How B2B marketing set itself apart from B2C marketing

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B2B marketing requires a unique set of skills from marketers and researchers, a recent white paper published on B2B International

While marketers recognize the differences between the B2B and B2C spaces and are adjusting their tactics accordingly, they still need to let go of old assumptions about B2B marketing, according to Toronto-based B2B marketer Lisa Shepherd in an interview (Lisa is also a regular B2Bnn contributor).

B2B marketing is changing, said Shepherd who, as the president and founder of The Mezzanine Group, has provided in-depth strategy and marketing expertise to B2B companies in over 30 industries for almost 20 years.

In the white paper B2B Marketing: What Makes It Special?, authors Paul Hague, Nick Hague and Matthew Harrison write that a distinguishing feature of B2B markets is the importance of personal relationships, the emphasis on face-to-face contact and the salesperson’s in-depth technical understanding of the product. But Shepherd said that these days, personal relationships only go so far.

“We are seeing less loyalty and less decision making based on relationships,” she said. “Twenty years ago, there was a certain amount of business based on ‘we know this company, they can figure out a solution for us and we can work with them.’ Today, it is so easy to go out and find whatever you are looking for. It’s more about expertise and competence combined with the relationship. You’re not going to work with someone you can’t stand, but there’s less of a trade-off with competence than there was 20 years ago.”

While B2B buyers are still regarded as longer-term buyers (who make repeat purchases that will require ongoing expertise and services in terms of delivery, implementation and installation), this is also changing.

“Very few companies are committing to long-term relationships as they have in the past,” she said. “In this volatile market, it’s harder to predict what the situation will be in three years.”

The B2B International report outlines both tried-and-true and new ideas that B2B marketers need to know.

It states that B2B markets have a more complex decision-making unit. Because B2B frequently involves high-value, high-risk purchases, a large number of senior decision makers evaluate the product using a large range of purchase criteria. This means that it is critical that the B2B marketer demonstrates a high level of expertise in product and technical knowledge that the buyer will need throughout the life of the purchase.

B2B products are also themselves often more complex, meaning that marketers need to be fully informed about not only the technical details of the product, but also after-sales service and problem resolution.

Still, it’s important not to go overboard with the complexity, Shepherd cautioned.

B2B marketing expert Lisa Shepherd
B2B marketing expert Lisa Shepherd

“Sometimes B2B marketers like to overcomplicate products when they should take a page from B2C and make it simple to understand,” she said. “We have a client that is an engineering company. They often sell to engineers who like that technical information, but sometimes, the client is a business owner who just needs basic information,” she added.

It’s also important to keep branding simple in B2B. The report states that sub-brands are less effective in B2B markets – and that it’s far better to have one coherent brand which customers, stakeholders and employees alike can relate to. Shepherd agreed that a raft of sub-brands complicates things unnecessarily for clients.

Marketing and advertising tactics are also different in B2B versus B2C.

Shepherd agreed that consumer markets rely on packaging far more than in B2B markets – “You don’t make a decision based on packaging in B2B,” she said – meaning that marketers should direct resources towards developing relationships and expertise. Also, because there is a limited number of buying units in B2B markets, marketers “are not interested in billboards or radio advertisements,” she noted.

There are fewer behavioural and needs-based segments in B2B markets. “It’s usually price, quality and delivery,” said Shepherd.

But take heart – although B2B marketing differs from Marketing 101 rules, it’s not as complicated as all that.

“B2B is easier to get your arms around than B2C,” Shepherd said. “As a B2B marketer, you can accomplish more without a team of 100 people. You can make an impact without having control of a multi-million-dollar budget.”

Photo via Flickr, Creative Commons license

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Tracey Tong

Tracey Tong

Tracey Tong is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years in newspapers and communications. She is a former managing editor at Metro News and has contributed stories on business, politics, technology, science, healthcare and the arts to dozens of publications all over North America. The Burlington native currently makes her home in Ottawa. Find her on Twitter @TraceyTong
Tracey Tong

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