The B2B customer is inherently a different creature to the B2C customer – no matter even if recent research shows how closely B2B buying behaviour is beginning to resemble B2C buying behaviour online. The most important difference is that when people buy anything for themselves as customers, emotionality plays a huge part, and they can afford to be impulsive without accountability. When people buy for their businesses, there is emotion for sure (like ego, professional power, career sensitivities), but customers have to put it all behind them, to be as “professional” as possible, in decision-making.
In B2B Content Marketing, where customers act as agents of a business and are accountable to others in the business hierarchy for the decisions they make (and decisions are reflected in the profitability of the company), they have to be deliberate, cautious, judicious and thorough in their choices. Rationality must rule – and every action needs a financial justification in terms of ROI. So the way brand marketers have to handle B2B customers needs an appropriately sensitive approach.
How should B2B marketers present their brands to customers?
Display of domain expertise via the brand is very important.
In the B2B segment, how attractive a product looks is less significant. How deep the domain expertise of the technical and sales team is can be crucial. The product is often not the tangible item, but the “knowledge” that helps selling it is, because on the customers’ side you can expect really knowledgeable people to be representing their company as buyers.
Since the predominant form of purchasing, at the almost-final stages, is by inviting vendors to “pitch”, the customer often becomes even more knowledgeable thanks to vendors themselves informing the customers with more particular and nuanced knowledge than they had before in a bid to sound more superior to competitors.
There is also one more factor to consider. In many B2B companies, the technical team is usually very knowledgeable on the subject matter but frightfully poor on salesmanship. The sales team is strong on sales process but deficient on domain knowledge. In between the cracks, the customer is lost. B2B marketers need to make sure their technical people are trained into salesmanship since its easier to do that than to train salesmen to become technical!
Some brands believe that if they put out a lot of technical information on their websites, the content can make up for the fact that slightly less than ideal sales people can meet client to seal the deal. But no matter how much content you pre-expose to the client on your websites, ultimately the depth of the people facing the customers from your side will matter. Whoever you choose to represent you at the discussion table needs to be literally your whole website – and more – on two legs!
Marketing innovation is less important than product innovation.
One of the important points to note in B2B Marketing is that customers are averse to what they see as too much flamboyance in marketing. They tend to be more “conservative” and “cautious” in approach and marketing innovations do not sit well with them.
For instance, with most businesses, the method of product purchase and vendor selection is often laid down as part of operational procedure. So if you are thinking “let’s innovate in the way we approach a customer”, you are doomed to be eyed with a great deal of suspicion as flim-flam!
On the other hand, any amount of “product innovation” is very welcome! Customers love to see products that are technologically superior, offering higher dynamism and higher reliability due to innovative construction, and especially products who usage will give the customers a cutting-edge in the market.
In the B2B world, customers themselves talk less about the differentiation in their approach to their consumers, and talk more about what goes into their products as giving them the edge! Your product’s calibre has to support the customer later in his claim that his product is far superior in performance thanks to the inclusion of your innovative component!
So make sure you let the customer know that your product or service is the one that he can beat the tom-tom about and it will make him look greater to his customers!
Brand variants are not as crucial as product customization.
In the B2C markets, customers love to see many variants of a brand. They perceive variants as pre-produced customizations of the main product, so that they can pick off the shelves the products exactly matched to their needs. In the B2B markets however, the customer likes to see less variants and more post-purchase customization.
The customer, in fact, likes to have more control over the customization and will like to be in the loop as customization takes place, so that he can justify every tweak in the original product (and also take the credit for it!).
It’s true that this happens a lot more with high-ticket purchases (like airplanes, for example, where customization to the buyer airlines’ needs is nine-tenths of the game). But it can also be true of small priced items, where, say, tiny components of a piece of machinery will also need to be millimetre-perfect to suit the manufacturing processes of the customer.
Customization in the B2B market is seen as the most important part of with-sales service, and therefore customer experience through the process of product customization is important. To an extent, the customer can be set thinking along the lines of what his customization preferences are, if your web content provokes him to start his ideation and articulation of customization needs well ahead. This kind of content will be seen as pro-active and customer-centric marketing.
How should B2B marketers view their customers?
Customers are not 100% rational, there are two key emotions needed.
The idea that B2B customers are more rational than B2C customers is true. But it’s not a 100% true statement because two major emotions are indeed involved even in a B2B purchase. In fact these two emotions are very influential. These are the emotions of trust and security.
Trust is so important that without it being in place, a vendor or B2B marketer will not even enter the consideration set of a customer for final evaluation. And the higher the unit price of the item being sold, the more the trust needed.
This kind of trust is not just at the personal comfort level of the persons facing each other in a buying transaction, but it’s the trust in the brand being bought – and there’s also the reverse-trust of the seller in the company buying the product that purchase payments will be recoverable. The kind of guarantees that accompany product sales are a weighty factor.
Security again is important, not just in terms of the security of websites where transactions may be gone through but in terms of the product security issues. A lot of pre-testing of product security may have to be done, however small or large the product.
Think of all the products that manufacturers have had to recall after selling several hundreds of pieces, because some one or two internal components were not considered ideal for 100% user safety! Security is impossible to prove without elaborate testing, and part of the customer experience will hinge on the smoothness and passage of security tests.
The “customer” is usually an “account” made up of a mixed team.
In B2B Marketing, what we refer to as a “customer” may actually be a whole business! Often to avoid confusion, the company involved is called an “account” and its buying team members are referred to as “contacts”.
The complexity of selling to multi-level, multi-discipline teams is a huge challenge. You have to be able to convince all the team members (who are all domain experts in their own areas) by demonstrating your own abilities to match their expertise with equally knowledgeable teams from your side.
Some brands solve this issue by using the right content marketing to address the FAQs of all the opposing team members, so that at least the bulk of the convincing process can be done digitally instead of person-to-person.
But nevertheless, it takes a lot of customer persona modelling to ensure that you have identified all the stakeholders in the purchase team and their needs, and have created matching content to address all their queries, doubts, informational needs and ROI justifications.
One other issue that B2B marketers often will need to do is to help the lower levels of management in their customer organizations to get the buy-in of their seniors for their purchase decisions. It’s no use arguing that the job of getting senior management buy-ins is the responsibility of the juniors on the customer side.
If they could do it, they would, but the sad truth is that most customer organizations need bolstering from the vendor end to get their own seniors to see the value of the products they are buying. It is both a challenge and an opportunity for B2B marketers, because it could mean access to the higher levels of the customer company.
Customer segmentation is not as tough as customer satisfaction.
Unlike B2C Marketing where customer segmentation is so difficult and consists of many variables, it’s relatively easier in B2B Marketing where there are essentially only four types of customers … those who value price, those who value service, those who value quality and those who value relationships.
The secret sauce to getting your content pitch right is to be able to address the needs of these four segments correctly, and even before that, to be able to identity which people in the customer teams have which type of priority.
To those who value price, the justifications invariably are made using the “business case” model. To those who value quality, the pitch has to be a “competitive comparison”. To those who value service, the most important aspect is response-speed and response-quality. And to those who value relationships, regularity and frequency of contact are paramount.
Time and mind-space are highly valued in the B2B sector, so if you’ve got the wrong kind of pitch to the wrong person, you won’t be given the time of day again. So make sure you know which of the four categories of needs the person you have to be in touch with has, and apply the appropriate kind of content to your pitch.
Not listening to your customer can lead to misreading his motivation!
Too many marketers totally underestimate the B2B customer’s buying decision. They fail to see that it is underpinned by a more complex business decision than just price or service extras or even scoring above competition. As a result the most powerful sales technique – the business case for ROI – is all too often ignored or glossed over. Nothing is more important in B2B marketing than building the business case. It helps eliminate a lot of potential objections to the ultimate sale.
Ray Collis, writing in his article “Misreading the Buyer’s Motivation” in the Buyers Sellers Insights Blog, says:
In the ruthless world of selling the salesperson must accept responsibility for the sale that is lost, as readily as he, or she accepts credit for the sale that is won. That means getting to the core of why a deal is lost requires looking beyond superficial answers such as; being undercut by a competitor, or the wrong weighting being used by a buyer.
Our analysis of over one thousand win-loss reviews revels that misreading the ‘why’ of the buying decision is a major factor in why most deals are lost. But that is not all.
Our research with buyers tell us that the reason that buying decisions get stalled is not because the buyer cannot choose one supplier over another. It is because a compelling business case for the purchase has not been established.
Buyers tell us that the reason why one supplier looses out to another is generally not because of price, but because of a more complex business logic, that includes costs, benefits and risk.
It pays to really listen to customers, especially in B2B Marketing, doesn’t it?
B2B marketers are over-cautious about experimentation, but you can and should shed your hesitation!
Remember this: too much hesitation in the initial stages can kill lucrative ideas before they take off. It does not pay to be over-cautious with a B2B customer just because he is a more rational person than a B2C customer would be. You can try innovative approaches to your marketing. In fact, you should. See this case study of Mailchimp, the autoresponder company …
Those who use MailChimp know they are a trailblazer in “non-conformist approaches” to B2B marketing. They often run marketing campaigns that are very innovative (by B2B marketing standards). For example, MailChimp realized that many potential customers were often misspelling their offbeat name – Mailchimp – when they typed other spellings into their browser search fields. This meant that Mailchimp were actually losing a lot of business. To recover this lost traffic, Mailchimp ran a paid search campaigns with loads of funny alterations of their brand name. See this film that explains how their campaign ran…
The company explains: “We used mispronunciation as a creative device to inspire all kinds of different executions, knowing that people would be curious about what they were seeing and search for more information.” Now, isn’t that a great idea we’d never have associated with B2B marketing? Who can forget the name “Mailchimp” now?
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “B2B Content Marketing”:
- Important B2B Customer Buying Behaviors … How To Handle Them!
- Shorten The B2B Purchase Cycle Without Pushing Your Prospects!