In the wise words of my friend and agency founder Dan Greenwald, there is no Business to Business there is only Business to Human.
Despite this gut instinct, for many years I bought into the notion that Business to Consumer (B2C) marketing is completely different from Business to Business (B2B) marketing.
But something always nagged at me. What were the real differences?
It wasn’t a need to make a personal connection with the buyer. Buyers purchase from companies they trust – for themselves and for their business.
It wasn’t a brand’s tone of voice. Over the past few years brands selling to businesses have become conversational in their communication. And no revolt has occurred; in fact business buyers have embraced the human talk.
Was it some magic price point? No consumers spend thousands on cars and homes and vacations. And businesses spend pennies on pens, envelopes, even the occasional lunch.
If it was none of these things; what is the difference between B2B and B2C buying? It turns out nothing. It’s a completely myth that B2B and B2C are divorced of each other.
The true difference comes from the complexity of the buying process. Adele Revella lays it out nicely in her book Buyer Persona. She outlines the notion of high consideration vs. low consideration purchases which I’ve roughly summarized below.
- High consideration purchases are complex. They involve evaluating many options, building a budget and engaging multiple people in the purchase process.
- Low consideration purchases are simple. They are driven by brand recognition, price or convenience. They take little investment in the buyer’s time.
The consideration of the purchase is very important to marketing, but one that is not neatly aligned to consumer vs. business buyers. Both businesses and consumers make high and low consideration purchases.
We tend to think of consumer marketing as impulsive, habitual low consideration purchases such as toothpaste, gum and socks. But there are high consideration buys in the consumer world too. A wedding dress for example. A wedding dress is not only costly, there is almost always a buying committee. The bridal party and parents often play an active role in the selection process, especially the bride’s mother. And research abounds. A bride visits many shops and tries on sometimes dozens of dresses before selecting the magic one. Other high consideration consumer purchases include a family vacation, the purchase of a new vehicle or investing in a home.
The first 15 years of my career (aside from a short forray right after college selling door to door restaurant coupons) I sold high consideration products to businesses. It put blinders on and made me believe the myth that B2B was all about high consideration purchases. Traditionally we think about business purchases such as software that will be used by multiple departments, new office space or computer equipment. But businesses buy low consideration products too. Examples include a travel tool kit for the upcoming trade show, water bottles for executive meetings and even the monthly “office” birthday cake.
Perpetuating the myth that B2B vs. B2C marketing is at the core of our marketing strategies lulls us into a false sense of security in building our strategic marketing plans.
Don’t fall for it! If you have a high consideration product, whether you sell to businesses or consumers, do your research. Understand who is involved in the buying process, probe on their motivators, fears and challenges. You can’t cookie cutter your approach and excel.