As B2B buying trends change, marketers have to evolve their tactics in order to establish emotional connections with their prospects.
There’s no doubt that the B2B marketing landscape is changing at a rapid pace. Recent studies show that as many as 80% of B2B buyers expect a B2C experience when it comes to marketing.1 But what does that mean exactly? According to analysts at Bain & Company, “B2B customers want [superior interactions] in their business lives,” ones that deliver the same customer-centric experiences that they’re used to with companies like Amazon and Starbucks.2
So, what is driving this desire for change?
A Shift in Buying Habits
B2C marketers have long been aware that consumers use social networks and online expert reviews to inform purchasing decisions before ever stepping foot in a store. However, B2B buyers have traditionally been slow to adopt these practices, instead relying on price point and a dedicated sales team to gather the requisite information. According to research from Inc., that may no longer be the case. A recent study shows 61% of business decision-makers report that reviews on 3rd party sites and feedback from social channels are more important than conversations with a sales team when making purchasing decisions.3 This number is sure to rise as B2B consumers shift even further away from the traditional model of relying on a sales team and continue to leverage alternative sources to gather information. Thus giving rise to more digital self-serve options that satisfy buyers’ need for knowledge.
So how are B2B brands supposed to act? Like their B2C counterparts? The answer isn’t that simple. B2B purchasers will always be different from B2C consumers. They need to optimize prices, meet product specifications, comply with regulations, and follow ethical guidelines. B2C consumers on the other hand have much less red tape to cut through in order to make their decisions.
Re-Imagine B2B to B2E
B2B buyers have traditionally been perceived to be more rational and engaged in the purchase processes. The reality is that emotion is even more important in B2B branding than it is in B2C. B2B buyers are actually looking for empathy, or the ability to understand and react to the anxiety, excitement, and emotional analysis that goes into a B2B purchase.
Regardless of who has the more emotional purchase process, marketers on both sides of the divide are adopting a new approach: B2E (Business-to-Everyone), B2H (Business-to-Human), P2P (Person-to-Person), or H2H (Human-to-Human) marketing; call it what you want, it all means the same thing – marketing to human emotion and connection.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for B2B companies to build the emotional connections needed to succeed as digital experiences replace the face-to-face interaction that sales teams have so heavily relied on. Across the board, B2B buyers are clamoring for more options that allow them to conduct business at their own pace and nearly nine in ten (84%) B2B decision-makers say increasing digital expectations from their customers is their top external threat.4 However not all hope is lost. By refocusing on the things that customers actually want, B2B organizations can start building emotional connections before ever meeting prospects in person.
Businesses need to nurture longer-term relationships with customers, be more forthcoming with their product information, and meet buyers on their own terms. By investing in customer sales and support technologies, expanding the number of employee touchpoints with customers, and building greater automation into the sales process (among other things), companies can begin building the emotional connections that B2B decision-makers are searching for.
It’s essential to remember that B2B companies are marketing to people on behalf of a business, and not to a business itself. Even as automation and digital experiences take over what was traditionally a human-first process, they still need to show the human side of the interaction. Through clearly established values, clear and transparent processes and honest customer testimonials, B2B organizations can bridge the emotional gap, even as the industry shifts to digital dominance.
Author: Christopher Ward, Account Manager, Digitas North America