Business-to-business

Business-to-business (B2B) marketing has been an accepted part of a marketer’s job for more than two decades.

Recently the thought occurred to me that we might have been getting it wrong the entire time, and if not wrong, then at least we have skewed the perception of the field unfavorably.

True, there are certain buyer-reflexes that seem to function differently in B2B than in B2C marketing. Buyers in general behave more rationally in B2B transactions. Additionally, it is true that the services or products are of lower complexity (and so of lower added value) and that buyers have higher price sensitivity.

The conclusion however that B2B marketing should deal primarily in selling or advertising to a business in a literal sense might be a non-sequitur. In my mind the above differences are so only because, as marketers, our view is often not granular enough.

Cutting through the abstraction

In economics a businesses is abstracted to a complex system of processes striving towards a goal.

It is often useful to simplify such an organism to an amorphous shape, defined by its input and output, yet at the most granular level the single indivisible unit within any of these organizations is a human being, an individual.

Contrary to the expression, none of these individuals is merely a “cog in the machine”. All of them are influencers in some way. They influence decisions from within the organization, they are trusted and valued resources. No brochure or video will achieve the same effect as a trusted individual recommending something.

Considering today’s connected world where influencing others is as simple as being in their feed in any of their social media channels, the individual becomes more important than the system.

The fallacy of the Decision-Making Unit

While complex purchases in business are rarely a single-person affair, the assumption that a Decision-Making Unit (DMU) can be simplified into a model is misleading. Unless the decision is being made by an AI, we as marketers, are still speaking to human beings, with the same needs and desires they have when we treat them in Business-to-Consumer B2C.

An engineer is not immune to aesthetics just because he is part of a business’ DMU, and a CEO isn’t immune to being an environmentalist just because he only counts the bottom line.

These people have their own individual lives, they have families, they visit Facebook and read twitter on an iPad. The only difference is, in their function for a company, they make decisions for an institution. However, these decisions are still in some way informed by their individual tastes, needs and desires. This translates to their decision-making process as well as to their preference in selecting a solution or product fit for their company.

A more human approach

When creating marketing or design strategies for companies, especially in the industrial sector it is worth considering who exactly we want to speak to and how. Establishing a focus group or customer personas is just as important in B2B as it is in B2C.

Empathy is what is often missing from B2B marketing.

Who is in the DMU? What are those people like? What do they do day-in and day-out? What interests them most and what do they respond to? What challenges do they face?

Consider this: How can we make their life easier within their business function? Don’t just focus on the benefits to their business/company, focus on them, as individuals.

Do they have trouble finding information about the topic? Do they need ready presentations or visualizations? How can we make their lives easier on the job?

Not only that, but these individuals, with their goals and personalities, represent or express a companies culture. And this in turn translates directly into applicable metrics that can be used to create a targeted strategy to engage them, and help them and their companies.

This is what we are ultimately looking for, to impact their lives (and livelihoods) in a positive way!

Next time you think about a B2B campaign, try and think how you would do it if it was B2C.

Focus on the empathy that we are so used to applying when it comes to consumers and apply it to a business, you might be surprised how well it works.


Also published on Medium.

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