Historically, marketers have defined two distinct environments where the craft of defining, informing, influencing, and converting potential consumers into customers. The most familiar field of endeavor is business-to-consumer (B2C), where a seller is directly involved in marketing a product or service to a household or an individual. Business-to-business (B2B) refers to the marketplace where a business sells exclusively to another business and where the core product is combined or utilized to market another product or service to an end user. Many aspects of the marketing processes are similar.
Both environments require the seller to discover or create demand, communicate the value for the product, service, or idea, engage a buyer, and convert a prospective buyer into a customer through a message that builds trust and loyalty for the brand. Even when the efforts appear to be fundamentally similar, the two contexts require varied marketing strategies, tactics, and approaches.
B2C often approaches consumers from an emotional direction in order to provide a solution to the consumers’ problems. Features and benefits are important, but today’s individual consumers tend to favor developing personalized engagements with brands through two-way conversations. The B2B approach generally focuses more on highlighting features, benefits, and technical aspects of the offerings. Business customers often demand basic information up-front in the discovery period, and marketers most often need to identify and approach multiple buying influencers over a longer period of time in order to close a sale.
“In B2B product marketing you have to understand the decision-making process with multiple stakeholders involved,” says Karen Gardner, CMO. “Some of these stakeholders will directly use or interact with the product or service, some will realize direct impacts/benefits from the product or service, and some will be focused only on the higher-level value to the organization. All of these stakeholders will have varying levels of influence and power in the decision so connecting these dots is important for product positioning, features, and outreach.
Vendor salespeople have routinely dominated the B2B marketing space for decades, but recent surveys are revealing that a declining 25 percent of B2B buyers reported consulting a vendor sales representative before making a purchase. As the workforce continues to transition to new generations of business buyers, the influence of digital marketing strategies on these emerging generations is reshaping many aspects of the traditional B2B marketing arena.
Millennials and Gen Zers have grown up with social media, search engines, and review sites and experiences have made them digital fans who avoid intervening sales representatives. The emerging preference is to research and conduct the buying journey anonymously. Vinay Bhagat, Founder and CEO of TrustRadius says, “Across generations, buyers prefer a self-serve experience. They’re seeking out information on their own and finding out as much as possible about available products before making a final decision.”
The B2B marketplace is gravitating towards many digital tactics typically found in the B2C arena. According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey, “more than 80 percent of adult shoppers and business purchasers alike ranked website useability as a high priority for their online shopping experience and more than 60 percent of business purchasers want access to a live customer service representative through the website.” Trends in B2B marketing are about leveraging digital, brand, and content effectively to reach clients with the power to act, driving engagement with those audiences and building trust.
Regardless of the differing challenges, both marketing approaches appear to be moving towards a more self-serving environment, one where a personalized, customer-centric philosophy prevails. In the end, customers are motivated by a seamless, customer-first experience regardless of whether it is B2C or B2B journey.