You may have noticed that I brand myself as a “B2B Marketing Expert.”  I’ve had to explain the “B2B” part of that many times and also the need for the distinction.  While there are companies that legitimately sell their products to both businesses and consumers, most do not.  Each end of that spectrum requires a different expertise.  Yes, there are certainly similarities, but like the old saying, the devil is in the details.

While the basics of marketing, e.g. the “four p’s,” don’t change between the B2B and B2C worlds, the relative importance of “P” each does.  Each end of the spectrum also has very different tools and techniques to accomplish marketing goals.  Here are some additional specific areas where these two markets differ:

  • You’re selling to a business, not a person.  While it is true that purchase decisions within businesses are made by people, that is pretty much where the similarity ends.  Consumers make decisions based on a complex set of feelings and brand associations.  Businesses have decision making units, with many stakeholders in the decision.  Consumers do not report or answer to anyone and can make purchase decisions without concern for the best decision; you can buy what you like.  Businesses do not have this freedom and thus will be tougher customers before, during and after the sale.
  • Reaching businesses and consumers for marketing is very different.  The methods, tools and channels that exist to market to consumers and businesses have little resemblance to one another.  For example, the data marketers can buy on consumers is encyclopedic; demographic, psychographic, lifestyle data and on and on.  Businesses have a tiny fraction of the demographics consumers have and those demographics are less much predictive of purchase behaviors.  However, in B2B we can still cold call accounts, a practice all but outlawed for consumers some years ago.
  • Products are generally much more complex in B2B.  There’s more to know and more to understand about B2B products.  The process of education customers is long and tedious.  There are also many stakeholders that have to be kept in the loop and whose questions need to be answered, whether they make any decision of not.   B2B products often touch many parts of the business and those people need to be brought to the table during the decision process as well.  This has huge implications for content development and sales support needs.
  • Price tag is bigger, sales cycle longer in B2B.  Consumers will likely never buy anything more expensive than a car or house.  Many business purchases exceed the costs of these items.  The time required to educate B2B customers and to go through their decision process and due diligence varies greatly.  Some complex business decisions do take months or years, or the budget is only available in the next cycle, making the start to finish sales cycle a long one. Again, this has significant implications for the marketer.

While there are many marketing skills that can be transferred between B2C and B2B, top-level strategy and planning needs to have some B2B go-to-market expertise.  Here we have outlined some of the areas where this is most critical.

What differences have you observed between B2B and B2C marketing?  Where are they most alike?

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