B2B or Not B2B That is the Question

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Is it B2B, B2C, or H2H in Digital Marketing?

Business to Business Marketing Canada

This is a post I wrote about two years ago when there was an argument that “There is no B2B, there is only Human 2 Human or H2H”.

I disagreed and wrote this article. The H2H movement seems to have faded, but likely is lurking around somewhere. This was a “stream of thought” blog, so forgive the structure. I have evolved!

Should H2H be the New Marketing Standard?

Recently, there has been a bunch of chatter on the social media channels suggesting the acronyms B2C (Business to Consumer) and B2B (Business to Business) gave the buzzword/acronym “the old heave-ho into the jargon dust bin.

Those who support this change in strategy suggest the better, more accurate acronym is H2H for Human to Human. The argument is that executives in business that run businesses are, after all, human beings. They have hopes, desires, needs and goals and should be marketed to, not as business entities, but as “flesh and blood” human beings.

Although there is truth to the fact that yes, business decision-makers are human and respond to human attributes like the need to feel, be valued, to understand and be understood, as do consumers. There are many similarities between B2B and B2C marketing, and just as many differences.

Here are some of each:

Similarities between B2B and B2C

  • Buyers base loyalty on relationships and trust
  • B2B and B2C are both targeted at people/human decision makers
  • It is more expensive and complex to get a new customer than to retain an existing client
  • Clients want to feel understood, valued, and if they need help they want a knowledgeable person to help them
  • B2B and B2C clients self-educate and often do a great deal of research before approaching a salesperson/walking in the door to make a purchase.

Emotional and rational thought both play a part in the buying process for both business models. Since there are fewer decision-makers involved in a B2C purchase, emotional reasons can outweigh rational ones. B2B transactions are decided upon by more than one executive or employee. Benefits and return usually impact multiple stakeholders in an organization, as well as external parties like customers, partners, and shareholders.

Both buying personas are price sensitive, however quality, level of service, supplier relationships, prestige, timing and other factors may be more important than price for certain products or services.

  • Important factors in B2B purchase decision-making include the total cost of ownership, depreciation, status and return on investment (financial and non-financial payback). They exceed the usual “sticker price” of a typical B2C transaction.
  • Effective marketing channels include social media, and targeted media (broadcast, internet, print).
  • Due to transaction volumes, immediate payment is the usual form of payment either with cash or credit card. Payment on account is almost a thing of the past.
  • Product, market share, and share of wallet are key drivers.
  • B2C e-commerce often requires online vendors to focus on product images detailed descriptions and visually/emotionally charged buying experiences. Personalization based on previous pricing and site navigation stats is the norm. B2B catalogues are often focused on product SKUs, characteristics, and price-by-volume options.

Why B2B and B2C Should be Approached Differently

B2C transactions tend to have  a shorter sales cycle and involve a few decision makers. B2B sales cycles can often go on much longer, and there are often multiple decision makers with a variety of different motivation factors for selecting different products and suppliers.

  • Rational motivators such as cost by volume, efficiency, delivery time, supplier reputation usually outweigh emotional factors, but not always.

Businesses often buy in much greater volumes, and they are not necessarily the ultimate consumer of a product. Relationships with suppliers may be contract based and be much harder to break should competitors approach when a prospect already has a competitive product/service/solution in place.

Consumers tend to have less vendor “lock-in”,  and are freer to buy from a competitor should their satisfaction change. Businesses are often a single supply chain stage in the process of getting a product to a consumer, there are different distribution/value chain attributes that need to be considered in marketing or sales.

  • B2B sales are usually lower in transaction volume than B2C however the value of individual transactions are usually higher. 
  • Factors such as location, sale price, and convenience tend to be a higher priority with consumers. The ability to get a price reduction based on volume purchases or strategic relationships is not a common trait of business to consumer sales.
  • B2B sales are often more service-oriented than B2C and marketing is geared towards a bundling approach of many products or services. There are B2C bundles or “combo deals” however they aren’t as widespread, or volume-driven as in B2B.
  • Payment by cash or credit card exists, although payment terms on account are the norm. The dollar value is prohibitive to pay with cash or put on a credit card for the most part.
  • B2B marketing is mind-share and market-share driven, while B2C is very transaction-driven
  • B2B e-commerce is more fact-driven, part numbers, features, and tools for resellers to post product details to their catalogues are more the norm. Personalization based on relationship data is the norm.

Though the idea of H2H instead of B2B or B2C is good in theory, there are a number of logical reasons to approach each segment differently.

If you can think of reasons why H2H should, or shouldn’t be adopted as an all-inclusive industry term, I would be interested in hearing them. Although each is of equal importance to industry in general, B2B and B2C have different attributes that make marketing to them merit different, although still human approaches.

This will not likely to be the last word on this topic, although the debate is definitely an engaging one!

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