When people think of marketing, they usually think of the advertising they see day to day that target them: ads on the TV, billboards in the bus shelter and 30% of your average magazine. The campaigns are funny, sexy and emotional, but based primarily on annoying people about things they don’t need. I decided being a marketing professional wasn’t for me.
When I left university and joined a design studio, I found out about the world of business to business, or B2B marketing, my tune changed. The process was more complicated and the products were more useful. No longer would was scantily clad women a solution to moving more product. I did, however, have to learn how to deal with some interesting new challenges that every company that sells to other businesses, needs to face.
Multiple Decision Makers
When you sell a product built for businesses, there are almost always multiple decision makers involved in the buying process. These people have very different personalities and priorities. As a result you need to devise effective methods for communicating to everyone involved.
To sell your product, you might need to address the needs of a CEO, CTO and CFO–you’ve met these guys, they’re all really different people that you need to convince in different ways. Doing this could mean finding ways to split your online audience from the homepage, staging your communication through different channels, or providing your first contact in the company with materials they can use to convince the others. There are lots of cool tricks, but the most interesting part is figuring out how different personalities approach problems and products.
Complex Products, Complex Benefits
Usually a B2B marketer has to convey a more complex product proposition. For example, in the consumer marketing space you might want to say:
- Perfumes: Makes you smell sexy
- Bags: Look good while carrying things
- Airplane Tickets: You can fly to a different city
All of these are cased in the complexities of building a brand of course, but the product propositions themselves are simple.
When you’re selling business products though, things get a little more complicated:
- Bio-fuel: Harvest, conversion and refinement of wild algae and multi-biomass waste streams into drop-in bio-fuels.
- ERP: Financial, supply chain, inventory and production management/analysis for a pharmaceutical distributers.
- Biometric analysis algorithm: Transform raw biometric and environmental data into usable information that can dynamically adjust individual or team training plans.
It doesn’t stop at concisely describing the product offering, all this must still be done within the same constraints of attention and interest that consumer products must work through. The buyers still have fears, insecurities, hopes and dreams that we need to use to get cut through. We still need to make the stories sticky so a customer will remember the product when they have a need for it. We just do all this around propositions that are much more interesting, and in most cases, more difficult to convey.
Since B2B typically revolves around big ticket items, the customers procurement process is generally much longer, often spanning 6–18 months. As well as having obvious financial implications, it requires more complex marketing strategies as well to succeed at during each phase.
Discoverability during a research phase is accomplished through different materials than what get you through an RFP process. Likewise, materials that help an organisation with problem identification are not going to be the ones that get a CEO to sign $100k cheque. Pacing and distributing the right materials at the right time with the right messages ties in tightly with dealing with multiple decision makers. A B2B marketer needs to influence this as best he can as each potential customer moves through their respective buying process. It’s a long game.
There is lots of crossover as well, and many exceptions in the the B2C world. I imagine a lot of car manufacturers know that getting the spouse across the line helps get the car off the lot with the main buyers. But overall, the differences require a different mindset and it can help to have a specialist internally or at the agency you use, who gets these and other key differences and builds a strategy around meeting them.
There is great and satisfying work to be done in the B2C sector with plenty of interesting and complex challenges, but most people don’t realise that that’s only half the story. There is marketing to be done by all organisations, and a whole world of industries that don’t sell to you and me. But they sure could use our help.