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Employer branding is notoriously hard for B2B startups — but it’s not impossible

Here are three ways B2B startups can build their brand with potential job candidates

The Ultimate team
Izzy Burman

By Izzy Burman

Employer branding is notoriously hard for B2B startups — in other words, businesses selling to other businesses. Potential applicants may have already heard of a consumer startup, and maybe even used the product. But it’s unlikely that candidates will be familiar with the latest enterprise software. 

That being said, the cliche “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” applies here: there are lots of creative ways B2B companies can get employer branding (EB) right if they really want to.  

Let’s cut to the chase: why is EB a big(ger) deal for B2B companies?

I think about employer branding as the marketing of your employees’ experiences. It showcases both who you are and who you are not. 

In the case of B2B businesses, people generally don’t stumble across your profile when they’re going about their daily business. And most B2B startups spend their time building brand awareness with potential customers, not talent. 

What’s the first step in overcoming this? Acceptance. As a B2B company, you must accept that the potential hires you’re trying to reach have most likely never even heard of your brand, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. You’re unlikely to advertise on the subway or the bus (unless it’s San Francisco where SaaS companies pay for prime billboard real estate).

“As a B2B company, you must accept that the potential hires you’re trying to reach have most likely never even heard of your brand”

People out there looking for their next employer will not magically come across you unless you make a conscious effort, and focus on quality and tailored interactions. They will not find you — you must find them. 

Be people-centric

Employer branding starts with your employees; happy and engaged employees create a strong employer brand. If you have a good reputation as an employer, you can attract more engaged candidates and make better hires.

The less familiar candidates are with your brand — that old B2B dilemma — the more they are going to spend time researching you during the interview process. They’ll read Glassdoor. They’ll look at LinkedIn posts by current employees. Those testimonies will convince those engaged candidates, who will in turn become brand ambassadors when they join. 

REALLY present your culture

We’re not talking about the odd “Happy International Women’s Day” LinkedIn post or a couple of testimonials from the team. Careful strategising and planning exactly how you want to present your company culture to the world matters. Since potential candidates are unlikely to have any perceived ideas about your brand, it’s important to present yourself with clarity. Define who you are and who you are not; talk extensively about your vision and values; give factual, dedicated examples of what your unique selling propositions as an employer are. 

For instance, we love telling the story of how Ultimate was born at a hackathon in Helsinki where our CEO, Reetu Kainulainen, saw the support staff at the event struggling to manage requests, and came up with the idea of a virtual agent that would make the jobs of these people easier.

When we talk about inclusion in the workplace, we make sure to mention that 40% of our team is made up of people who identify as female. We proactively share these stories and values with potential candidates to show them that we’re trying to solve real-world problems and that we don’t treat diversity as a buzzword, for instance.

“Having a tangible asset to show to potential employees when they ask ‘What’s your company culture like?’ shows that you actually take employer branding seriously”

And we put all of this down on (virtual) paper. Investing the time and energy into creating a culture handbook goes a long way. Content is still king, and having a tangible asset to show to potential employees when they ask ‘What’s your company culture like?’ shows that you actually take employer branding seriously.

Consistency over quantity

There’s nothing worse than bursts of intense initiatives followed by periods of silence. Choose your battles wisely, as they say. Deciding on a few key channels and content platforms that work for you, and ensuring consistent and regular comms helps build credibility and an audience base.

Our take on this is to have a dedicated LinkedIn channel that covers all things related to the culture and everyday life at the company. We have a regular cadence of updates that shows what our people are up to from time to time. 

Some companies that are doing their EB right

Luckily, B2B teams have lots of examples of how to do employer branding right. One great example is customer relationship software giant Hubspot

More of a household name than most B2Bs, this 7,000+ person company has really doubled down on codifying its culture. Their HubSpot Culture Code does the job and does it right: 128 brilliant slides that get straight to the point and demonstrate that Hubspot takes culture seriously. 

In Europe, Personio is an example to follow. It’s no surprise that an HR company puts so much emphasis on showcasing its culture. Their comprehensive blog focuses on employee voices and lets their experiences shine. The Personio Foundation website — detailing the company’s charitable efforts and how they align with its business goals — is a beautiful example of how this employer lives and breathes its values. 

The final word

Employer branding for B2B companies requires a creative and flexible approach. My advice: you can’t fail, only learn. So, treat everything as a Version 1 and know many other versions and iterations will come afterwards. Put your content out there and let the engagement and response from your audience dictate the direction your strategy takes. 

Izzy Burman is head of talent at Ultimate. 

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