How B2B Search Marketing Differs From B2C

As I write this, I'm at the B2B Search Strategy Summit in San Francisco. Mary O'Brien, the summit organizer, told me that many potential attendees -- and yes, even some panelists -- questioned where B2B search marketing was really all that different from B2C. Shouldn't the same basic practices apply?

I answer that question the same way I answer all questions about marketing: Let's look at it through the eyes of the buyer. And when we do that, we find some significant differences as we step from the consumer side to the business side.

It's All About Risk

When we make decisions in any part of our lives, we have a "brake" and a "gas pedal" that governs the decision-making process. Call it risk and reward, prevention and promotion, loss and gain. Whatever you call it, in most decisions, there are opposing forces, and the ultimate decision depends on the balance between the two. If reward overcomes risk, we buy. If risk rules, we don't.



On the consumer side of our lives, there's often a strong emotional investment in the reward part of the equation. For example, I really want a new road bike. I can't rationalize the purchase, seeing as I have a perfectly good used road bike, but that doesn't quell the pangs of jealousy I feel when I see someone wheeling down the road on a new Cervelo or Trek Madone. Someday, I know, reward (the joy of saying "look, me too!") will overcome the risk (parting with a significant chunk of cash) for me.

But think about most B2B purchases. If we're looking at buying a new rack of servers, or supply chain management software, where's the fun in that? The only real emotion at play here is the risk of screwing up and being fired. Emotions in B2B purchases are heavily biased towards risk mitigation. And that directly impacts your search strategy. Messaging has to minimize risk in the eyes of the buyer, rather than try to build on the emotional reward side of things. I can't say the same would be true if you were bidding on terms like "convertible roadster," "touring motorcycle" or even "iPad."

It's Their Job

The second difference is directly related to the first. B2B purchases are part of someone's job. They're not doing it because they simply love buying enterprise software or industrial supplies. No one makes a hobby out of buying O-rings or heavy-duty water pumps.

How does this affect a search strategy? It heightens the need for efficient retrieval of information. While a consumer looking at a sports car or booking a cruise might want to get "immersed" in an "experience," typical B2B purchasing agents want to get in and out, allowing them to put one more check mark beside their ever-growing to-do list. They will not be in a forgiving mood if you send them down dead ends or tie them up in confusing navigation. This is all about making their job easier. And that becomes crucial when you think about landing page strategies and the path that leads from them.

Next week, I'll cover the other two ways that B2B differs from B2C: the fact that often buyers are in unfamiliar territory, and that B2B purchases are typically group decisions.

4 comments about "How B2B Search Marketing Differs From B2C".
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  1. Marc Engelsman from Digital Brand Expressions, June 24, 2010 at 10:37 a.m.

    Hi Gord -

    Like your distinction between B2B and B2C mindsets and agree that a B2B website needs to function/navigate differently as a result. However, not sure this impacts the upfront search behavior as much especially given the unfamiliar territory aspect you reference. Look forward to the next installment.

  2. Nathan Gawel from, June 24, 2010 at 10:56 a.m.

    Gord -

    I spent two years at a B2B full service agency and the last four years in BtoC Search Agency and currently I am working in a position where I deal with both. All the time working with Search Marketing. To answer how does B2B differ from B2C I would say the following.

    First, similar search terms will be used, but a smaller share will be searching with the intent of a Business Solution. Example; both B2C and B2B searchers may query "phone service" but with clearly two different intentions. For B2B, you should make sure your creative clearly highlights you support businesses. Because of this, you should expect lower CTR, higher CPCs, but hopefully higher conversion rates.

    Second, make sure to build out your terms to include "for business" or "for work" or "home office" etc. This will be very low volume, but much more specific.

    Third, B2B companies usually have higher ticket items, such as servers, large equipment, etc. These items are usually not purchased as often through e-commerce, so setting up call tracking linked to paid search will be important. Also, buying cycles will be longer, so lengthen your cookie time.

    Last (in this response but not overall), Your lead capture page will become very important. Test, test, and test again. Each vertical will respond differently to what information you are requesting. The less you ask for the more online conversions you will receive, but on the flip side you will need your sales team to weed through which ones are good leads.

    Hope that helps.


  3. Patricia Pell from SuperMedia, June 24, 2010 at 12:44 p.m.

    Thank you so much. The differences you cited made sense to me. If I'm a purchasing agent, I want to go to the correct landing page and I want what I'm searching for to jump out at me. I want to be like Zorro: Get in; make your Z; get out.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 24, 2010 at 3:01 p.m.

    Instead of you getting sidetracked at home with a fun game on your bike quest, you find a neat game time suck at work while searching for the o-rings that fit properly at the right price for the quantity you are seeking. Obvious distinction, no? Spending your money vs spending the company's money somehow has a different ring to it, too. And what Patricia Pell says also has the bell ringer of get in, get out with great easy ways to ask questions with quick follow though answers. If the company sales department has their chops in order, they will to the best of their ability to follow up with a phone and quick "how can I help you" email to any question asked. Phone availability is more important for B2B than B2C so no only do you hit the bull's eye on the inexpensive o-rings, but you get the opportunity to bid on additional parts with regular replacement orders. Not so much with bike shopping.

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