I’ve worked in marketing for a long time now, with the bulk of my career in B2B. When I tell people that, they often look at my quizzically. What exactly is B2B? is usually the first question they ask. And those in the field who have spent their days in the consumer side of things often go deeper: What is the difference between B2B and B2C? They want to know.
The short answer? Not much. But whether you’re marketing to other businesses or to consumers, you should consider a few key issues.
Definitions: B2B and B2C
B2C is the type of marketing people most know. The “B” is the business (that is, the product/company/service selling the thing) and the “C” is the consumer. That’s us, folks – individual buyers or prospects.
B2B is, quite literally, “business to business.” It is marketing by one company to another.
For example, at Act-On, our clients are other businesses. We sell our product to marketing agencies and companies who want to improve their time to market, embrace marketing automation, and work smarter and faster.
B2B services are all around us ― think about manufacturers who sell RFID technology to warehouses, or freight carriers who sell their transportation services to businesses to transport goods. Even farmers who sell produce to restaurants are B2B.
B2B and B2C Considerations
So, right off the bat, one obvious difference between the two categories of marketing is scale. When you’re a B2C marketer, you represent your businesses’ endeavors to sell to individuals. You want to reach them one at a time, to sell one or a handful of items.
B2B marketers, on the other hand, may sell heaps of their goods or services at a time. They sell – and therefore market – in bulk.
For example, as a consumer, I buy one head of lettuce or a bundle of carrots when I go to the grocery store. A restaurant, on the other hand, buys crates of lettuce and carrots in one transaction. To use a tech example, I may license software for my own laptop or the devices in my apartment. My company, however, needs licensing seats for hundreds of users.
This brings me to another thought.
B2B vs. B2C Audience
We could say that a B2C company markets directly to an end user, whereas a B2B company markets to a group.
As a consumer, when I set out to buy products, I’m typically buying things for my own use. I look at the features and benefits that best suit my needs and I make a purchase decision accordingly.
But what if I’m buying on behalf of someone else – say, my spouse or a niece or nephew? I have to put myself in their shoes and think what they would most appreciate. I have to think like those folks. Hmm.
This gets closer to the notion of B2B companies, who market to others – or a group of end users. They may market to the CEO or business decision maker, as well as to the marketing or tech person who’ll use the product. The “customer” in B2B are business decision makers, the c-level executives who make decisions on behalf of the entire organization. These people are invested in making their businesses better, stronger, faster. They want products or services that can help them do that.
Here’s a good quote from Marketing Insider Group that sums it up nicely:
“The B2B customer journey involves multiple decision-makers and stakeholders to manage, including managers, product users, technical staff, executives and many more…B2B marketing content needs to…appeal to and meet the different pain points and needs of various stakeholders involved in the purchase process.”
In both cases, we marketers must consider our ultimate audience and ask ourselves who is buying or making the purchase decision.
B2B vs. B2C Decision-Making Process
As we’ve already explored, in B2C, there’s just one decision-maker, whereas B2B may involve a committee.
Another related concept, then, is what makes the final decision happen – in other words, what pushes the purchaser to hit “buy”? When it’s an individual, it can be any number of factors or just one. When it’s decision-by-committee, there are choices being made in each individual’s mind, and these choices eventually make up a consensus.
According to one article I read, B2B buyers are “planned and logical, based on needs,” whereas B2C are “emotional, based on want and desire.”
I think that can be true – but also false. I know plenty of individuals who buy based on need and logic alone. And I know plenty of businesses customers who make a purchase – such as which supplier/vendor to work with – based on gut feeling.
What stage of the buyer’s journey are our potential buyers on? What is their motivation to buy? No matter whether we’re selling to an individual or a group, we marketers must know the answers to these questions and give the audience the right features, benefits, and ROI at the right time.
Either way, it all comes down to the customer. You have to think about them – their needs, their considerations. You have to put yourself in their shoes.
Tactics to Reach Your B2B or B2C Audience
Whether you’re in the B2B or B2C channel, here are some tools that will help you get your message across to your target audience:
- Personas, use cases, and scenarios: When thinking about marketing for B2B, I need to go through a handful of user scenarios and use-cases. I think about the various departments or people who weigh in – including the CFO, who is most concerned about cost; the IT department, which, if we’re talking software, for example, has to know how this product/service will be installed and how it will “hit” the computers at the organization; and the end user, who is my favorite, being the most tactical. Ultimately I need to package all of this up for the business decision maker (BDM) so they can see things from this triad of points of view and make an educated best decision for the company. Personas can be useful in both B2B and B2C, though in B2B you want to think about end-user groups.
- Channels: In both types of marketing you need to consider where your prospects are likely to be and how you can best reach them. There are some differences here, however. For example, B2C customers can be found in many places. In nearly every place, really. You can market traditionally via advertising in magazines or online or radio. You can (and should) have a social presence. You may do events – planned or viral – to capture attention. Potential customers are everywhere. You can find them.
“Businesses” too are everywhere – but they’re more selective in the way they want to be marketed to and where they expect to get a hard sell. Yes, you may be able to reach a savvy B2B customer via Twitter or Facebook – and definitely via LinkedIn. But you also probably need to add trade shows, direct calls, and/or more in-depth pitches and proposals.
- Language: Once you’ve found good leads, what will you say to them – and how will you say it? I’ve talked about this one before, but how do your potential customers want to be talked to? Those user personas come in handy here, as do listening tools like social media and focus groups. How do your customers talk? You should be using their vernacular. This applies to both B2C and B2B. With B2B marketing you may be able to use more industry jargon or business-friendly terms, but at the end of the day, you want to speak the same language as your customers.
So what’s really the difference between B2C and B2B?
You may be sensing something in your gut here. What really is the diff between B2C and B2B? Honestly … it’s not much. Because, as it turns out, those on the receiving end of both types of marketing messaging are people. At the end of the day, you’re marketing P2P – that’s peer to peer.
At least for now. We’re heading quickly toward a world where bots – automators, robots, automatons – may read our stuff. In fact, I personally know at least one marketer who’s currently writing for both people and bots. But, until we go into full “Westworld” mode, we’ll treat the “B” in B2B as people.
How MA can help B2B (or B2C) marketing
With any marketing, Marketing Automation can help you save time, save money, establish patterns, see what’s working (and what’s not), target the right customers – and see an increased return on your investment. Whether you’re doing B2C or B2B marketing, I imagine you’ll appreciate that!