Four key differences between B2B and B2C Marketing … and a few similarities

If you’re in the business-to-business sector, it can be confusing to read about modern marketing and try to figure out which tips and insights apply to your organization. After all, the latest thought leadership articles are often geared toward ways to maximize revenue from consumer sales. You’re right to be leery of jumping on the latest fad for marketing without understanding whether it really fits your business model. In fact, B2B and B2C marketing are different in a number of fundamental ways. Failing to take this into account can leave you chasing your tail and overspending with little to show for your investment. Here are a few key areas where selling into the B2B market is unique.

#1 Highly targeted buyer profiles are ESSENTIAL

In B2C, the goal of marketing is typically to reach the masses—or at least a subset of the masses. But your B2B market is usually much smaller. It’s a segment with longer sales cycles, a larger relative spend per customer, and a bigger payoff over the lifetime of each client relationship. This means there is a lot at stake.

While practices like split testing are great for fine tuning, the more time you spend up front developing your buyer personas, the greater your chances of making a good first, second, and third impression on your target market. With a restricted pool of prospects, you don’t want to run the risk of alienating buyers before you even get a foot in the door. Remember that corporate buyers are even more likely than the average consumer to research a product in great detail before initiating any contact with your organization. This means you need to know as much as possible about:

  • Who your buyers are
  • Their challenges, preconceived notions, fears, and desires
  • Where they are looking for information online
  • The experience they are having on your website vs. your competitors’ websites
  • What review sites and content authors they trust
  • Their typical experience with products/services like yours in the past
  • Where they will be in their buyer journey when they are most likely to encounter a specific piece of your marketing content or collateral

#2 Multiple decision makers are involved

In the B2C space, you might have to convince a husband and wife to agree on a purchase for a big ticket item. But usually, you can rely on brand recognition, frequent touches, and plenty of impulsiveness to shepherd consumers toward a buying decision. In the B2B space, purchases are often scrutinized with care by multiple parties. This means you don’t have just one buyer persona to deal with, but several. And each has its own concerns. For example, an engineer doing the initial research on a manufacturing solution has a different set of priorities than the purchasing director or the COO. You may have to craft unique marketing materials for each decision maker depending on the stage in the sales process. You also need to identify the core message that will stay the same throughout—to avoid confusion and ensure that your brand remains cohesive.

#3 Channels and Tools for Marketing Must Be Specialized

TV commercials, radio, billboards are all great ways to reach large amounts of consumers and popular communication tools for B2C brands. B2B companies have to find other channels to reach their smaller, professional audience without wasting a lot of budget.

Most B2B companies already know that LinkedIn is a better bet than popular B2C channels like Facebook when it comes to reaching a highly targeted audience of business decision-makers. Email marketing can also be highly effective and video is an area where B2B really needs to catch up with B2C marketing since business users are becoming accustomed to this medium. In fact, 73% of B2B companies are using video as a marketing tactic, so it will pay not to be behind the curve.(2) Trade shows remain relevant in the B2B space and some companies are doing well using Google+ to boost content visibility and even leveraging Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram for brand awareness.

The tools that B2B companies use may also be different than those that are popular in the B2C space. For example, while a CRM or marketing automation system for a B2C company must be highly scalable, the solution for a B2B company should focus on CRM integration, depth and accuracy of engagement. B2B companies would do well to seek out tools that support activities like channel integration and account based marketing (ABM), both of which can help strengthen brands and finely target key customers.

#4 Taking a consultative vs. purely emotional approach

While branding still plays an important role to influence the subconscious, your buyers are also highly knowledgeable and savvy in their space, and they are looking for information. In developing buyer personas, you’ve identified the things about your brand that buyers identify with and that help establish rapport. But you also have to back up your marketing with facts and hard deliverables. These are the tools that buyers use to reinforce their impression about your brand and to justify their decision to buy—both in their own mind and with other stakeholders.

Your advertising to move buyers from unaware to aware can be attention grabbing and exciting. But your marketing throughout most of the funnel needs to strike a balance between branding and providing useful information in an accessible format - guide rather than push your buyers toward the desired conclusion. The more you can hone in on the types of questions your buyers are asking and the challenges they are facing, the better job you can do with developing relevant content.

White papers, case studies and videos are all great tools for consultation-style marketing. White papers should be filled with information that prospects can use regardless of whether or not they decide to purchase from your organization. Case studies should focus on showing prospective clients what is possible in terms of problem-solving so they can easily visualize similar results for their company. The point is to have buyers feel they are making an intelligent choice and for them to actually be well informed.

But B2C and B2B also have important similarities

For all their differences, there are also many features and best practices that are shared across all markets. When you are attempting to cater to a B2B demographic, don’t overlook these key ways that B2C and B2B are similar:

  • We are talking to the same people: While TGI Fridays may be talking to our buyer on his way back from work while we reach out to her during her work hours, we are both talking to the same human being. A mom, grandfather, friend. A person used to the purchasing experience on Amazon or at McDonald's. So it is not only our competition that sets the bar for what a great website, great service, an engaging brand experience looks like – we are, at least subconsciously, competing with B2C companies already, so we better follow suit on the experiences they offer.
  • Multi-channel Marketing: Although your blend of platforms will be tighter in the B2B space, you can’t afford to rely on just one or two channels. Remember that it takes at least 7 touches to generate a qualified lead(3). This means you need to be able to reach your customers—and be reached in return—through multiple channels consistently. This is an area where savvy B2C companies that deal with hundreds of thousands of customers have learned to excel. Take a lesson from this obsession with high-availability and connection to give your customers what they want before they ask.
  •  Sense of Personal Connection: It doesn’t matter if you are selling the most technical, mission critical product or service imaginable in deals involving multiple decision makers and millions of dollars. In the end, you are still interacting with human beings. They want to be listened to. They want to be emotionally moved. They even want to be surprised and entertained. Above all, they want to feel good about their purchasing decision. The culture of service you create should vie with the best B2C companies in creating a brand that people can know, like, and trust.

For more advice on how to hone your B2B marketing, reach out to us. We'd love to talk!


(1) Pew Research Center, 2015



Linda Tietje