Today’s B2B buyers expect a more personalized and omnichannel buying experience, which has many B2B organizations leveraging some common B2C tactics to meet their expectations. Mirroring the strategies used when making consumer purchases, B2B buyers are increasingly turning to social media, peer recommendations and mobile apps to gain control of the buying process and gather insights from colleagues.
Companies such as Lenovo, which straddles both consumer and corporate markets, are finding value in collaboration between their B2B and B2C marketing teams. This cross-discipline strategy enables the technology company to present a consistent brand message while enhancing its B2B marketing team’s ability to personalize the buying process and enhance the customer experience through tools such as online marketplaces and social media.
In addition, B2B organizations such as Salesforce and MailChimp are using their websites and social media pages to highlight achievements of staffers and users in an attempt to put a face to their brand, taking a page out of the B2C playbook.
The 2015 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report shows that 55% of B2B buyers rely more on peer recommendations in their purchasing processes than they did a year ago, while 53% are spending more time using social media to research vendors and solutions. This highlights how personal buying habits are finding their way into the B2B buying process.
The B2C and B2B marketing teams at Lenovo are continuously collaborating and sharing best practices, noted Michael Ballard, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing. “Our B2B and B2C teams are separate groups but we work together frequently to stay aware of content that can be shared between the groups, align with the brand direction and best practices with general marketing.”
The constant fluidity of the B2B buying landscape requires marketers to be on their toes at all times to stay ahead of prospective customers. Adrien Nussenbaum, Co-founder and CEO of Mirakl, a B2B and B2C online marketplace solution provider, highlighted three key factors causing B2B marketers to adopt B2C tactics:
- Tech is changing user expectations. “Buyers expect information now, as well as expecting modern, digital interactions in a B2B environment.”
- Network effects are critical today. “Buyers don't buy in isolation anymore. They leverage networks and online communities.”
- The business landscape is changing from local to global. Need to go after a global landscape.
“[B2B organizations] need to understand what the customer is looking for,” Nussenbaum noted. “They want product choice, reassurance that they are paying a good price or getting what they pay for and guaranteed customer service.”
While B2B marketers often targets accounts — unlike their B2C counterparts — sources noted that personalizing the buying experience for the individual is crucial to making headway with buying teams.
“Traditionally, B2B has been behind the technology curve with B2C,” Ballard said. “However, I’m starting to see this change with the rise in marketing technologies and the ability that B2B now has to target and segment individuals instead of large groups.”
Ultimately, sources noted that behavioral data is what fuels successful B2C marketing tactics — meaning that the same should go for B2B marketing.
“If you can market successfully without bothering people — obviously audience sensitivity is a factor — it further enhances content, personas and other marketing aspects,” said Carol Spillman, Senior Best Practice and Strategy Consultant for BlueBird Strategies. “It's always going to be different marketing to an individual’s needs in comparison to a company's needs. But everyone's human, and there's going to be similar needs in both environments, so it's a matter of addressing those needs in a relevant and contextual way.”
Online Communities Enhance Cross-Channel Engagement
B2C thrives on building a brand community, and it has become expected by consumers as they research and make personal B2C purchase decisions. While it has become pivotal in today’s B2C marketing strategy, B2B has lagged in the area, according to industry experts.
“This has always been difficult with B2B as, in the past, purchasers had hard lines between business and personal life,” Ballard noted. “Those lines are now completely blurred since the ever increasing use of social media. Twitter and Facebook feeds now have a mixture of business and personal content.”
This blur has given B2B companies an opportunity to incorporate some B2C tools and tactics to enhance the way they market to prospective buyers — providing more insights for marketers to leverage in their initiatives in order to create consistent and relevant messaging.
“As a B2B marketer, I want to learn from the best B2C community builders and find what could apply to B2B to build the brand community that would differentiate our product from my competitors,” Ballard added.
With retail organizations finding success in building online communities where brand advocates can engage prospective customers with relevant messaging, B2B organizations are incorporating online communities in an effort to also connect the dots across multiple channels.
“When you look at the buyer's journey, you need to be covering everything,” said Kern. “No matter how the world changes to be digitally savvy, the need for human-to-human connection still matters. The fundamentals are what matter, but B2B marketers have roughly 30 channels to go to market.”
Sources noted that this growing need for a personalized buying experience requires successful integrations between channels. Marketing automation and other technological advances are aiding B2B marketers in tying all of their prospects’ data in a single location to understand their needs and meet expectations.
“B2C marketers are also still ahead when it comes to bridging online and offline channels,” said Chris Lynch, Senior Director and Head of Product Marketing for Oracle Marketing Cloud. “As B2B marketers identify the key use cases of offline and online buyer behavior we expect this discrepancy to diminish as well.”
Consumer-Styled Buying In B2B Marketplaces
As B2B buyers look to gain more control in the buying journey, E-commerce sites such as Amazon and Alibaba are being highlighted as examples of how B2B companies can offer that control by positioning buyers to make purchases through the company site.
“We are seeing some B2B businesses moving toward more B2C E-commerce capable functions enabled by technology (marketing automation) but that represents typically a smaller percentage of overall revenue,” said Jon Russo, Founder and CEO of the B2B Fusion Group.
This trend is fueled by a need to a have a non-channel conflicting relationship with the customer, according to Nussenbaum. “When you think about it, campaign automation for a company is driving end relationships, which then drives distributors.”
In one example, Nussenbaum highlighted a drug manufacturer prospect which sells to distributors who are not able to offer a great buying experience. A B2B-styled E-commerce marketplace provides distributors a location where the brand can become a one-stop shop. They can then obtain the customer data on prospects’ interests and buying intent.
“When we talk about marketplaces, the success is mostly due to the fact that people who implement it have been client-centric from the start,” Nussenbaum added. “At the end of the day, E-commerce initiatives are driven by the fact that they see it as a way to optimize their processes.”
However, separating information as personal or professional data is a challenge that B2B organizations continue to struggle with.
“The challenge is more focused on understanding the context of the individual at the time of interaction, i.e. is this individual acting as a consumer or a B2B buyer,” Lynch said. “Through the combination of our Data Management Platform and our Cross-Channel Marketing capabilities our customers are able to understand the context of the buyer interaction and adapt appropriately. This ensures a seamless experience for the buyer regardless of context and increased conversions for our customers.”
In the end, it’s a matter of keeping up with prospective buyers and offering them the resources they need to make a purchase.
“In this market environment, there are the 'quick' and the 'dead',” Russo noted. “Nimble pays off in spades, whether it be small agencies or companies to respond to changing market needs.”