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B2B Marketing versus B2C Marketing: why and how they differ, and why and how they are similar

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

"What is your take on the difference between B2C and B2B Marketing strategies and approaches?".


The most common response I get when asking this question begins with a variation of "B2B buyers are people too, so ...".


Which makes it obvious that the answer is heading in the "there is hardly any difference." direction, .which is an excellent introduction to what usually turns out to be an interesting discussion.


Because there are differences, and they can be substantial


B2B is different from B2C

For example, one of the areas of difference is the impact marketing can have on different stages of the sales cycle. While in most B2C cases, marketing can engage the prospect across the whole process, from triggering the want to even closing the deal, this is not what marketing can achieve when dealing with complex B2B solutions. Closing a deal without interaction with non-marketing activities and roles such as Sales, Services, and legal is hardly possible in most complex B2B situations.


And then, there are similarities.


Yet, B2B and B2C can be similar.

It is important to understand that there are differences in marketing approaches even between different B2B businesses. Even more. Complex B2C cases can be pretty similar to B2B, while some B2B cases are similar to what we could call typical B2C.


The difference is more about the difference between transactional and complex buying situations than the difference between B2C and B2B as such.

B2B and B2C marketing strategies can use similar tools and techniques and behavioral best practices; however, several strategic differences separate the B2B from B2C approaches.

When advocating for difference or similarity, every side can win by selecting a proper use-case

My objective is not to argue differences but to outline them for everyone interested to understand the necessary change in approach. To argue and advocate similarities or differences, one can prove both sides wrong or right, The argument just depends on the selection of what you compare.


If my goal were to prove the difference, I would compare buying milk and buying million-dollar software for an enterprise. If I wanted to prove similarities, I would compare how a five-employee business and a consumer purchase milk. In the first case, there are hardly any similarities, while in the latter case, there are hardly any differences.


Should you care about the difference between B2B and B2C Marketing?

You should if you want to learn marketing for business-to-business —especially if you are a B2C Marketer interested in moving over. This includes the marketing agencies.


The topic should also be interesting for CXOs and sales leaders of B2B companies who want to understand the challenges of B2B marketing teams and get some possible ideas for their departments.

And, well, the topic is also relevant for B2B Marketing Departments.


B2B Marketing Use case: New business generation.

While this article will mainly focus on the differences between how B2C consumers and B2B businesses buy (new business generation, including leads and opportunity generation, and new sales), it is important to note that "sales process support" is not the only area of the "B2C versus B2B debate" worth to explore.


Attracting new employees, building a trusted B2B brand, inventing new product categories, overseeing the services brand experience, and product marketing are all areas where marketing practices can be leveraged.


B2B vs. B2C as defined: a different target audience

Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing target two distinct audiences. While B2B refers to businesses serving other businesses, B2C focuses on consumers, primarily individuals.



B2B vs. B2C: five reasons that make the B2B model different from B2C

So, what are the most significant differences between B2C and B2B that require a different approach to B2B marketing?


Five areas related to the buying cycle, product types, and the operational model differentiate the B2C and B2B models.

Reason 1. B2B purchases are made for different reasons.

While consumers are primarily interested in products and services that help them live better lives, businesses focus on solutions that improve business results. A B2B purchase is (most of the time) a rational purchase to satisfy an organization's need; to improve revenue, make employees' jobs easier, and make business processes more efficient.


While consumers consider the purchase a cost, businesses consider it an investment and expect a positive outcome.

Reason 2. A B2B product must satisfy a group of people.

Businesses buy Software that affects many users, even across different departments and regions. While individual consumer shops on their own, companies usually assign teams to identify the needs of groups of users (even users that will never use the Software), explore options, and finalize the deal.

Reason 3. The total cost of a B2B purchase can go into millions.

Technology projects can run into millions, including technology license fees, services, education, migration, and integration efforts. And it can take months before the technology can be put to use. To advocate this kind of investment, Business teams must build a good case and present a clear investment return.


Reason 4. B2B demands more tailoring to specific needs

Businesses require technologies to be adapted to their particular needs, while consumers usually buy standard products. Adaptation (or customization) reasoning ranges from increasing the competitive advantage via digitalization to assuring compliance with different industry regulations.


Reason 5. Self-service is still in its infancy in B2B.

In most B2C cases, buying and provisioning can be "automated/digitalized,." This means that the Consumer can use the product immediately after purchase. In B2B, especially complex Solutions, this is not the case. However, SaaS should be our role model when considering how marketing supports the sales and provisioning process.


Self-provisioning is an operational model but not a distinctive difference between B2C and B2B. While not all B2C products can be self-provisioned today (a house, for example), there is a clear trend towards it in both B2C (Amazon, online fashion retailers, food delivery) and B2B (the B2B SaaS model).


B2C vs. B2B: the top differences


Now that we have outlined the key areas that make B2B buying different, it should not be too difficult to identify the significant areas where B2C and B2B Marketing differ.


Difference 1: when dealing with complex B2B deals, the goal of marketing is not to make a sale but to steer the buying process

In my opinion, the ability to close the deal is the ultimate difference between business-to-business (B2B) and consumer-facing (B2C) marketing. The ideal use-case for B2C Marketing is to cover the whole buyer's cycle, from seducing the B2C Consumer (triggering the need or want) to closing the deal.

Once we cross over into the B2B territory and start discussing enterprises buying complex technologies essential for their business, used by different users across different departments, this goal becomes unrealistic. And the role of marketing changes. As we move to more complex B2B scenarios, the goal becomes steering the process, identifying and sometimes even capturing opportunities. And good old branding.


Branding is an area common to B2B and B2C. At any given time, most of our B2B prospects are not looking for a solution and not reacting to our messages. Research suggests that this segment represents a significant chunk, even 90% of our prospects. Because some of these prospects will become interested in the future, they better be familiar with your brand.


Difference 2: B2B marketing must address the needs of multiple influencers and decision-makers and be prepared for a long and complex buying journey

The B2B decision-making process can be extremely complex, long, and costly. Due to the high price and involvement of many stakeholders, decisions in B2B are never straightforward, even though there is usually someone who owns the budget and sponsors the initiative.


Due diligence and risk management play a significant role in B2B. The B2B complexity only increases the already high risk-averseness of consumers. A wrong decision on a large-scale deal can cause career jitters or even losing a job. "No one loses a job if buying from IBM" is an urban legend; I had seen people fired for making deals with the big blue (and not delivering on their decisions), even when IBM was a more prominent player than today.


People responsible for making decisions will evaluate and contemplate the risk even more. I have seen 20 Worksheet Excels serving as a decision-making tool. No single person wanted to own the decision as the risk was enormous.


Due to the involvement of different people and roles, the seeking of consent, the calculation of the value, and the business case preparation, the B2B buying process can be impossibly long. It can take weeks and months, even years before the deal is made.

Difference 3: B2B marketing must talk about strategic initiatives, advocate rational business outcomes, and address value-based messaging.


There is no deal without a clear business case in B2B. Such a formal buying process requires an ROI calculation that clearly outlines the financial rationale behind the planned investment. Businesses care to balance the expected benefits and the planned cost; they expect a net positive effect. In rare B2B cases with no formal ROI calculations, the board or other approval body will still require a clearly articulated expected value from the purchased technology.


Key decision-makers could not care less about shiny product features; they care about the tech's value for their business and careers. For them, it is only about three things, increased revenue, optimized cost, and lower business (and persona) risk.


Difference 4: smart buyers know the "we are human" mantra. B2B marketing must include behavior, biases, and influence-based strategies on a different level.

In the same way, Facebook figured out how dopamine supports their business model while consumers are pressing for and urging likes, smart B2B organizations have figured out ways to avoid people's irrationality during purchases.


Some B2B organizations I was working with were well aware of all the psychological and behavior-based principles that influence their teams, and they designed formal processes to avoid this. It is difficult to beat the system.

Consider this for a successful B2B Marketing


This section is not a comprehensive guide to B2B marketing strategies, and it is rather focused on areas where B2B differs from B2C. I will also not touch on particular tools and techniques, nor talk about LinkedIn.


Define clearly your B2B Marketing goals and balance between sales and brand-related activities

In the cases where deals can not be fully supported, goals such as market testing, and opportunity identification are priorities. And do not forget about focusing on the people out of the market and good old branding.

This difference in goals is essential for planning strategies and organising marketing operations. A different set of goals requires a different approach to measuring success, organising, and splitting the responsibility (for new sales) between business development teams and roles, it influences the award and bonus system, required competencies, and team member profiles.


Work (by priority) on establishing yourself as a trustworthy partner

Building trust, in my experience, is one of the key priorities B2B marketers must work on. Any decision about a huge investment that comes with high personal risk requires a high degree of trust.

Trust does not come only from telling your own story; it comes from your customers and other industry influencers such as analysts and advisors. It is about client stories and testimonials, particular use-cases and applications of your products, analyst coverage (and other industry influencers), 3rd party recognition, and your thought leadership featured and acknowledged by third parties.

Understand your Customer's buying approach and invest in digitalisation

B2B marketers must master how their audience buys. Not only this, they must constantly follow the trends to understand how the behavior changes over time.

Covid moved a significant part of the B2B process to digital. This includes the interaction with Sales. Successful B2B Sales and Marketing departments are transforming fast and adapting to the B2C style of Web, Social, and in-person Video. The strategic shift is from a sales-led to a customer-focused and marketing-orchestrated (if not driven) process.

The fully digitalized B2C Customer model should be the role model. For complex B2B Products and cycles where this is impossible, it is essential to agree with Sales and split the responsibility for certain stages. Marketing can play the leading role in supporting the prospects to move through the different research and decision-making phases.

Understand the role and types of relevant content. And prioritize.

People make decisions based on the available information. The key to marketing success is to provide high-quality content that helps prospects make well-informed decisions (in your favor). The Key to "automation" is relevant content that comes in different forms and is provided across different places and contexts.

Businesses have a different motive to buy compared to consumers; thus, there is a difference in the type of content that B2B marketing must provide.


During the buying cycle, prospects will research many options, including your competition and the do-nothing option. A relevant B2B content articulate clearly how a particular product or service solves client problems, how it fits into existing IT architectures, how it addresses the needs of its different users, and how it differentiates from competitive options.

For business-critical software typical list of content would include: list of products features, ROI calculators that show how their features provide business value, content focused on particular users and groups, the long-term financial value of the Solution focusing on improved revenue, cost reduction, and improved risk which is particularly important for regulated industries. The list can be huge, especially when considering adopting different tools and channels. The team must choose its priorities wisely; the key users, decision-makers, and key differentiation points.


it is all about Content marketing.


Understand the key stakeholders, personas and decision-makers

To move through the process, B2B Marketers must adequately address participants. They must have a good understanding of who is typically the owner of the budget and initiatives within the target Company. They must understand the role of IT in the decision.


The buying journey does not include only your prospect customers; therefore, the roles of external opinion makers and influencers must be clear and addressed adequately. Especially In complex B2B, analysts, big consulting companies, and independent consultants are CXO whisperers with enormous influence on the buyer. A successful approach must address these roles, including the marketing content and effort.

I like the "Companies do not do business with companies. People do business with people.", mantra, but they're still needs to be the business context understood. I believe that people act differently in different environments and roles and that they do not make decisions the same way. I also think that there is a set of corporate guidelines that are not likely to be ignored- the Specification, Price, Compliance and Ethical standard as outlined by HBR


Not all B2B marketing is the same: the difference between B2B


B2B can be a jungle, and you have to adopt the approach to your exact targets segment. There is no one fit all Solution to B2B marketing; even more, there are many differences between B2B itself.


The first difference comes from the size of the enterprise. Small and medium enterprises (SME) have much more similarities to B2C than B2B. One person usually decides without much internal discussion and evaluation.


The second is the type of service or IP you are selling. Peter Thiel outlines it well in his "From Zero to one.". Selling above million requires a more personal approach on the level of the CEO.


Conclusion


To support business goals, B2B and B2C Marketers can use similar approaches and strategies, but they can also differ substantially. So can the approaches within B2B.

The most significant difference comes from the type and complexity of products on offer; in case of properly priced SaaS solutions that can be self provisioned, the approach can be quite similar. But, it all becomes different when we start talking about complex B2B Solutions involving multiple stakeholders and requiring a clear rationale for the investment.

B2B is more of a marathon that requires stamina. There is no instant satisfaction of Appstore downloads and fiats pouring into your Paypal account based on a properly targeted and well-executed marketing campaign.


Professional buyers also know about the behavioural patterns of their employees, so it is much less about smell, music, happiness, and dopamine. It is more about building trust with 3rd parties, providing helpful information about your solutions and advantages that the prospect starts favouring your proposition.

But, B2B businesses can also learn some techniques and approaches from B2C. B2B CXOs should use the fully automated B2C scenario as their role model. It is about simplification of technologies to the degree that they can be self provisioned. And this is then the case where B2B marketing can shine and provide clear and ultimate business value- generating new business and insight.


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Bonus material 1: a fully digitalised B2B example that follows the ideal B2C model

Let's look at a B2B buyer's journey that would be very similar to a typical B2C scenario.

Scenario: you are a Marketing executive running a small marketing department for a 20-50 million tech company. You have your budget and plan to introduce a solution that provides you an insight into your marketing data; web analytics, campaigns data, insight into the performance of different channels and more.


You finally found some time, and you start looking around, educating yourselves. Already on day one of your research, you bump on a tool recommended by your marketing automation provider. The recommendation provides additional credibility, which is only improved due to vendors' informative and well-written content that explains and offers new insights. And you decide to give it a try.

The whole B2B buying cycle is performed digitally, from your computer, with no interactions with people, no long decisions, and discussions (you have the budget). Even though you had some ROI in your head, you know that your decision could be biased. But this is ok as your team will use the tool and evaluate it during actual use. With ease, you can move to something else's as there is no transition cost related to integrations, the migration of data, or similar.


Bonus material 2: a B2C example that is more complex than some of the B2B cases

One of the most complex decision we are making is buying a house. This kind of buy has lots of elements of a typical B2B buy:

  • We do rationalise.

  • We do consult with others.

  • We do financial planning.

  • We do assess the risk.

Buying a house, similar to complex B2B, can rarely be automated, also due to similar reason as outlined in the "B2B Self Service is in its infancy" section; usually there is some kind of customization, there is interaction with the bank, visits and location scouting, discussion with your partner/family, overthinking and sleepless nights.





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