B2B vs B2C Marketing

Within B2B, it can be tempting to rely on relationships, networking and socialising. Face to Face has an important part to play in forging new relationships, and it’s relatively low cost and effort. Via this route you may also land a major deal that is transformational.

But how far will that approach carry your business? Will it get you from the top rung of one ladder, and onto the bottom rung of the next?

To really push to the next level, an approach is required that will reach into new markets, developing an awareness of your brand and product/ service. This is where Marketing steps in.

B2B vs B2C Marketing

B2B and B2C marketing have a number of similarities, but the differences are far more. Just what are the differences, and how should you work to best effect to deliver B2B leads?

Although the principles of Marketing (including Advertising) and PR are common across audiences to some degree, there are numerous differences that dictate a different approach and mind-set. Attempting to apply B2C direct marketing principles to a B2B audience could result in real or perceived failure and withdrawal of further funding.

The differences

What are the primary differences, and just how should they be approached?

Complexity

B2B decisions can have a profound impact on the success and security of a business, and as such take into account myriad factors such as risk, cost, timescales, benefit, legal and regulatory to name a few. B2B marketing should acknowledge these complexities and your experience in working with businesses while they navigate these issues.

Duration

In B2C the decision-making cycle is generally quite short, though there are exceptions to this such as researching and booking holidays, cars, pensions and houses to name a few.

B2B decision-making cycles can run to months and years, from an initial contact being made, to income being recognised. Complex insurance purchases, premises, supplier appointment, and equipment can all be protracted.

The approach and mind-set adopted to B2B marketing has to recognise this, and B2B campaigns will necessarily be much more protracted than their B2C cousins.

Emotion

B2C transactions are often heavily influenced by emotion and are frequently satisfying a want more than a need. B2B transactions are governed more by objectivity (risk, protection, cost, security, growth, legal, regulatory etc). That said, marketing campaigns to a business audience need not be dusty dry, and acknowledging the humanity of the audience is important in order to secure engagement.

Sloth hanging in a tree

Familiarity

Individuals or departments involved in buying decisions for corporates should be experienced in the evaluation and negotiation of products and services. Unless you are taking something new or revolutionary to market, your job is to convey the point of differentiation that your product/ service has – less so what your product does.

Hierarchy

In B2C scenarios, as the marketer you are generally communicating with one person, though in a range of cases a partner/ spouse may well have a say in matters. With B2B, it is not uncommon to have layers of people with whom you are communicating including a PA/ Secretary, Purchaser, Influencer, Legal and Compliance, and Board/ Decision Maker.

You need integrated marketing and business development collateral that is deployed through throughout the marketing, business development and sales cycle. Your materials need to support your audience in persuading their peers/ seniors that yoursolution can solve their issue(s).

Scale

B2C markets are, generally speaking, large and are suited to advertising and mass marketing techniques. B2B markets can number a few hundred to a few thousand, and the media and channels adopted will reflect this. In broad terms:

B2B

PR, Press, Direct Mail, Sponsorship, Email, Telephone, Events/ Experiential, Outdoor, with digital playing a somewhat secondary role

B2C

TV, Radio, PPC, SEO, Display, Affiliates, Email, Social, Press

N.B. Every campaign and audience will require it’s own approach, proposition and media/ channel mix. Every media and channel can be used for both audiences.

Value & Funding

The value of purchases will vary greatly between B2B and B2C, and with it the options for funding, and the approvals that are associated with this. The strength of, and trust in, your brand will play a significant part in decision-making.

This is frequently found in the “Big enough to cope, small enough to care” sentiment.

You will need to demonstrate an entirely different set of qualities to win big deals, and your sales/ business development team will need collateral with sufficient gravitas.

Measurement

As we’ve looked at, the lead-time from an initial contact to income being booked can be months or years. It’s more than likely that it will also involve a number of teams and/ or people along the way.

In order to demonstrate that the value of the marketing activity was worthwhile, you will need systems in place that capture the original source of the contact, and that this is carried all the way through your business development pipeline, and then into sales.

Whatever pipeline and/ or CRM system you use for tracking your business, you need to ensure that it is capable of recording a source of business, and as importantly, that this is maintained from end to end.

A middle ground

There is a 3rdgroup/ audience, being vSMEs and SMEs.

The business related needs of a freelance marketing contractor or self-employed plumber will differ from a retail consumer, in terms of what they need for their business. The decision-making process, and much of the engagement process, will align itself with B2C.

Where a SME has one decision-maker (or it includes a business partner), a subtly adjusted B2C approach may be applicable, but this has to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

In identifying the approach to be adopted factors such as target turnover, workforce, geography and staff numbers all play a part, as do the product/ service being sold and its cost.

Conclusion

There are no hard and fast rules on how to engage with B2B versus B2 – it cannot be silo’d. You will encounter TV adverts for CISCO, IBM and other major businesses, and you’ll equally find them for Sainsbury’s, TESCO or Morrisons.

It’s all down to understanding where and when you can find and engage with your audience. Numerous tools exist for aiding this understanding, but common-sense and empirical data from tests carries as much weight.