B2B is the new B2C

B2B companies need to think more like consumer companies to be successful.

That shouldn’t be news, but somehow it still is. In fact, it’s more true in today’s digital marketplace than at any time before. It’s because the thin line between the two has been all but washed away due to the continued integration of the Web into our lives and the recent explosion of mobile and social media.

What’s most interesting is how many B2B companies will simultaneously argue that B2B “is different” while citing B2C examples. Case in point…yesterday we had a typical first meeting with a B2B company…

Client: “Don’t show us any consumer retail sites you’ve done…we’re only interested in your B2B experience”

US: “Ok, here’s our B2B work. Now, what ideas did you have for your new site?

Client: “Well, we want to suggest products like Amazon…doing videos like YouTube would be a great way to show our product benefits…we want to talk with customers like on Facebook…”

Exactly. People’s expectations are established by their most common digital experiences. We don’t think of ourselves as “employee,” or “director.” We just know that buying a new computer this weekend took about :30 seconds, so we’re frustrated by some 7-page online form to get an estimate. We instantly share photos of vacations with friends across the country, but can’t download or share a product photo without filling out a required online form? We can find the most popular toys for a 10-year-old boy, but not the best shirts for my employees? Forget it.

So, what does thinking like a consumer marketer mean? It means:

  • Think about engaging, not just informing: First, show customers that you understand their problems and how you can help. Many B2B companies drown potential customer in product descriptions and detail. Yes, this information is important, but even engineers prefer an experience to endless spec sheets.
  • Think People, not just organizations: No “company” ever made a purchase decision. A person (often lots of them through complex interpersonal relationships) did. B2C companies don’t think of parents as “child care providers.” In fact, even “mom” is too broad of description in a marketplace driven by individual micro-targeting. Learn who the people are beyond the titles and the “accounts” and “companies” will solve themselves.
  • Think Needs, not just products and services: What are customers going to use your product or service for? Whatever you’re selling, it’s a means to an end. Think situations and solutions – the ends you solve — along with products and services. Show your customers how important they are. How well you understand their needs and challenges. Don’t make customers figure it out for themselves.

Doubts that we’re right about this? I’d love to hear them.

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