How B2B and B2C Marketing Are Different

My fourth book, Social Marketing to the Business CustomerSocial Marketing to the Business Customer came out this week. While the purpose of this post is ultimately to convince you to buy it, I hope to also impart some insight I gained from immersing myself in business-to-business social marketing for six months.

Co-author Eric Schwartzman and I wrote the book because we felt that B2B marketers were getting inadequate advice about how to apply social media constructs to their work. We’ve attended scores of conferences over the last few years and heard lots of wonderful stories about how to use everything from blogs to video games people play using servies like CSGO BOOSTING, to even sell blue jeans, potato chips and fine wine. Invariably, someone stands up and asks, “What does this mean to me as a B2B marketer?”

The response is usually something like, “Well, you can do this, too.” I used to take that answer at face value, but the more I thought about the unique characteristics of B2B buying decisions, the more it struck me as dodge. The fact is that much of what works in consumer markets would fail in B2B interactions. There are plenty of opportunities to apply social media tactics, but the context is different.

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As Eric and I began to dig into this topic, we put some thought into how B2B and B2C markets differ. We came up with six major areas of divergence, and we were surprised to realize how really different these two flavors of marketing are. Here are the six points we arrived at. I’m sure this list is not comprehensive, so leave a comment with your impressions.

1. Value-driven decision-making. Probably the most important distinction between business and consumer marketing is that nearly every buying decision a business makes is driven by the need to solve a problem, pursue an opportunity or make or company more efficient. There is no room for sex appeal, status, feeling good, tastes great or less filling. A lot of great consumer marketing campaigns sell at the gut level, but B2B buyers base their decisions upon facts and calculated value. If you don’t deliver that, you don’t get considered.

2. Group consensus. Most businesses are inherently conservative, and decision-makers seek validation from many sources, including analysts and their peers. Part of this is simple risk avoidance, but an equally important factor is that decisions made by a group are more likely to be supported by all of the members. The bigger the purchase, the more people are usually involved. Research by marketing Sherpa and TechWeb found that 41% of technology buying decisions involved 15 or more people in the process. These people typically come from many different areas of the organization, and each has different information needs.

3. “Bet the business” decisions. When Federal Express chooses a vendor of hybrid engines for 1,500 trucks or Ford installs a fleet of welding machines on its assembly lines, the decision has the potential to affect the company’s bottom line and its stock price. Even seemingly small decisions, like the choice of an e-mail marketing vendor, can have far-reaching implications if the supplier can’t deliver. Consumers almost never face issues of this magnitude.

4. Long-term relationships. Business executives buy companies as much as they do products. Most prefer to work with a small number of favored vendors who get a large share of their budget in exchange for high-quality service and “one throat to choke” accountability. Consumers make few choices that involve persistent relationships.

5. Knowledgeable buyers. B2B buyers don’t hesitate to bring experts into the decision-making process. These people may have years of in-depth technical experience, certifications and degrees. They want to talk to the people who build the products they are considering, ask detailed questions and gain confidence that the company is a worthy long-term partner. In contrast, consumers may study up for a bit before buying a car or refrigerator, but they rarely bring people with Ph.D.’s into the process.

6. Intense need for information. A B2B decision usually requires information from a lot of sources about a lot of topics. The CFO, head of manufacturing and CIO all have different questions, and all need to be satisfied. The business buyer’s appetite for information also doesn’t end with the sale (see item 4). Users of call routing or process management systems, for example, may spend days or weeks in continuing education classes or at conferences to keep up with new developments. There is virtually no parallel for this in consumer markets.

For these and other reasons it’s shortsighted to tell a B2B marketer to apply the tactics used to sell blue jeans to the task of selling aircraft engines or sales force automation software. The same tools can be applied – and we devote 250 pages to explaining how – but the tools that B2B marketers differ in some pretty basic ways from those liked by their B2C counterparts. We found some wonderful case studies, lots of innovative people and even some very clever campaigns.

So here’s the promotional message: Buy it! Read it! Post your review on Amazon or tell us what you think here or on our Facebook page. If you’re a B2B marketer, this book is for you. Let us know if we hit the mark.

10 thoughts on “How B2B and B2C Marketing Are Different

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  2. Paul, congrats and Interesting stuff.

    I would only add that the acronym B2B paints with a very broad brush. I would argue that your differences hold true at the enterprise level. However as you get into the lower end of the SMB segment of B2B you see more signs of consumer behavior rather than methodical B2B considered purchase behaviors. I know at one point SMB accounted for almost 50% of all IT expenditures, so it would be interesting to note at what point B2B diverges from consumer AND at what point B2B Enterprise diverges from B2B SMB in terms of the social marketing differences you list.

    Best,
    Frank

  3. Good point, Frank. Small B2B companies are more likely to make decisions like local consumer-focused businesses, although I would still note that value is a driving force in all decisions. That is a fundamental difference between a choice any business makes vs. a consumer.

  4. Great content, Paul. [Found you via my friend @russellcwalker] All true, and I think a microcosm of what you are saying is the way Twitter went from being used primarily for stream-of-conscious “I’m going to the store now” updates to its adoption by a whole new group of users: many of the companies, “tech” and otherwise, that all of us want to sell to.

    The link I’m providing below is not fresh news but contains some research & analysis indicating that companies are indeed doing business via social media http://bit.ly/9DzCTQ, and that has been my direct experience as well. Welcome your thoughts if you want to reach out via my site.

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  7. Not sure I totally agree with the differences outlined above. I explain more on my blog: http://bit.ly/h3BoY9. There is no doubt that there are differences but I think it’s a matter of degree rather than absolute or, put another way, the priorities may be different in B2C with these elements. But I do agree with your main point that the tools and tactics must be applied differently. Many of the tools used by marketers will work in both spaces but they must be used differently and the mix of tools will absolutely change. It’s all about understanding your audience in both B2B and B2C marketing. Looking forward to reading the book.

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