November 27, 2018 : 4-minute read

It’s Time to Rethink H2H: The Key Differences Between B2B and B2C Marketing

I’ve seen some recent perspectives that all marketing, whether business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C), should actually be lumped into a broader bucket of human-to-human (H2H) communication. 

I’m calling BS.

Make no mistake, all marketing should be as human and personal as possible. But erasing the distinction between B2B and B2C ignores the glaring, stark contrasts that warrant specific, specialized, and deliberate approaches. From the number of buyers to the length of the buying cycle to the need for a cohesive messaging strategy, B2B is a unique beast. 

Need proof? Here’s a closer look at three of B2B’s conspicuous traits.

Buying Committees: Each B2B Sale Involves 7 Decision-Makers on Average

B2C marketing is traditionally aimed at one buyer at a time. But B2B purchases often require signoff from an average of seven stakeholders, which is commonly called a “buying committee.” This hefty group of decision-makers must coordinate and decide collectively on adopting solutions with higher price points—especially those that will have a greater impact on their business.

So, while B2B marketers are still focused on reaching each person within the committee on an individual level, appealing to one person’s preference or need is merely a starting point. From there, B2B brands need to help the committee come to an informed consensus. For example, a buyer may need approval from multiple stakeholders, such as other employees, managers, and sometimes even C-level influencers. 

That means B2B marketers often need to craft unique messaging to help internal stakeholders sell a solution to their other committee members. Buying groups tend to agree on two things by default: the need to reduce costs and the need to reduce risk. New solutions are often perceived in direct opposition to these ideals. 

In contrast, the largest B2C purchase for most people is their home—which, at most, requires marital consensus. This doesn’t, of course, mean intramarital alignment is easy, but a decision between two people is a little different than a decision among seven. 

More B2B Decision-Makers Mean Longer Sales Cycles

Unlike many B2C purchases, B2B buying isn’t exactly impulsive. Increased complexity and increased costs tend to set the stage for longer, more complicated buying cycles. That means every sale can feel more like a marathon than a sprint. And just like for a real marathon, planning and preparation are critical.

B2B marketing strategies need to account for each buyer’s criteria for making the purchase, unique evaluation methods, and media preferences. And since B2B campaigns have to account for different perspectives, they also have to account for more time to actually reach those people multiple times throughout the buying cycle, which could last as long as 18 months or more. 

To add to the complexity of the B2B buying cycle, buyers today often remain anonymous longer. They are more reluctant than ever to fill out forms or identify themselves for fear of getting spammed. And the longer it takes to get personal information from prospects, the harder it is to target, personalize, and tailor marketing messages. 

B2B Marketing Means (More) Complex Multichannel Messaging Strategies

B2B buyers consume content across a number of channels, and the buying decisions are typically based on a combination of how coordinated and intentional the messaging is across those channels.

This makes the job of the B2B marketer challenging in its own right. But it gets more challenging: Every member of a buying committee has their own, unique path to purchase—and it’s unlikely they will consume content across the same channels or even see the same pieces of content. That makes it critical to ensure every communication aligns with the overall message of a brand and the campaign, so that whatever journey a buyer takes, they find consistent messaging.

Added to that, enterprise B2B brands often offer many products, solutions, and services to different audiences. Managing a cohesive brand to such a diverse audience is challenging, to say the least. The brand may be unknown in some geographies and well-established in others—and this may flip by product line. So, balancing “awareness” and “perception” campaigns becomes a complicated process, affecting integrated planning across inbound and outbound marketing efforts.

H2H and B2B Are Not Apples to Apples

Buying committees, lengthy buying cycles, and complex messaging are all unique to B2B marketing. And understanding them defines the success or failure of a B2B marketer. 

These variables just aren’t present in B2C marketing—which, to be clear, has its own complexities.

When we blur the lines between B2C and B2B marketing by saying all marketing needs to speak to humans, we excuse the simplification of B2B into something more like consumer advertising. 

Part of being human is how we deal with the nuances of context. B2B buying decisions warrant different marketing approaches than B2C buying decisions. So, the next time you hear “There is no B2B or B2C, only H2H,” think twice. B2B is a worthy specialty.

Need an agency that knows the ins and outs of complex B2B marketing? Feel free to reach out to our team of B2B marketing experts