What Is B2B Marketing?

Businesswoman giving a presentation in the boardroom

B2B stands for business-to-business. As Investopedia points out, this term refers to "a type of transaction that exists between businesses, such as one involving a manufacturer and wholesaler, or a wholesaler and a retailer." In business-to-business (B2B) marketing, the customers and prospects are other businesses rather than consumers.

B2B Compared to B2C

The ultimate goal of all marketing is to sell products or services. A key point of difference between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing lies with whom the customer is.

  • With B2C marketing, the end-user customer is an individual purchasing for personal consumption.
  • With B2B the end-use customer is a business, with an individual person or group of decision-makers deciding what to purchase for use in their companies.

Product Considerations

Some products are sold to both B2B and B2C markets. Cell phones are a good example of this.

  • Cell phone companies typically offer a variety of devices and service options for individual (consumer use), as well as separate business plans that include a bundle of devices and service plans consistent with the need of a company purchasing access for multiple users.
  • They may have different sales representatives for the B2C and B2B market as the product knowledge requirements and sales strategies utilized may be different with each group.

In some cases, certain products are intended only for individual consumers or only for business customers.

  • Many products marketed in retail stores are examples of consumer-only goods. For example, items like barrettes, hair ribbons, and stockings are consumer items. However, there is still a B2B process involved, as each brand's marketing team has to convince the retailer to carry their company's items in their stores.
  • Things like raw materials used in the production of goods and services are typically only offered through B2B channels, as they are items that individual consumers would have no need for.

Understanding B2B Buyers

Customer analysis is an important key to successful B2B marketing. Keep key characteristics of B2B customers to keep in mind when defining your target market include:

  • Skeptical of vendors: The Salesforce blog states, "The 21st-century buyer is increasingly cynical and critical of vendors." As a result, they don't tend to take what sales representatives tell them at face value. Salesforce indicates that they are particularly distrustful of products or services positioned as a "one-size-fits-all strategy." Instead, they prefer vendors who offer customized marketing solutions.
  • Careful researchers: As New Breed points out, "it's uncommon for B2B leads to make impulse buys." B2B buyers are purchasing on behalf of their companies and are often responsible for major purchases that represent a lot of money. So, they conduct careful research before making purchase decisions.

This means that B2B salespeople (a) research extensively before making purchases and (b) aren't going to reach everything they see on your company's website.

B2B Marketing Success Tips

While the principles of marketing always apply, some unique strategies are required to effectively reach a B2B market. Key considerations include:

  • Quality website: There are a number of important best practices for B2B website design, including building in appropriate features to capture contact information from website visitors who are valid leads for your company for your customer relationship management (CRM) system. It's also important to ensure that the site's navigation is intuitive and easy-to-use. The content on your site needs to tell the story of your brand in an easy-to-understand, clear manner.
  • Digital presence: It's also important to have a digital presence beyond just your company website. Search marketing is critical. Ensure that your company is properly represented on social media channels, as well as relevant industry-specific forums, directories, and other online resources that potential buyers might rely on or frequent as they do product research.
  • Third-party endorsement: Since B2B buyers don't necessarily trust what companies say about themselves, it's important to seek and communicate third party endorsements of your products and services. This can be done through testimonials, reviews or articles on other websites, guest blogging, awards/recognition for your company or its wares, public relations efforts that lead to interviews with or quotes from company executives in credible publications, etc. Customer referral programs can also be beneficial.
  • Association marketing: If you are selling in an industry where buyers tend to place a lot of trust in a professional association, consider getting involved with that group and utilizing it as a primary marketing resource. For example, if you sell HR-related products or services, you may find it helpful to get involved with the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). You can join the national organization, have salespeople join local chapters, sponsor conferences or other events, advertise in member publications, or exhibit at trade shows.

Promoting to a Business-to-Business Market

Marketing to a B2B market isn't the same as marketing to a B2C market. While popular strategies such as direct mail letters or other advertising or marketing ideas can be effective, the approach has to be specific to a B2B audience. Whatever marketing strategies you apply, take care to be sure that the messages and delivery channels are appropriate for business buyers.

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