B2B marketers get a bad rap.
If you do a search for “B2B versus B2C marketing,” you’ll immediately see a bunch of articles about how B2B marketers “lag” behind B2C marketers. Then you’ll find more articles about how “B2B marketing is boring.” Or “what B2B marketers can learn from B2C marketers.”
Instead of just giving these articles the side eye and moving on, let’s really look at the issue. B2B marketers have a lot of challenges their B2C peers rarely have to deal with. These challenges aren’t trivial or easily overcome, either.
And actually, B2B marketers may not lag, or have so much catching up to do.
Many studies, of course, have shown B2C marketers ahead in terms of marketing technology and marketing best practices. Take some recent research from LinkedIn that found that B2C marketers are ahead when it comes to adopting marketing technology. LinkedIn Director of Marketing Solutions, Prue Cox, explained, “when we think about simple things like marketing automation platforms, and where AI is playing into it, B2C was definitely more ahead.”
Only 29% of B2C content marketers use marketing automation to assist with the management of their content marketing efforts, compared with 54% of B2B content marketers. That’s no rounding error, either – the B2B marketers are using marketing automation at almost twice the rate of B2C content marketers.
Using marketing automation tends to be a strong indicator of success for content marketing, too – at least among B2B marketers. 63% of the most successful B2B content marketers use automation, compared to only 39% of the least successful B2B content marketers.
B2B content marketers were also just as likely to embrace AI as B2C content marketers: 4% of both groups are using the technology. And 53% of B2B marketers reported using “Workflow/Project Management/ Editorial Calendaring” software, versus only 45% of B2C marketers.
Maybe B2B content marketers are different, but that seems to be a pretty good track record for adopting technology and best practices.
B2B marketers have even more to be proud of when you consider how complex their jobs are compared to B2C marketers. Not to put anybody down of course (B2C marketers have no shortage of things to be proud of), but B2B marketing is in some ways a very different game. Here are just seven challenges B2B marketers face that might explain why they might appear to struggle more than their B2C peers.
B2C marketers sell to one. B2B marketers sell to many.
Talk about a challenge: B2B marketers don’t have to convince just one person. They have to convince a committee. If the company they are marketing to has even 11 or more employees, a B2B marketer needs to educate and persuade not just one person, but three to ten or more.
This reality of buying committees may be why account-based marketing has been so successful for B2B marketers to date. The idea of a buying committee is baked into account-based marketing.
And while it’s common sense that selling to a group of people is harder than just selling to one person, there’s research that also bears this out:
The B2B buying cycle is way longer than the B2C cycle.
The average B2B buying cycle is 6 to twelve months. Compare that to the nearly instantaneous buying cycle for B2C purchases. Even large B2C purchases, like cars and houses, don’t usually extend much beyond a couple of months. According to ConversionXL, “60% of online shoppers start their research two or more weeks prior to purchase and “51% visit 4+ sites before finalizing a purchase”
This has a lot of consequences. First, it makes it harder to track buyers through the buyer’s journey, so it makes attribution more challenging. It also makes conversion rate optimization more challenging, because marketers have a considerable delay before they really know for sure if a new marketing tactic is delivering good leads. And finally, it means there’s as much as a year-long delay between when they pay for advertising and money finally shows up.
B2B products are often more complex.
Generally, B2C products are pretty straightforward. Skin care. Cars. Furniture. Even data services like phone and cable TV and internet connections are fairly easy to understand.
B2B services and products? Not so much. Just try to explain CRM software to your grandmother.
So why does this matter? Because the more complex something is, the harder it is to sell. There’s a golden rule in conversion rate optimization (and it was borrowed from the old door-to-door salesmen): The second a buyer gets confused – even a little bit confused – they bail.
The price point for B2B sales is higher.
All other things being equal, it’s easier to sell a $5 widget than it is to sell a $500 widget. There are more people who can afford the $5 widget, for starters. And you’re not going to get as much scrutiny if you’re only asking for $5, not $500.
B2B marketers have a more challenging time with pay per click.
Pay per click is one of the most reliable and profitable channels modern marketers have. And while it absolutely works for B2B marketing, once again B2B marketers face a challenge here.
They also get fairly low conversion rates:
And usually, they have fairly high cost per actions:
Cost per click is pretty high, too. Especially after you pull out the sky-high costs per click averages of legal and consumer services (though legal could be a B2B category, too):
B2B isn’t getting slammed for any of those metrics, but generally, B2B marketers do have it a bit harder than B2C marketers. There’s a lot of competition for their paid clicks, and because the value of each sale is so large, companies can afford to bid high. It’s still a winnable game, but ppc is an expensive place to make mistakes.
Many B2C brands can drive buyers to a store.
How many B2C stores can you name?
Now, how many B2B stores can you name?
No comparison, right? We’ve got B2C stores everywhere. B2B stores… not so much. Of course, B2B stores are often called offices, but the purchasing experience of being in a retail store versus being in the typical office are completely different.
Every time a consumer walks by a B2C store, they’re also picking up another ad impression. Their familiarity with the brand increases, and thus trust incrementally increases. And as every marketer knows, familiarity and trust close sales.
This is a squishy difference between B2B and B2C marketers, of course. But it’s absolutely a competitive edge. The closest thing most B2B marketers get to a store is in-person events (think of event booths kind of like pop-up shops).
And interestingly enough, live events are considered to be one of the most effective B2B marketing channels.
B2B marketers are under pressure to make a data-backed, rational case for purchase.
You can’t sell accounting software with the tagline, “Because you’re worth it.” That might work for skincare, but it’s not going to fly in front of a buying committee.
That said, it is true that B2B marketers too often try to persuade with reason and data. Charts and stats and studies are awesome, but even a skeptical buying committee is made up of people. Very human people, who are far more likely to make a purchase decision based on an emotional response, and then try to justify that emotional response with facts and stats.
Case in point: IBM’s classic “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” That saying (that value proposition) encapsulated the fear that many of IBM’s buyers faced: They were making massive purchases of highly complex products and services, and they were scared they might screw it up. So they’d go with the safest, no-brainer choice.
But while B2B marketers do need to appeal to both the brains and the hearts of their buyers, that’s not an impossible goal. A little humor, carefully applied, goes a long way.
B2B marketers have a lot of challenges. Nobody knows that better than they do.
But they also have a terrific opportunity. Because so much of B2B marketing is, well… a little flat, if B2B marketers can figure out how to add even a little spark to their marketing, they’ll stand out much more. A bit of spark and ingenuity can go a long way.