B2B vs B2C: differences in go-to-market strategy

What can business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers learn from one another about go-to-market (GTM) strategy? The answer is a lot. But we should understand some of the nuances in B2B vs B2C marketing first. And to do that, it’s probably easier to start with what the difference isn’t.

Download: What do I really need to go to market?


Understanding Both Sides

Your point-of-view on B2B or B2C is often colored by whether you work on one side of the fence or the other. B2B marketers can think of B2C marketers as dreamers or data junkies, stuck in costly mass-market strategies. B2C marketers can think of B2B marketers as sales people, spending their days nattering away on the phone or charging client lunches to the corporate spending account. Neither description is (entirely) accurate.

If you asked a B2B marketer what makes B2B different from B2C, here’s what she’d likely mention:


One-on-one selling

One-on-one selling is often a part of B2B GTM strategies. If you’re selling software, business consulting, or many other pricey items, you will almost certainly have to build and maintain a relationship with clients. But is that a characteristic specific only to B2B marketing? No. If you go to a hair stylist, my guess is you’ve been a recipient of a one-to-one sales effort. Hair stylists make money on the haircuts, yes, but the real money comes in talking you into that $38 styling gel or $60 hair treatment that the stylist, who knows your hair situation even better than you do, knows will be the only thing that will make your hair perfect. And the friendly sample pushers at Costco? They may not know who you are or what your specific needs are on a busy Saturday morning, but they certainly know how to get you to try—and buy—the new bacon-flavored sour cream.


A long sales cycle

A long sales cycle certainly goes hand-in-hand with any expensive purchase, but sadly for consumers, expensive purchases are not limited to corporate purchasing departments. Consumers who buy cars, smart phones, and college educations routinely research, review, seek advice, and take a test drive (virtual or real) before making a final decision.


Regulations and constraints

Many consumer products exist in marketplaces with regulations and constraints. Over-the-counter products must meet many FDA and CPSC regulations. Food products must be inspected. Lead can’t be in paint. You have to be 21 to buy alcohol. And any product that advertises itself to consumers must meet the regulations of truth and fairness set by the FTC. Buyer constraints exist in the B2C world as well. Will that IKEA couch fit around the turn at the top of the stairs? Sure, we can adopt a kitten, but only if it’s black, puffy, and gets along with Rover. I’d love a new iPhone XS, but I can only afford a 6 Plus.


Long approval process

That leaves a long approval process as the defining trait. Have you ever tried to get two teenagers to agree on the same restaurant for dinner?

Similarly, B2C marketers, who treasure their mass marketing, data mining, and consumer insights might be surprised to consider that IBM and SAP use TV advertising to reach business buyers, Facebook uses data mining to understand key buyers, and Amazon is known for its stellar consumer insights.


The Real Difference

So, what are the hard and fast rules that separate B2B marketing from B2C? Well, there will always be some overlap but, from our point-of-view, the biggest difference is that the decision-makers in B2B marketing are spending someone else’s money. And how well they do that spending has an impact on their career. I can buy the wrong iPhone, but it doesn’t mean I won’t get promoted. I can buy the wrong couch and my partner might be annoyed we have to return it, but I can go to sleep knowing my job is safe.


Insights from Across the Aisle

So what can B2B and B2C marketers learn from each other? First, acknowledge that each side has strengths that the other can leverage. Then, look at what the other guy is doing well and copy it!


What B2C Marketers Can Learn

B2C marketers: build B2B’s “person” and “personable-ness” into your marketing materials. Ensure the materials for your new product or service have a voice—one that serves the brand and its audience. The voice may be homey or wise or trusted or fun, but keep it consistent across touchpoints. Make sure the agency or person who responds to online inquiries or posts on social media uses the same voice. Make your consumer believe there is a person behind the brand.


What B2B Marketers Can Learn

B2B marketers: why aren’t you learning more about your consumer? I don’t mean the names of their kids or the way they take their coffee. I mean the psychographic concerns that those in your buyer group share about their purchases. Remember, their jobs depend on buying the right thing! Find six or eight representatives from your buyer group—preferably not your customers—and talk to them about their goals and concerns. Listen to the language they use. Listen to what they say annoys them about the sales process and what they want more of. Find out what allays their worries. Turn these insights into a new way to approach your customers.


More Insights to be Gathered

Those are two examples, but dig in and you’ll find more. B2C-ers, if you envy the stability B2B sellers have, why not give your buyers a reason to be stable. Reward them for continued purchases. Offer them automated refills. B2B-ers, if you have a message that you’ve found resonates with your individual customers, take a page out of the B2C playbook and use Google or Facebook to leverage that message on a more mass basis and find other potential buyers.

The bottom line is, there are no rules. If someone’s doing it and it works, you can very likely make it work for your business.

Up next: B2B sales in 3 questions