The B2B Difference
Why are B2B companies different and why do they justify a social media book just for them? For one thing, B2B marketers quietly spend about $80 billion per year. For another, they are far more entrenched in social channels than they are given credit for. Business.com reported in late 2009 that 81% of B2B companies maintain company-related accounts or profiles on social media sites versus 67% of B2C companies. The same study also found that three out of four B2B companies have a presence on Twitter compared to half of B2C companies.
There are big differences between selling to organizations and selling to individuals. Let’s look at a few:
B2B marketing is much more likely to focus on value than experience. This distinction isn’t absolute, of course; makers of automobiles and dishwashing detergent also figure value into the equation. But in nearly all B2B decisions, value is the driving force. Value can be expressed in many ways, including price/performance, the fit with the customer’s business objective, flexibility and compatibility with existing systems. The point is that the “Wow!” factor that is so important to many consumer buying decisions rarely means much in business engagements. In fact, flash obfuscates the clarity that business buyers need.
B2B buying decisions are made by groups, whereas consumer buying decisions are made by individuals or families. This has huge implications for marketing. B2B marketing programs must influence multiple people at multiple stages of the buying process and each of those individuals has different priorities. The CFO, for example, is focused on return while the product manager may be thinking more about user experience or lead generation.
For this and other reasons, business buying cycles are longer than consumer buying cycles. This is primarily because more dollars are at stake and more people are involved in the decision The choice of packaging machine ry for a manufacturing plant, for example, impacts that company’s ability to deliver its product to the marketplace, which in turn affects its sales and stock value is. With so much at stake, decisions often involve many rounds of meetings and may take a year or more to conclude.
Business buying decisions are more likely to be a commitment than consumer buying decisions. Products like enterprise e-mail systems or aircraft engines will live with the customer for a very long time. Issues such as the viability of the manufacturer, its quality of support and its future product roadmaps have significant influence on these decisions. Once the sale is made, buyer and seller are bound together in an ongoing dialogue. Businesses do business with those that they trust.
Relationships play a more important role in B2B than in B2C decisions. In some cases, business buyers bet their careers on the choices they make. They need to feel confident that their supplier will validate the soundness of their judgment. Smart B2B marketers realize that their job is as much about ensuring the success of the buyer as it is about selling the product.
Service and support are essential decision factors. Business customers won’t wait 20 minutes on hold to speak to a support technician, particularly if their assembly line is down. They expect their problems to be solved when they need them solved.
B2B sales have lots of moving parts. At the high-end in particular, contracts are often custom bid and may include bundled services, special discounts and detailed price schedules.. This process involves extensive communication between the parties and direct contact between different departments of both organizations.
Channel relationships are complicating factors in the marketing equation. B2B marketers constantly struggle to strike a balance between selling to channel partners such as resellers and distributors and selling directly to customers. Channel partners ultimately sign the check for many B2B transactions and see themselves as owning the relationship with the customer. However, customer pull is a significant influence on sales, regardless of the channel. This is a perpetual quandary for many B2B companies, which must market to both constituencies without muddling the message or creating conflict.
Social media are well suited to addressing many of the unique issues noted above. They’re particularly effective at connecting customers with the people behind the products they buy. This barely matters in consumer markets, but in high dollar transactions that may affect the fate of the buying company, the ability to communicate directly with designers, engineers and support personnel can significantly improve buyer comfort. This is why we recommend that B2B companies that undertake social initiatives apply them broadly across the organization. The more you open up your company, the credibility and trust you earn from your prospects and customers.