What is B2B Marketing?
B2B marketing is short for for business-to-business marketing. It’s one of the two major categories of marketing, and differs significantly from the other major category, B2C marketing (business-to-consumer) marketing.
We’ll explore the differences between B2B and B2C in more detail in just a moment. First, it’s important to define B2B marketing:
- 1The Technical DefinitionB2B marketing is promoting products and services to other businesses, typically: (1) at large volumes, (2) with lengthy sales cycles, (3) to multiple decision-makers, and (4) with more complexity than consumer products.
- 2The Business DefinitionB2B marketing can also be defined as the marketing of products or services to other businesses for use in production, general business operations, or resale to other consumers.
- 3What it Really MeansIn simple terms, B2B marketing is a business promoting its products or services to another business
How B2B Marketing Works
The first step of B2B marketing is letting other companies know that your business exists, and you have a product or service which will benefit them. In addition to increasing brand awareness, B2B marketing gets companies interested in your brand, and nurtures prospects – with the goal of converting them into customers. Ideally, they will develop a valuable relationship with your brand for many years.
Because B2B products and services tend to be more complex (and expensive) than those designed for consumers, developing long-term relationships is critical. While someone probably won’t care about relationships if they’re searching for the cheapest t-shirt, if they’re considering a long-term investment in something like manufacturing equipment, choosing the right partner is vital.
Many B2B marketers use traditional strategies, like attending trade shows or employing a team of sales reps, to build and nurture these key relationships. Combining those strategies with digital tools helps them market to many businesses without losing their personal touch – it’s the best of both worlds.
Let’s say a woman named Laura is a sales rep for an email marketing software company. She meets Tom at an industry trade show. Tom works at a graphic design company and shows interest in Laura’s product. Laura adds Tom’s name to her database, and she and her team nurture him in the B2B marketing process. They email him materials which he may find helpful, such ebooks and videos, and invite him to an event. Eventually, Tom becomes a customer. Tom’s graphic design company then uses the email marketing software to nurture his leads. He sends emails to his prospects, which are local businesses. At this point Tom is also participating in B2B marketing activities.
Successful B2B marketing combines traditional and digital marketing tools in a way that helps a prospect understand what you can do for their business. Perhaps you can solve a problem they are already facing, or you can provide them with a solution that will make their process more efficient – saving them money in the long run. Whatever benefit your product brings, the goal of B2B marketing is to let businesses know you exist, your product is valuable, and convert them into customers.
B2B vs. B2C Marketing
The goals of B2B and B2C marketing are the same, but their approaches vary dramatically. Trying to treat the two practices like they’re identical is a recipe for disappointment.
Let’s turn our attention to B2C marketing for a moment to highlight why this distinction is so important. Once you understand the nuts and bolts of B2C, it’s easier to spot all the areas where B2B marketing diverges.
What is B2C Marketing?
Instead of B2B marketing, which promotes products and services to other businesses, B2C marketing stands for “business-to-consumer” marketing.”
That covers a huge range of situations, whether it’s investing in a new car or trying to decide which type of mocha to try at Starbucks.
Let’s break it down in more detail:
- 1The Technical DefinitionB2C marketing is promoting products to individuals for personal use, consumption, and/or enjoyment.
- 2The Business DefinitionB2C marketing can also be defined as promoting individual products to individual buyers, most commonly in a retail or e-commerce setting.
- 3What it Really MeansIn simple terms, B2C marketing is promoting anything people would buy for themselves.
Looking at those definitions, it is easy to think of examples of B2C marketing in your own life. Almost any store you visit offers products that are sold utilizing B2C marketing. Aside from in-store purchases, like shoes and groceries, B2C marketing also includes high-end items like luxury cars and first-class travel. B2C companies also provide services. Examples include massages, photography classes, or assistance from an accountant when filing your taxes.
The sheer scope of B2C marketing can seem overwhelming. If it helps, think of it as “promoting anything someone would buy not for their business.”
Most of us make B2C purchases every day. We pick up lunch at our favorite taco place, take our iPhones into the Apple store for an upgrade, and stop by Macy’s to buy a nice watch for our partner’s birthday.
A number of B2C transactions happen when people visit stores in person. But thanks to online platforms like Amazon and Zappos, that’s rapidly changing. Now, many B2C purchases happen electronically, with products shipped straight to our doors, instead of having to fight traffic and long lines at the checkout. New B2C services – such as Instacart, which delivers groceries – are even popping up based on these trends.
Who Uses B2B Marketing?
Any business selling to another business uses B2B marketing.
Any company trying to sell to other companies uses B2B marketing to help promote its products or services. While these companies aren’t as diverse as all those using B2C marketing, there’s still quite a range of products, services, and industries involved.
Some common B2B companies include:
- Software Companies. Software helps businesses satisfy their customers and operate more efficiently. Whether it’s boosting productivity by blocking social media, fostering collaboration with project management tools, or keeping track of work hours and expenses, there’s a solution to practically every business need through software.
- Office Suppliers. Although we’re doing more work electronically than ever, it’s still crucial to keep workspaces well supplied. Businesses need furniture, phone systems, security cameras, printer paper and ink,ID badges, and much more for employees.
- Marketing Agencies. Marketing agencies appeal to businesses by offering to help them make more money. Lately, they’re focusing on digital marketing as more brands (and customers) take their business online. Demand is sky high for agencies building websites, boosting results in search rankings, and streamlining e-commerce checkout processes.
- Bookkeeping and Accounting. Accounting and tax preparation are tedious and time-consuming, making them ideal expenses to outsource. Whether it’s a large team of accountants or just a single freelancer with powerful software, they’re all eager to connect with clients through B2B.
These are just a few of the many types of B2B companies. When you consider just how many industries exist, and the resources each require to create their products or services, it is easy to see the massive scope of B2B businesses. Even dentists need to buy their instruments from someone!
Everyone in business needs supplies, inventory, and tools to run effectively and serve their customers. This makes every business around – whether it’s a corporation on the Fortune 500 list, or a freelance web designer working in their home office – B2B customers.
Take a moment and look at your desk. Every program on your computer, every item on your desk – even your desk itself – was supplied by a B2B company, making you a customer to each of them. In turn, each of those companies purchased resources to create their product or services. Working backwards, the chain of B2B providers and customers can seem almost endless!
Whether you’re selling office supplies, paper for the printer or consulting services, you are both a business and a customer of other businesses.
B2B Marketing Channels and Strategies
There are almost as many approaches to B2B marketing as there are B2B companies themselves. Thanks to the massive popularity of digital tools, these continue to evolve by the day.
Every B2B product or service, as well as the target audience, is a little different. Marketers have to adjust their approaches accordingly. Yet, over time a core group of techniques has proven effective across almost every B2B industry.
We’ll cover those in detail throughout this section. Before we get any further, it’s important to understand that every B2B strategy contains two components:
- 1Channels.Where the marketers interact with potential customers. This can include anything from direct mail to a social media platform.
- 2Messaging.What the marketing material actually says. These are the substance of the interactions themselves. It might be educational content, a free trial, or an in-person conversation. Marketers adjust their messaging as leads progress through the sales process cycle. Messaging can also be affected by the company’s brand and tone of the marketing materials. Some B2B companies, such as those in the financial industry, tend to be more corporate and focus on logic and reason Others, such as advertising agencies, may take a lighter approach and use more humor.
B2B marketers mix different channels and messaging to connect with customers and test new strategies. Financial companies aren’t limited to being corporate in tone; breaking out of the mold can actually result in more impactful campaigns by helping a company stand out from its competitors
B2B Marketing Channels
B2B channels are simply the avenues marketers use to connect with potential customers.
The channel often dictates which type of messaging is ideal. Twitter is no place to share in-depth, technical content; you’d run out of characters! That would be a better fit as content on your website or a downloadable PDF.
Just like B2B marketing strategies break down into channels and messaging, the channels themselves break down into two groups:
- Offline. These are traditional marketing platforms such as in-person, over the phone, and print ads. If it doesn’t happen on the internet, it goes here.
- Online. Anything and everything where marketers connect with an audience digitally. If you see it on your phone or computer, it happens here.
Marketers were previously limited to offline channels, but the past few decades have introduced all kinds of new possibilities. We’ve never had more channels available to build relationships with our audiences.
Just like marketing strategies, channels are continuing to change with technology. For example, television commercials were previously considered offline. However, with the rise of streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu, people are consuming more television on their phones, and the lines are beginning to blur.
There’s no reason to use one channel exclusively and ignore all the others. Now, B2B marketers can pick and choose from different offline and online channels, and test the results to see which channels work best for them. A multichannel approach can be the best way to make use of limited marketing budgets – and create a system more powerful than the sum of its parts.
This chart breaks down some of the most common offline and online B2B marketing channels:
Your website is the hub or “virtual storefront” for all your activities online. B2B marketers use websites to blog, display customer testimonials, collect email addresses, and showcase their brand’s products and services. Learn more on how to make a website.
Popular social media platforms (like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) are a fixture of B2B marketing. Marketers can share content, showcase their expertise by answering questions, and post images that display the company’s culture and values. B2B video content is also growing in popularity, and companies are growing their presences on YouTube. B2B brands are also growing their presence on Pinterest, offering a great space for visual content such as infographics.
Email marketing is one of the most common digital strategies around – and still incredibly effective. With regular messages, marketers can stay in touch and nurture leads, all from the convenience of their inboxes. Emails can include special offers, new products, or content that will be valuable for readers, keeping them engaged with your brand.
(Read more about B2B email marketing campaigns here!)
The options for B2B marketers to advertise online are almost limitless. Some use banner ads on the top of websites, or pay-per-click ads on search engines. Another example includes paid social media posts. It might be all of the above!
Other Publications, Forums and Q&A Sites
Some B2B marketers publish content beyond their own websites. The idea is to target highly trafficked and relevant places, connect with leads, and bring them back. Sharing content on websites such as Medium, Quora, and Slideshare can all help raise your brand awareness. Whenever possible, it is important to include a link to drive traffic back to your site. Just be sure to do it in a way that is beneficial for the reader and doesn’t seem like you’re pushing for a sale.
Events and Trade Shows
Event marketing is one of the most popular offline strategies for B2B marketers. After attending and meeting industry insiders, marketers can segue into nurturing them. It’s a tactical approach that’s been effective for decades. Event marketing can include attending trade shows, sponsoring conferences, and hosting your own event.
While it’s often forgotten today, direct mail remains a viable B2B marketing strategy. The first step is identifying key influencers on buying committees. Many B2B companies recognize that sending items such as chocolates, wine, or anything that people might appreciate can open doors. It’s especially great when you can find something that relates to your brand or has your logo, such as Moleskin notebook.
Print ads continue to work well for B2B marketers – and they don’t have to be massive billboards. Targeting specific newspapers, magazines, and trade publications is more cost-effective, and will help reach your target audience. Ads can target audiences by location as well, such as on a specific train line or bus route.
B2B transactions rely heavily on personal connection and relationships. Sponsorships give marketers the ability to build that connection in a targeted way. While you’ll typically see this at trade shows and other industry events, there are additional opportunities. For example, an insurance agency may sponsor a local charity event, or a big brand could sponsor national sporting events.
Public Relations and Influencer Relations
We can’t overlook the importance of interpersonal relationships. Working with firms that provide publicity, consulting, and research can help B2B marketers get valuable publicity. By building relationships with journalists and industry influencers, your company raises its brand awareness and bolsters its credibility. Learn how to write a press release to execute your next PR strategy.