Today’s column is written by Adam Mincham, vice president and associate client partner at Merkle.
There is a lot of talk about the nuances in the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing spaces and how audiences differ.
But is a human being really that different when sitting at the dinner table than when he or she arrives at the office? Does the decision-making process surrounding business purchases really differ substantially from those made at home?
My conclusion is no.
It is time for B2B marketing to become business-to-person (B2P) marketing.
Consider The Path To Purchase
Reflecting on my own personal and professional purchase paths, there are so many similarities. Both engage my logical and emotional wants and needs. I take time, plan, need to be nurtured and consult the opinions of others before, in either case, I am prepared to negotiate.
All the information I require is at my fingertips. I am in control of the majority of the process. I often invest substantial time in researching a product before I’m ready to make a decision. Ultimately, I will go with the product or solution that best meets my goals.
If considered purchases in our personal and professional lives have similar paths, why is there a discrepancy in how B2B and B2C companies operate? When people discuss B2B and B2C, they often get caught up in differentiating transactional or impulse purchases for B2C, such as low value, short sales cycle products vs. relationship-building – high-value, long sales cycle solutions – for B2B. Transactional and relationship marketing can and should exist in both B2C and B2B scenarios.
When I was responsible for database marketing early in my career, our incumbent was not living up to expectations. It was time to see what else was in the market. We needed someone who could handle our scale while providing the strategic guidance that kept our team front and center in the marketing organization and across the company as a whole.
I convinced my leadership that we needed to make a change, with a “development budget” for the shift. Once the funds were in place, I researched the competition online, hit the forums, spoke to peers and industry experts and found my wildcard to include in the RFP. We sent out our request, set the timeframe for response, reviewed them, conducted presentations, whittled down prospects to two, held financial negotiations, ran a test and debated the winner.
Much like the personal purchase path I’ve taken when buying my minivan or upgrading my mobile phone, throughout the process I gauged my logical and emotional wants and needs, consulted others for opinions and took my time choosing the right solution to meet my goals.
Understanding Your Customer
The line between considered and impulse decisions changes considerably depending on the budget of the decision-making unit or company. But B2B marketers can be smarter about how they connect with their audience by drawing insights from their personal purchase decision-making processes.
For B2B buyers, relationship-building is critical. As such, the B2P process is all about context, in terms of understanding the customer from both an individual and business perspective. Knowing who your customer is, as well as behaviors, motivations and location, is important.
You can leverage personal, professional and corporate data from third-party online sources, in addition to your own first-party data, to understand your audience and build a true sense of identity. This ultimately will allow the B2B marketer to develop deeper relationships and more valuable leads.
Personalize To The Individual
Developing content that is tailored not only to a segment level, but to a more personal level, and delivering that content in the way the individual wants to receive it – anywhere, anytime –sets businesses apart from competitors. With longer sales cycles and more complex purchases, the B2B marketer needs to deliver content that shows expertise and builds trust, aligning messaging to the customer’s phase in the sales cycle.
The key here is analytics. It is critical to develop intelligent models that learn from interactions and improve the experience. An insights team must be in place to mine the data and identify trends and gaps. While it’s important to maintain a steady flow of content, it’s also important to keep it fresh. All too often, content is distributed without tracking stakeholder engagement. Neglecting to monitor how content is being received creates a missed opportunity to gain deeper insight into customers, both in terms of identity and what assets he or she leverages. This information can help marketers plan better for future quarters.
Ultimately, B2B marketing shares many similarities with B2C because we are all human. B2B and B2C buyers both expect a consistent and addressable experience. It’s important for marketers to know their audience and consider the context when developing tailored content. In today’s digital age, with its abundance of data at our fingertips, it’s time to transition from a B2B mindset to one that is focused on B2P.