B2B and B2C: Is There a Difference?

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I read this blog post about the difference between B2B and B2C.

But think about most B2B purchases. If we’re looking at buying a new rack of servers, or supply chain management software, where’s the fun in that? The only real emotion at play here is the risk of screwing up and being fired. Emotions in B2B purchases are heavily biased towards risk mitigation.

At first glance, this struck me as insightful, but later, I felt it was somewhat short-sighted. If you are an IT manager, wouldn’t buying the right servers make a difference to your job? I’d say you would be interested in the outcome beyond risk mitigation if you think that new rack of servers is going to make your work easier. If I, for instance, am looking at email marketing solutions for my company, I know what results I want from it, and how I expect it to make my work easier. I’m not a purchasing manager, I’m a marketing manager. And I’d go about this (arguably) as diligently as I would if I were buying an AC for my home. Risk mitigation is a factor in either case: I don’t want to buy a faulty AC and waste all that money (and the time I spent shopping for the AC and getting it installed). I don’t want to buy a subscription to an email marketing system that doesn’t work well and then have to explain my decision to my bosses.

I suspect the difference between B2B and B2C is much smaller than we think. I suspect that by erecting walls between the two, we are limiting our learning and creativity.

Work is so big a part of our lives. Most of us spend between 40 to 60 hours at work every week. It’s short-sighted to expect that someone would leave their emotions behind when they come in to work. In fact, how each person works is greatly a factor of that person’s personality. So why should marketers ignore this?

Is there then no distinction between B2B and B2C marketing? I think the biggest difference is that you can expect the B2B customer to be much more aware of the product and the industry. I know next to nothing about ACs, except that I want one to cool my room – and it was only recently that I discovered I’m supposed to clean the filter ever so often. For an email marketing system, however, I’ll have a pretty specific list of requirements, as well as something in past experience to compare it to. I’d also expect to be able to demo it before I buy: most such products offer free trials, and as a savvy buyer, I’ve done my homework.

It’s the prospect’s knowledge, and not merely the need to mitigate risk, that’s a reason to talk about specific benefits in B2B. You might get by on emotions in B2C: in B2B, you have to do your homework, you have to demonstrate why your product is superior.

Of course, the other reason why specificity is more important in B2B is because it’s easier to compare products. It’s easy to present a checklist of specifications that are checked for your product and aren’t for your competitors. Comparing two kinds of soap is however, much more difficult. (Some B2C products have been borrowing this tactic from B2B, showing you “scales” that show “results”. I for one am not going to offer my skin or some other part of my body as measuring weights, but that’s a separate story.)

And as any good sales person would say, emotions are important in B2B. That’s why sales people try so hard to build a rapport, to become friends, (and – hopefully – why they take the client out to lunch on the company’s expense account.)

Go on, tell us what you're thinking.