Author: Suzanne Oxford
Categories: Knowledge, Business

B2B is dead

As deaths go, it was a quiet one. Few people knew of its demise.

But there it lay still: the artificial divide between B2B and B2C marketing, gone forever.

Why bother lamenting the dead? Dare I say, it’s good riddance to a dodgy invention.

The idea that marketing business-to-business took entirely different skills and strategies to talking to consumers has its roots back in the early Noughties. The notion, which most marketers sadly still hold, was that because the volume of B2B transactions is so much higher than B2C – if you count every transaction required along a manufacturing supply chain, for example – then B2B branding requirements were stronger, too.

Conversely, the B2C belief held that the consumers of the world needed entirely different marketing strategies to convince them to open their wallets.

True, where they differ most is in the justification of purchases. In B2C land, I need to convince myself why I should buy yet another pair of red shoes. (It’s a short discussion.) In B2B, I might be lobbying the board to invest in an expensive new CRM system.

But the truth is both groups share more similarities than differences.

Your customers – be they businesses, consumers or both – have similar emotional and logical requirements that must be met. The relationship lifecycle between a purchaser and a brand exists with businesses and consumers alike. Both groups also frequent the same social media spheres, are Google-happy and web-savvy, and require strong brand confidence in order to purchase.

The illusion that you’re selling to a company in B2B should be seen for what it is. In retail or in business marketing, you’re selling to individuals. And each wants to feel that you get them.

Long live H2H.

Which is where yet another acronym is starting to make a play: H2H, or human-to-human marketing.

It espouses the belief that we all, business and retail customers alike, are looking for connection, inclusion and to be understood. If you take that as your starting point – and not your burning need to produce another brochure – then the marketing toolbox available to your business automatically grows.

It means the vast strategies already out there like relationship marketing and continuous touchpoints become as relevant to a retail customer as to the business that buys your widgets. And the traditional B2C tools like social media become far more relevant business-to-business because they help build connections better than a sterile product flyer.

Let’s make H2H practical.

1. Open your horizons

Switching your mindset to focusing on the individual, human needs of your market means you can open your marketing to all sorts of potential tools. Just because you run a hair salon doesn’t mean you can’t start sending out a monthly email newsletter – if your customers are the kind of people that like to know more about you. And just because you’re an accountant doesn’t mean you can’t lead an industry group on LinkedIn or advertise on Facebook – if that’s where you’ll find the types of sales you want. Think about your customers, and let their needs lead you.

2. Make your customers feel

Sales overwhelmingly come from relationships in my business, so meeting my clients’ emotional needs is a no-brainer. If my clients are happy, they’ll stay.

But even if your sales rely heavily on good old-fashioned foot traffic, it’s relationships that will lure them and keep them. So, in every tool you use to get to market, make sure you get the emotional kicker in. Empathise and prove you understand their needs.

3. Ask your employees what they think

It’s one thing to make marketing decisions from an ivory tower. Chances are it’s your staff who really know how your clients think, or how your customers behave. So get their ideas and integrate it into your marketing. Let them drive your innovation.

4. Finally, listen to your customers

There is marketing gold in every intentional conversation you have with a customer. Ask the ‘why’ that follows the tough questions: Do you feel safe with my business? Do you like dealing with us? Would you refer us to your friends? The answers will revolutionise how you think about marketing to your customers.

Written for the February 2014 issue of Inform, the monthly magazine of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Queensland.