There has been a massive shift in marketing over the last decade, due in large part to technology. This technology has changed consumer behavior across industries, geography, and income levels. While the shift has affected B2B and B2C businesses in much the same way, there still remains some key differences between B2B and B2C marketing strategy that CEO's and stakeholders need to be aware of.
While there are always exceptions, here are four key differences:
- Buying decision: Single vs. Many
- Seller's core strategy: Branding vs. Education
- Buyer's purpose: Shape perception vs. Find solution
- Sales cycle: Short vs. Long
Buying Decision: Single vs. Many
In a typical B2C marketing strategy and transaction, the company with a product or service to sell is speaking directly to the consumer. Most consumer products have particular, homogeneous target markets where a singular marketing message works and a focused brand strategy can be successful. In the B2B world, oftentimes there are multiple parties who must be involved in the buying process. There might be a lower level entry point, such as a buyer or mid-level management person, but they need to involve their management, a CFO, or even the CEO in a major purchase. This requires a multi-faceted approach with content targeted to each of the questions or 'pain-points' those different levels will undoubtedly have. Most B2B products or services appeal to different personas for different reasons. So the B2B marketing strategy must be multi-faceted and appeal to many different decision-makers.
Seller's Core Strategy: Branding vs. Education
Seller's in the B2C realm want to build consumer loyalty and engagement, and make people feel positively about the brand. Branding and brand positioning are the primary goals. A B2B marketer's primary goals, however, are education and lead generation awareness. They need to find their target customers and focus their content, collateral, messaging, and other tactics on simply educating those personas about the way their product or services are used by professionals in their field. This could include case studies or testimonials that allow those personas to relate to a particular problem or buyer in their shoes. Either way, B2B marketers are much more focused on attracting leads and educating them about why their product or service is worth learning more about.
Buyer's Purpose: Shape Perception vs. Find Solution
Why do consumers buy certain clothes, drive certain cars, eat at particular restaurants, and drink certain brands of coffee or beer? It makes them feel good and it helps shape their perception or other's perception of them. Buyer's in the B2C world, or consumers, rarely buy particular items out of need. They buy to improve their lifestyle or fulfill a 'want'. Function and performance are important, but oftentimes so is the brand due to a perception of quality, reliability, or status. B2B buyer's are most often engaging in they buying process to find a solution to a particular problem. Profitability is their primary goal, so decisions are shaped by need and pure return on investment (ROI). While there might be elements of ROI that are subjective, most decisions are made based on analysis of research, facts and what product or service is the best solution to the company's problem.
Sales Cycle: Short vs. Long
We are all consumers on a personal level. The vast majority of personal buying decisions we make are quick (1 day or less) - groceries, clothing, gas, school or work supplies. For the bigger decisions such as furniture, electronics or appliances, we might do a little research and make it within a week. For cars or homes, the buying cycle is longer, however the reason for the added length is not usually the decision-making process - it is typically finances. In the B2B sales cycle, with multiple people at multiple levels deciding, that element alone is enough to add time. The need for both parties to get up to speed on each other's business and determine whether they might make good partners adds weeks and sometimes months to the process. B2B purchases often involve contracts or service agreements that are multi-year commitments. That may introduce legal department review to the process. There is often a negotiation period in the cycle, which may add new parties. With each step, there needs to be attention given to the tactical marketing strategy most appropriate for that step - who? what collateral? what form should it take? what is the key message? Even the final stage - the presentation of the contract or service agreement - is a step in the marketing process.
Just because some of the best companies on the planet employ certain tactics, doesn't mean they will work for your company. Mid-size B2B companies simple cannot throw the money and resources that Fortune 500 firms do to launch and maintain product lines. B2B marketing strategy requires a much greater focus on identifying personas, setting smart goals, creating educational content, attracting prospects, nurturing leads, and building partnerships.
For an introduction to the kind of B2B marketing strategy that follows this approach, download our eBook, 'What is Inbound Marketing?'
In this download, you'll gain valuable insight into the basics of Inbound Marketing such as:
- 5 stages of buyers in the inbound process
- 4 reasons why the 'old' marketing playbook is broken
- the elements of inbound marketing