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How B2B and B2C Marketing Are Different

January 20, 2011 

My fourth book, Social Marketing to the Business Customer, came out this week. While the purpose of this e-mail 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 to 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.

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 MarketingSherpa 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 buying decisions 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 each year 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 on our Facebook page. If you’re a B2B marketer, this book is for you. Let us know if we hit the mark.

How to Rescue a Floundering Social Campaign

Back at the beginning of the year I predicted that in 2011 we would hear a lot of social media failure stories. That’s because people have taken the dive into using the tools without really knowing why. I’ve recently been contacted by some companies that are struggling with social campaigns that appear to have all the right elements, but are failing to generate much response. Here’s a quick rundown of five actions you can take to turn around that situation.

Tip of the Week: Quora

Chances are you’ve recently heard about a new service called Quora, which was founded by some former Facebook executives and introduced last summer. It’s now the hottest phenomenon to hit the Internet since Twitter, and with good reason. Quora has the potential to become a significant new social network. I recommend you check it out.

Quora is built upon a question-and-answer model, not unlike Yahoo Answers or LinkedIn Answers, but it also includes a bunch of other social innovations like following, favoriting, profiles and invitations. There are elements of Wikipedia in there, as well as real-time collaboration features like those found in Google Wave (which was recently handed over to the open source community, BTW). There’s also excellent back-end integration with Facebook and Twitter. In short, Quora is a mashup of Web 2.0 technologies, but they’ve been combined in some very clever ways. Try using it the next time you have a question that isn’t easily answered by a search engine. You may find that humans have already done the work.

Just for Fun: Hilarious Print Ads

A lot of people are declaring print publishing to be dead, but you still can’t beat a printed advertisement for telling a story in a single image. The folks at online design and development magazine SpyreStudios have assembled a collection of 30 of the most hilarious print ads ever created, like the one for Dynakids Vitamins below. Innovation like this requires subtlety, humor and the willingness to risk being just a tad offensive. All of these examples are winners in my book.

Comments

One Comment on "How B2B and B2C Marketing Are Different"

  1. Gayathri on Thu, 17th Mar 2011 11:36 am 

    Great article. I really enjoyed your presentation as well at our company. I was wondering if there was anyway we could quantify how much a company is spending on social media based on their activity?
    Would you have any insights on that?

    Gayathri