A "Radical" Approach to Business-to-Business Marketing

by Dean Rieck

When business-to-business marketers call my office, they always ask the same thing: "Do you have business-to-business experience?" They ask it like they're looking for a white-haired wizard with a pointy black hat and a big gnarly cane, some spell-weaving Merlin who understands the strange and ancient ways of the "business buyer."

I reply in two parts. First, I assure them. "Yes, I've worked successfully with a tremendous number of business marketers." Second, I shock them. "But you know, there really isn't that much difference between business-to-business and consumer, at least from the standpoint of creating offers, writing copy, and designing ads and direct mail."

"No difference?" they sputter, "But ... but ... but ..."

Having had my fun, I then smooth their ruffled feathers and explain what seems to be shameless heresy. You see, I admit that there are certainly some vital differences between b-t-b and consumer marketing, but in my experience, the differences too often overshadow the similarities. And this can lead to some truly bad advertising.

If you begin with the assumption that business people are all emotionless, money-making robots — as many b-t-b marketers do — you end up with flaccid offers, ponderous copy, and do-nothing design. Just look at the mail you get in your office.

But business buyers are just people, with the same problems, fears, feelings, and dreams as everyone else. They simply experience their problems, fears, feelings, and dreams in their office instead of their living room. They're far from emotionless. In fact, because of the stress of the workplace, their emotional responses are often far more intense than consumers. And if you think money is the only issue business people respond to, you're simply not in touch with the average person.

For the most part, business buyers respond to the same motivators and techniques as consumers. I never, therefore, divide the known world into consumer and business. Rather, I begin with the idea that I'm going to sell to real people and then adjust my approach based on who and where those people are.

But let's take a closer look anyway. What are the differences? I would like to suggest ...

5 Ways Business Buyers Differ From Consumers

  1. Business buyers usually aren't spending their own money. Even if you're speaking to the owner, there's a different mind set about personal expenses and business expenses. Therefore, most purchases need to be justified in quantifiable terms.

  2. The buying process for major purchases is often complicated, following a formal, rigid pattern of bids, budgets, bargaining, and analysis. Business buyers need plenty of information to make a decision, often over a long period of time.

  3. You must sometimes talk to many layers of a company — decision makers, buyers, influencer, and users — and you may or may not be sure who is who. Then there's the mailroom and secretary barrier, people you have to go through first to get your message to your target.

  4. While most people have some level of brand loyalty, business buyers are particularly wary of taking chances on unknown products and services. The cost for mistakes in time, money, and personal reputation is too great. While some like to be on the cutting edge, most prefer to play it safe. They are especially influenced by the actions and opinions of colleagues and competitors. And they have elephantine memories when it comes to bad experiences.

  5. Business buyers are time-conscious during business hours. They don't welcome cold calls from businesses they don't know. They are barraged with mail and sort through it quickly. However, if something interests them, they will read it, though they want to get to the point quickly.

Whew! If you're used to the straightforward sell of consumer marketing, this may send shivers up your spine. But wait. Stop cowering in the corner and look at those differences again. We're talking about some pretty basic things here: purchase justification, full information, targeted messages, brand confidence, and clear communication.

Does that really sound so different? Don't you consider the very same issues in consumer campaigns? I wish to stress that business marketing is very different in terms of pricing, planning, buying cycles, and so on, but creating selling messages for the business market shouldn't be all that different from creating selling messages for the consumer market. From a creative standpoint, they are more alike than different.

But, once again, let's take a closer look. Let's see how these differences may play out in your approach. I now give you ...

14 Hints for Selling to the Business Market

The More Things Change ...

Now take a second look at those 14 hints. Anything sound familiar? Let's see ...

You see. When you take a hard look at the details, all those dreaded differences just evaporate. From the standpoint of creating sales messages, business-to-business just isn't that much different from consumer marketing.

It's a mistake to think that you can take a purely consumer approach to the business market. But it's a greater mistake to think that the business market is a world unto itself and that the people in it stop being human when they clock in.

Never forget that business is business, but people are people.

Copyright © 2000 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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