budgets. A real tonic for Seasonally Affected sales execs.

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