Is B2B Different Than B2C?

In a recent post on this blog, JS proclaimed that there is “no difference” between business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing … noting that both are just “business to people” marketing.

But is that really true? Is selling a Happy Meal really the same as selling enterprise software to a Fortune 500 UNIX data center manager?

If JS is right, then there is absolutely no need for the countless seminars, speeches, courses, books, articles, and publications devoted to B2B.

I do NOT agree with JS. I can think of at least half a dozen significant differences between B2B and B2C.

Here’s one: the business buyer is typically much more knowledgeable about the product than a consumer.

For instance, the typical homeowner knows nothing about the roofing shingles you are trying to sell him.

But a professional roofer knows a lot about shingles and their installation — a lot more than the copywriter writing the ad, most likely.

What about you? Do you think B2B and B2C are basically the same … or fundamentally different?

If so, what are the important differences — and how do they affect your marketing efforts?


36 thoughts on “Is B2B Different Than B2C?

  • Bob
    I believe the differences are much less than you and others think.

    To be sure, there are knowledgeable buyers and unknowledgeable buyers for both B2B and B2C.

    To use your example, a roofer who sells his services to commercial accounts could have as his customer the facilities manager (knowledgeble customer) or the building owner (unknowledgeable customer).

    I run into this all the time. Sometimes my customer is an owner who knows very little about direct marketing (other than it could help his business) and sometimes it is the marketing director who might be very knowledgeable about my work.

    B2B is more often associated with lead generation programs – but even that’s not accurate. There are plenty of B2C businesses that use lead generation.

    B2B marketers often argue that their audiences and mailing lists are smaller, more narrow and more focused than B2C. But that’s not true either. There are plenty of specialized consumer lists (for example, hobby lists) that are equally small, narrow and focused.

    Where I might agree with you is with the copywriting. B2B copywriting can be much more challenging when you are writing to professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers, programmers and others who have their own language – and a level of knowledge in their fields well beyond the layman writer.

    Overall, I think B2B is more a creation of the B2B marketers (of which I am one) who want to position themselves as specialists – a strategy, by the way, that has been very successful. Many marketing service buyers today make this a priority in their vendor selection process.

    Bob McCarthy
    McCarthy & King Marketing, Inc.

  • Bob – You and I are in full agreement. I would not be in business if there was no difference.

    Perhaps the biggest difference is the sales cycle. Many consumers buy on impulse or based on a true need (TV just broke so I need a new one).

    However, business have a much more complicated process that must take place to make a purchase. First, usually many people are involved with the decision to purchase something. Second, much analysis usually takes place (for example: the reading of white papers, etc.). Third, you cannot walk into a store or even purchase most business-to-business items on Amazon (with the exception of paper clips and the like).

    The fact is that servers, software and services (three big B2B products) are real expensive and must have a ton of support around them to sell the products.

    Enough from me…


  • There is definetly a substantial difference between the B to B client and a B to C client in terms of marketing to them…

    B to B, there are many more influences in the purchasing/investing decision such as process and procedure, others involved in the decision, and the mindset that a B to B client has of buying on fact.

    B to C will typically buy more on emotion, and are more easily influenced by a marketing piece designed around that aspect.

    Joe Ratliff

  • Here’s how open source software sells. This may or may not apply to your product.

    1. Knock someone’s socks off with a really good demo in which the product itself makes the person see a way to be more successful at work. This can be a real online demo, a site using the product, or a copy of the product bundled with a Linux distribution. You now have an internal advocate working for you within the company. (Since you’re distributing the software as widely as possible and making it as easy to try as possible, you can afford to give a lot of demos per internal advocate generated.)

    2. Provide the backup information that the internal advocate can use to work through the company buying process. An internal advocate will participate in online forums to help you develop this content.

    3. By the time the “real sales process” starts, most of the minds have already been made up and it’s mostly your internal advocate’s fight.

    You can drop the ball and make a good product unsellable through a lack of good backup information and followup. But you can’t make a crummy product sellable, because people don’t read white papers until they already want the product.

    People don’t read white papers until they already want the product.

  • B2B and B2C are similar in that there are people involved and people buy, consciously or subconsciously, when they perceive a benefit, recognize a valued difference in one offer versus another, and believe in the entity making the offer.

    Tactics are different, more or fewer people are involved in the decision, and sales cycles can be painfully long of lightening quick, but the fundamental elements of the buying criteria are the same.

    In the example you gave, both the roofer and the homeowner are looking for the same things in their respective purchases – benefits, difference, and reason to believe. When they find the three together, they purchase.

  • I’ve been in B2C my entire career. The marketing I do tends to be impersonal. I send a catalog, or an e-mail, cross my fingers, hope I’ve targeted my audience well, and then sit back and enjoy a 3% response rate and profitable return on investment.

    B2B marketers are constantly knocking on my door. Their lives are very different. They must beat down doors, deal with grumpy decision makers who don’t want to hear about the latest and greatest products, finally get through to decision makers, build a relationship, demonstrate a quality product, tolerate a six or nine month corporate purchase process, and then stay in-touch with the client to make sure that the relationship is going well.

    I would also argue that the B2B role requires outstanding people skills, especially when dealing with individuals at other companies. The B2C role requires outstanding people skills, especially when dealing with internal politics.

  • B2C and B2B are not the same. The the motivations of the buyer are quite different, which directly impacts the effectiveness of any particular “pitch”. Fundamentally, B2B is about addressing a point of pain and economic impact (will it increase revenue or decrease costs). The B2C motivations are much more diffuse (ego, style, affordability, etc). Yes, it’s all about fitting your customer’s world view (as Seth Godin puts it), but those world views are very different.

  • I do not fully agree: Yes, B2B is different, but no: not all buyers are dominated by grumpy decision-makers. My company (Rentrop Publishing Group) is selling via direct-mail, e-mail, telephone and the internet mostly to business-audiences, proprietors and employees likewise. We found that the art of direct-marketing to business-audiences still consists in finding the hidden desires of the customers. If you touch their “sweet-spot”, they are most likely to listen to or read through the following sales-pitch. That is about the importance of teaser-copy, showing the USP etc.
    Afterwards you have to supply arguments in order to help them convince the decision-makers. Thats why you need enough backup-material.
    But even in catalogs you have to guide the buyers to the right decision: Am I a deluxe-buyer or a bestprice-buddy? Herschell Gordon Lewis talks about “force communication” – in this, all directmarketers are create equal (IMHO).

    All the best from good old Germany,


  • Bob, haven’t you said your response has gone up tremendously since you started using B2C writing tactics in your B2B marketing? I’m not disagreeing with what’s been posted here, but you’ve made me see that B2B purchasers can and do respond emotionally — and that B2B marketing messages should take that into account.

  • DH: You are right. I feel there are more similarities in B2B vs. B2C than differences. There are, however, half a dozen or so key differences — and they are important. And yes, when we make B2B more “human” by applying a bit of a B2C tone and feel, response goes up — because so much B2B focuses on the product, not the prospect, and ignores the buyer as a human being with needs, fears, wants, and desires. Do you agree?

  • I think the two are entirely different when it comes down to finally SELLING whatever it is you’re marketing. When a person moves beyond “I may want this…” to “Should I actually buy this…” different factors come into play for a B2B decision-maker than a B2C customer.

    A B2C customer thinks only about, “Do I REALLY want it? Do I really NEED it? Do I want or need it NOW?” and so forth. A B2B customer thinks about “Would this get approved? How does this change direction for the company/department? Do I need others’ buy-in first?”

    The people-based desire you appeal to may be the same at first, but that’s only to generate an initial interest in whatever you’re marketing. After that, the other factors take over.

  • I believe what we’re really discussing is style vs substance.

    In substance, marketing B2B or B2C is no different. To be successful with either requires you hit the emotional hot-button, agitate their desire/need to have it fulfilled, provide plenty of support as to why you have the best solution for their need, and then convert them to paying customers. As a previous post said, it doesnt’ matter if the buying cycle is lengthy and drawn out vs lightening quick or if the target prospect is a stuffed shirt C-level executive vs a mini-van driving soccer mom, the substance of the process doesn’t change.

    When it comes to style however, there is most definitely a difference. The same ‘cutesy’ ways you would use to find the soccer mom, educate her about your product or service and how it can fulfill her needs are certainly not the same methods you’d use to convince a boardroom full of stuffed shirts that you have the answer they’re looking for.

    Knowing the appropriate style requires knowing your target customer, but no matter the style, it should never interfere with the substance.

  • Your copywriting shouldn’t change whether your writing copy for b2b or b2c folks and here’s why:

    In b2b and b2c you’re still selling directly to people.

    What makes us and our marketing different, is that people have personalities, businesses do not.

    Your copywriting should always communicate and push your prospects emotional buy-buttons at will. People buy based on “emotions” and make decisions based on what they want to do, not what they need.

    Here’s an example. If you end up buying a home you’re ultimately buying it because you’re going to feel better in that particular home than in your existing home or in another home. You don’t look at it and say “Well, I like the layout and the square-footage”. There’s a reason why. “Because Im able to entertain more there and I enjoy entertaining.” They’re all emotional things. And unless you’re triggering emotions, you’re going to have a tough time making sells whether in b2b or b2c. This is the universal truth about marketing and what makes “emotional direct-response copywriting” so effective.

  • Well that caused a juicy discussion…

    The way I see it is you have a global market, within that you segment your market using their differences and characteristics.

    So marketing to SAGA type customers will be different to Frequent Flyer customers. Just as marketing to IT companies is different to marketing to insurance companies, which is different to marketing to newspapers.

    I’ve seen business people make decisions based purely on emotional reasons. After all who knows business people who’ve bought because they like the salesperson? That’s emotion.


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