B2B vs. consumer marketing: 5 key differences

b2b marketingWhen business-to-business marketers call my office, they always ask the same thing: “Do you have B2B 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 B2B and consumer marketing, 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 vital differences between B2B and consumer marketing, but in my experience, the differences too often overshadow the similarities. And this can lead to some truly bad selling messages.

If you begin with the assumption that business people are all emotionless, money-making robots, as many B2B marketers do, you end up with flaccid offers, ponderous copy, and do-nothing design. Just look at the mail you get in your office.

In truth, 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 they respond to, you’re simply not in touch with the average business 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 B2B marketing. 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.

This is part one of a two-part post on this topic. So let’s first take a look at 5 key differences between business buyers and 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. It can follow 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. This includes decision makers, buyers, influencers, 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. 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 fast.

Whew! If you’re used to the straightforward sell of consumer marketing, this may send shivers up your spine.

But wait. Let’s 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. However, creating selling messages for B2B shouldn’t be all that different from creating selling messages for the consumer market. From a creative standpoint, they are more alike than different.

Keep this in mind. Next time, we’ll look at hints for selling to the business buyer and reconsider how different B2B selling messages are from consumer selling messages.

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3 Responses to “B2B vs. consumer marketing: 5 key differences”

  1. Hugh Chewning on November 16th, 2010 4:12 pm

    Dean, I agree with all you say but offer a comment–and you suggest this in several of the points above but…

    Because B2B often involves a higher average dollar sale, it often becomes a two or three step process. Rather than trying to close the sale on the first mailing, you’re asking for an opportunity to present more information.

    Thanks for the great post.

  2. Dean Rieck on November 16th, 2010 4:51 pm

    You’re right. In fact, most of the B2B that I do involves multi-step sales. But you’re giving away one of my secrets for part 2 of this post. :)

  3. B2B vs. consumer marketing: 14 selling tips on December 7th, 2010 7:03 am

    [...] In a previous post, we looked at 5 differences between business buyers and ordinary consumers. [...]

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