What B2B Marketers Could Learn From The B2C Playbook

Despite the fact that B2B and B2C marketing have previously represented completely different practices in the minds of many marketers, we might all benefit from softening the distinction between the two.

In the age of big data and analytics, consumers are getting highly personalized, targeted messages based on their history and interests. But when we look at the B2B space, there are still many companies talking about their solutions, and making customers connect the dots on how they can fit into and solve their specific problems. 

We hear often from the clients of large B2B enterprise vendors about the flurry of generic, irrelevant email offers they receive from the wide array of tools, products and services available. As we heard from one technology leader, “Sometimes I get a promotion for some service I am already discussing with my rep; other times I get emails about products that my client team has never even mentioned to me. It’s very confusing to keep track.” 



It seems astonishing that an enterprise company with 50 strategic customers to target is utilizing a high-level, untailored approach, when a consumer-facing company, such as Amazon or Netflix, uses personalization and very high levels of engagement to reach millions of people. 

The upside is that B2C marketing has developed into a mature, sophisticated practice with tools that can readily transfer and be used effectively by B2B marketers.

Market the Outcomes: What’s in it for them

It’s about changing the customer’s life. Clothing and beauty retailers have figured out that they are not selling better blazers, sweaters or lipstick, but rather a new, more appealing, engaging and powerful “you.” Amazon is selling convenience and knowledge to manage every aspect of your life, not books, CDs and shampoo. 

This can be a dramatic shift in focus for many B2B companies, particularly when they have invested heavily in creating the best new technology or leading edge solution, or when they are selling their “smarts” to solve big problems. We hear often from executives who buy from B2B vendors that what they really want to hear about is the business problems to be solved so they can tie it to their own needs and priorities. 

For example, this could mean changing the description of a cooling management solution for data centers, to a solution that increases a company’s ability to guarantee uptime due to reduced less equipment failure and lower costs through reduced energy spend. 

Get Inside Your Customers’ Heads

B2C companies have gone beyond their own customer databases to study social media and broader spending behaviors. They have channeled that knowledge into creating the more personalized communications and targeted offers described above, and in identifying the “moments that matter” in the life cycle of their customers. 

B2B companies too are starting to use the customer data on hand, but many aren’t using social media to full advantage. Social media conversations can offer an often-untapped perspective on what’s on the minds of senior decision makers at your customers’ companies and their peer industry leaders which can add context to your understanding of client challenges and priorities. 

Connect Your Clients to Their Peers

B2C marketers have long understood the power of endorsement and referral, and how much consumers value the input and perspective of their peers in making buying decisions.

For B2B companies, tools like customer advisory boards and executive forums offer an unrivaled lens to reach into the minds of strategic clients, and help test various approaches to the market place. Some B2B companies are starting to explore and map their customer journeys, and this insight offers marketers an opportunity to personalize the experience and the messages clients receive. 

The Shift is Coming

The marketing landscape is in the midst of a fundamental shift, where everyone from VPs at enterprise companies to buyers of consumer electronics expect rich, personal, targeted engagement as part of their decision making process (even if they may not be aware of it).

B2B companies need to learn from what is working in the B2C space and put it into practice immediately, so they become the vendor who understands their clients’ business concerns better than anyone else.

4 comments about "What B2B Marketers Could Learn From The B2C Playbook".
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  1. Sarah Lafferty from Round Earth Consulting, January 20, 2016 at 9:30 a.m.

    This is a great article that has given me much to discuss with my clients, thank you! Interestingly I am starting to see better practices emerging naturally as younger generations enter the B2B workforce. They are less aware of the traditional demarcation between B2B and B2C and naturally bridge this gap a bit more easily - through language and ways of working - than some of their more mature colleages. 

  2. Dave Vranicar from SilverStream LLC / Redwell B2B, January 20, 2016 at 3:48 p.m.

    Jane, this is an interesting article, and the points you make are solid. While I find nothing to disagree with in what you say here, I caution all marketers to recognize one thing. Although B2B marketers can learn much of value from B2C, plenty of B2C marketing practices are very different for B2B and are even inappropriate for B2B. I'm talking specifically about B2B complex sales, which involve multiple decision makers for high-ticket items that require intense scrutiny from buyers. Buyer behavior in these sales is completely different from that of simpler B2B and B2C sales. Among other factors, the buyer's dominant emotion is fear rather than desire. Marketers must be aware of this and other key differences. One example: In B2C, it's a well-established maxim that you should provide positive messages about the benefits of products. In contrast, in B2B complex sales it's usually much more effective to speak to the buyer's challenges and pain. In complex B2B, you must also provide messaging for multiple personas who are likely to be involved in the same decision process. 

    You've said nothing that contradicts these ideas, but the simplicity of what you said may mislead young B2B marketers into thinking they can borrow more from B2C than they should. 

    Thanks again for a good post. 

  3. Jane Hiscock from Farland Group replied, January 22, 2016 at 2:26 p.m.

    I like the generational point on B2B versus B2C - there is a complexity that Dave mentions that we create and that we hear CIOs in particular saying they don't want that any more.  Perhaps the next generation will find ways to simplify the approach. I'll look forward to seeing where it all lands!

  4. Jane Hiscock from Farland Group replied, January 22, 2016 at 2:29 p.m.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post - I agree that there is a difference as you analyze how B2B and B2C products are sold, but some of this complexity that we have created in B2B is not necessary.  We hear from IT buyers that they don't want to have a lot of meetings and complicated use cases - they want to hear stories, see fast prototyping - a more agile approach to selling and marketing. Certainly we are not there yet in many cases, but as a sales consultant I'm sure you are looking at this as an opportunity to innovate even the complex sales model. 
    Looking forward to seeing more of your thoughts in future articles. 


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