Often when I tell people that I focus largely on B2B (business to business) marketing I get a “What does that mean?”, and I’m glad people ask. It may partly be my fault for using marketing industry jargon, but it’s important to differentiate between marketing strategies targeted at consumers from those targeted at businesses, largely because the end result and the processes are often very different. However, the root reason for doing what we do is very much the same, whether we’re selling to consumers or businesses.
If you think about the majority of mass media marketing (television, radio, newspapers, etc.) you’re likely thinking about B2C (business to consumer) marketing; a company marketing a product or service to a consumer. The reason that B2C marketers can use platforms like television and radio successfully is that their market is often broad enough that if they’re picking the right channel (based on demographical data) the right people will see/hear their message and buy their product. This is called targeting; the part of marketing where B2C and B2B differ a fair bit.
There are many large corporations that fit into the B2C category that don’t really “need” to advertise in a traditional sense, as the average person already knows what they generally have to offer. Think about your McDonalds, Coca Cola, Tim Hortons, Budweiser; If we want a Big Mac or a cold 24-pack, we know exactly where to go. So why do these companies continue to spend millions of dollars advertising to people who already know about what they have to offer? Generally it’s because even though we know what a company has to offer, there’s usually a competitor that’s offering something very similar and in order to win this battle a company needs to stay front of mind and appeal to more than a person’s sense of practicality.
This is where B2B and B2C marketing start to look very similar. When you stop thinking about stakeholders or superbowl commercials, at the root of all marketing you are trying to appeal to a person’s emotional sense of judgement. If you grew up on Coca Cola and you have great memories of diners and french fries and happy times, there’s very little chance you’re about to switch to Pepsi any day soon, but B2C marketers know that they can get you to drink more Coca Cola if they appeal to your emotions. This is a necessary step that B2C marketers need to take because of the small purchase price of each product. They can’t just sell it to you once and go “Our work here is done”, they need to sell it to you repeatedly and create millions of lifelong customers to make their business model work.
So how does B2B marketing look similar (yet very different)? I believe a common misconception that people have about B2B marketing is that once you’ve sold a product to a company, you’re done. This could be an understandable thought being that marketing a product to a business takes a lot more time, energy and targeting to get it right. You’re going to have to get approval from several stakeholders for a single purchase, and the cost of the product is most definitely going to far surpass the $2 bottle of coke we just talked about. So B2B marketing should be about finding the right lead, approaching them, appealing to their sense of practicality and making the sale, then your work is done, right? Wrong.
A lot of us feel attached to consumer products we’ve grown accustomed to over the years, brought back by our good memories and repeated reminders from the company. While companies selling to businesses generally don’t need buyers to purchase on such a regular basis, they do need to create the same sort of memories and reminders that B2C marketers do. That’s because the stakeholders in business buying decisions are the same people that we sell Coca Cola to with feel good commercials. They are one in the same, so should we really expect them to think so differently as businesses than as consumers?
While your targeting may be entirely different for B2B marketing (think cold calling/emailing, PPC ads, SEO, content marketing) the approach once you’ve attracted the initial interest should be very much the same. There should be triggers within your product (in software, for example) and customer service processes that consistently make your customers feel good about buying your product, the same way a Coca Cola commercial can make a consumer feel good about the bottle they just purchased. That requires B2B marketers to continue to think of customers who have already bought as people who have potential to become repeat customers, the same way B2C marketers do all the time.
As a B2B marketer it’s dangerous to get into a trap of telling yourself that once business has been won it doesn’t need your attention anymore. And it’s true that often the follow up engagement will be done by another person within your company, but marketing should be working very closely with that department to make sure that what brought the customer in in the first place continues to impress them along the course of their relationship with the company. This sort of thinking will help companies to re-sign contracts as well as harness the goodness of referral marketing from happy customers.
Targeting strategies in marketing are very different depending on whether you are selling to consumers or businesses, but when it comes to engaging with your customers, they’re very much the same.