Bringing the Humanity Back to B2B Marketing

“Look what I got!”

No matter what you are selling, this is the ultimate end goal.

“But what if I’m selling B2B?” you ask. It’s easy to take a new, cute line of clothing and get a customer excited about buying and wearing it. But it’s a little different when you have a piece of software that you are trying to sell to an IT executive.

Consumer brands focus on “in the moment decisions.” They are usually made when an individual gets excited about the brand or product.

That’s the key.

The individual.

That is also what makes B2B different than B2C. B2B marketing is not just about the excitement of a single person, it’s about being able to take that emotion and turn it into a logical decision that the stakeholder can justify to others.

“It’s not companies that buy things, it’s people that do. But it’s not actually people, but groups of people. There is so much risk in personal dynamics,” said Karl Schmidt, a practice leader at CEB Marketing.

Schmidt said that in CEB Marketing’s most recent research, they found there are 5.4 risk holders in every B2B transaction.

So what does that mean to you?

That means you have five and a half people you need to convince to buy your product. And if that half a guy feels that he’s about to lose his job, he may be that much harder to convince.

“To get those 5.4 people to agree, it’s hard.  They will ultimately do the least risky thing, which is often sticking with the status quo or buying the cheapest alternative,” said Schmidt.

As Mark Di Somma, of the Brand Strategy Institute, wrote in his article about B2B marketing and emotion, it’s all about risk alleviation. The “excitement” a person feels while making a B2B purchase is likely closer to relief. B2B buys hope to solve issues, while also making sure that the potential solution doesn’t cause a problem for the risk holders.

The riskholders. The individuals.

That’s the key. Even though someone is buying for their business, they are worried more about how the purchase will affect their day-to-day lives.

When marketing in this manner, you must convince the potential buyer that the risk-reward balance is in their favor.

They’re the ones sticking their necks out on the line to make a purchase on behalf of a company. And you need to give them the courage to make that leap.

Somma summed it up well when he said, “Whereas B2C is mainly about excitement and how the consumer feels about the product, B2B is focused on perceived risk and how others will see the decision that has been taken. That’s because B2C is one person’s decision whereas B2B decisions are made by a whole range of people, all of whom have different perspectives.”

In an ideal world, you want your customers to proudly proclaim, “Look what I got!” and for their colleagues to herald them for their decision. And while they bask in the glow of their colleague’s appreciation, they’ll be breathing a sigh of relief that they still have their job.

And many B2B brands are doing just that, making emotional connections that play off the fears of their customers, providing products that improve the quality of life at a company.

When CEB Marketing, Google, and Motista got together and researched emotional connections and B2B marketing, they found something that may surprise many people who read about B2B marketing.

They found that while many say that B2B appealing to knowledge and reason, it actually does a better job connecting emotionally with its audience than B2C does.

Motista has studied hundreds of B2C brands, and found that most only have an emotional connection with between 10% and 40% of consumers. CEB Marketing then studied nine B2B brands and found that seven of the brands had surpassed the 50% mark.

The researchers determined these numbers by using a survey created by Motista, which consisted of 70 to 80 specific questions focused at customers. These were originally used for just analyzing B2C brands, but then the same questions were applied to B2B brands.

“We wanted to apply that same standard to B2B to do an apples-to-apples comparison,” said Schmidt. He explains that the questions were largely focused on purchase experience and the customer’s perspective on the brands in question.

Schmidt said that in his more recent research, he found that it’s not just emotion that B2B marketers need to play into, it is the identity value, or the value we see in terms of who we are and how we see ourselves.

“Emotion is so noisy and it can often be fleeting, while how we see ourselves as a person is more persistent,” said Schmidt. He explains that this value is put on the line when an individual makes a B2B purchase.  He compared the risk of B2C purchase to that of a B2B purchase.

“Am I going to lose my job? Am I going to lose the respect of my colleagues? The risk I’m taking is so much higher,” said Schmidt, speaking about B2B purchases.

Schmidt said companies that are engaging in B2B marketing may know roughly who they’re marketing towards but they don’t have the complete picture.

He said that they may know the person needs of one stakeholder, but didn’t know the needs of the other 4.4.

He gave an example of one company that CEB Marketing worked with, which was targeting dentists. He said that the company had been trying to sell their tools as if they were selling to small business owners. But this was apparently the wrong tactic, because when they switched to marketing to dentists as healthcare providers, the company saw an increase in sales.

So if your current strategy isn’t working, maybe it’s because you’re broadcasting something different than what your potential customers need.

Schmidt recommends asking the following questions:

  • What is the human need?
  • What is the identity of a person?

If you can answer both of those questions and do that for any potential stakeholders, it is likely you will see a better return on your B2B marketing.

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