Marketing to businesses is a different challenge than consumers. If that’s what your company does, you need to understand how business to business (B2B) marketing works.
Business to consumer (B2C) and business to business are similar, especially in digital marketing, but there are five key differences you need to understand to succeed.
One vs. Many
When you do B2C marketing, your business is reaching out to the decision-maker, the “consumer” of your product or service. It’s a simple relationship — you’re only talking to one person.
For example: I buy shirts from Land’s End because they have good tall sizes. I bought a flannel shirt last year because I got a clearance sale email. I clicked, saw the shirt, and bought it. It was a simple process from start to finish: company reaches out to individual, individual takes action.
B2B is a little different. When you market to a business, you aren’t usually talking to one person or a single decision-maker. The buying decision comes from multiple decision-makers. It may be made by a committee. Different departments may even have to weigh in.
I did print buying in a previous job — our company printed a thousand-page catalog and multiple small fliers per year, and there were only three companies in the USA that could do what we needed. And though I was the “point of contact,” when we changed print suppliers, I had to bring in several other people, including my boss and the president of the company. It took a long time, and it wasn’t just me making the decision.
The “C” of B2C is usually one person. The “B” of B2B is usually many people.
Want vs. Need
B2B and B2C have different motivations for a purchase.
B2C is driven by “want” or emotion. I bought the game Civilization VI the other day on Steam. I don’t need it, and it’s been several years since it first came out, but I got hit with a promotional email right when I’d been thinking about getting back into strategy games. There was an emotional appeal, a FOMO (sale) and a want. B2C buying decisions are emotional over rational. Even when a purchase is needed, the decision of which product, service or vendor to get is often more about “what do I like” than “which is most effective.”
B2B is usually motivated by need. Businesses have to make decisions based on what actually moves the business forward, or they won’t stick around very long. In that print buyer job, we had a need: catalog printing. We needed a mix of price, quality and service that would work for our company. It wasn’t a matter of wants. The rational factors outweighed the emotional.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use emotion in B2B marketing — but it can’t be the primary driver. That’s even more critical in tougher economic times. When businesses tighten their belts, “want” vs. “need” becomes very clear cut.
Remember, consumers want. Businesses need.
Low Risk vs. High Risk
In B2C marketing, consumers are usually just risking money or social pressure over their decision. At most, they might have to worry about what their friends and family might say.
When people make a B2B purchasing decision, it no longer affects just them — it affects the whole company. Making the right decision might mean a promotion; making a bad decision might mean being fired. This makes B2B purchasers more risk-averse. They do their homework to be sure they know what they’re doing before taking a “risky” action.
Short vs. Long User Journey
As a consequence of some of the factors we’ve already talked about, the user journey is usually shorter for consumers and longer for businesses.
Consumers can be convinced via emotional appeal and they don’t have as many people to consult when making a decision. The steps of the sales funnel are usually shorter, with “low involvement” (fact-finding, debate and consideration).
Businesses have a longer buyer’s journey. They don’t “fire from the hip.” Before a decision is made, they gather a great deal of information and consult multiple people — though B2C buying decisions may have high involvement (a car or a house, for example), B2B buying decisions almost always do. If you’re a B2B marketer, make sure your audience has enough detailed, convincing information to make an informed choice.
Hotjar’s 7-step B2B customer journey is a good way to visualize that extra work involved with B2B marketing:
- Awareness: customer becomes aware of the need and starts searching for a solution.
- Consideration: customer begins to consider your product as a solution.
- Decision: customer purchases the product or service that best fits their needs.
- Onboarding: customer gets familiar with and starts using the product or service.
- Support: users reach out as they need support.
- Retention: customer continually re-evaluates whether they want to keep using your product or service.
- Advocacy: customer appreciates your product or service so much they become an advocate.
Don’t be shocked as a B2B marketer if your user journey takes longer than B2C. Embrace it and stay with them every step of the way.
Different Social Media Channels
B2C marketers have a dizzying array of social channels to choose from; Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok are the most popular today, but depending on your niche you might see success with Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter … the list goes on.
For B2B, the primary social platform is LinkedIn, though Twitter, Facebook and smaller channels (for particular niches) are also effective.
What makes LinkedIn the default choice for B2B?
- Audience: there’s a self-selecting audience for LinkedIn. People join it for business purposes — to find jobs, have a living resume and see interesting content that will help them be successful. Other platforms have an audience that may engage in business, but it’s not the primary purpose of the platform.
- Intent: When someone logs into LinkedIn, they’re “on the clock” in a way they aren’t on other platforms. They’re there for business activities specifically.
Reaching a B2B Audience
If your business is B2B-focused, what do you need to do to succeed?
- Offer strong, fact-based, information-rich content. B2B audiences are careful. Their buying process is longer, they spend more time fact-finding and they have more to lose if they get it wrong. That means great content is even more critical than it is for B2C.
- Reach out over the channels prospects use professionally. Email is always important. For social media, LinkedIn is usually the play, though there are exceptions. Some industries may have industry-specific channels. ThomasNet for manufacturing and StackExchange for developers are good examples.
- Remember that you are talking to individuals — but individuals with a whole organization behind them. I saw Gary Vaynerchuk once recommend targeting an ad campaign at the level below the decision-makers in an organization so multiple people might mention the product to them. Think outside the box.
B2B marketing is different from B2C, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Keep these differentiators in mind and follow our basic tips to succeed as a B2B marketer. And if you need a hand, we’re here to help. Just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services