The Consumerization of the B2B Marketplace
I have held for many years that, ultimately, B2B customers are subject to many of the same influences and psychological needs as consumers. Sure, there was a time when personal relationships, three-martini lunches, and even cold calls could do the trick in many industries. However, with the advent of a multiplicity of distribution as well as information channels, B2B selling has become much less straightforward. The democratization of information makes for a better informed and more demanding B2B customer. Just as with consumer experiences, digital engagement, social media chatter, and the wider and easier availability of influencers both within and outside a company have re-shaped the B2B buyer journey.
Good advertisers have always understood that many B2B purchases are motivated by more than simply the lowest price or meeting a set of specifications. The desire for a B2B purchase decision maker to “look good” or minimize risk to their jobs or standing within their organization all fall along the full spectrum Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Two classic examples illustrate this point. “Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM” spoke directly to human concerns everyone shares regarding safety and comfort, the same reason a consumer might purchase a Honda sedan or home security system. McGraw Hill’s famous “Man in the chair” ad spoke to the need for building a relationship with a brand as part of the B2B buying journey.
Today’s data-rich selling environment, steeped inescapably in social media influences (conscious or not) has accelerated and reinforced the need to view B2B marketing through a consumer lens.
Conventional wisdom used to hold that consumers responded more to brand loyalty, advertising, positioning and messaging, and special incentives while B2B buyers were focused on personal relationships (or good ol’ boy networks, if you will) and meeting specs along with terms and conditions. While it’s been my experience the latter is a definite factor in B2B, the former has always been a strong, if unacknowledged influence. With the explosion of communication channels reaching business decision makers and influencers, that belief is changing along with business buyer expectations.
B2B marketing needs to go all in on the “consumerization” of this process. Industry experts and influencers with TED talks, social media chatter, how and where information is presented, and the general experience of engagements to more closely mirror the consumer experience all present new and powerful opportunities to engage the B2B market at many points along this new buyer’s journey. I’ll have more on these opportunities in my next article.
In the meantime, what’s been your experience?