Whilst there has historically been a divide in strategy and tactics of B2C and B2B marketing, modern technology is starting to blur the lines. Increasingly, the smartest B2B marketers realise that buyers expect the same levels of service – whether in their business or personal lives.
The rise of eCommerce solutions, the proliferation of useful advice online and the use of social media platforms are all examples of how consumer marketing experience is affecting the expectation of SME decision makers. The level and openness of information has changed. Dan Pink points out that in many cases, a well-connected savvy buyer, thorough the use of forums and social media sites can now have more product and review information than the salesman. This is something that has completely changed the traditional buyer-seller dynamic.
Research from Marketo suggests that up to 70% of the B2B buying process is now done online – before they speak to a prospective vendor. Therefore the ability to target and engage with prospects in the right way, in the right online environments is vital. In addition, by using and understanding customer data, marketers can gain smart insights that can shape communications and offers. For example, such targeting can now lead to varying copy and changing messages for different prospects and groups. The business needs of a hairdresser are likely to be very different from those of a car dealer – even if both may be prospects for your services.
It is important to remember that not every product brand is right for every SME and that not every SME may be right for you to serve. Segmentation and smart targeting of SME communities enables you to focus on the best prospects and maximise your chance of relationship success.
Customer Relationship Management is a powerful tool to help businesses track overall customer data, behaviour and activities. The CRM process runs through four main phases; Segmentation and Selection, Attraction, Retention and Expansion.
Whilst traditional segmentation has often cut the customer database by industry type, purchasing behaviour, personal characteristics, geography and perhaps some psychographic variables, the more sophisticated CRM programmes can now go much, much deeper. They identify and sub-divide customer groups by: customer life cycle (how long have they been a customer?), satisfaction levels (from surveys), product usage, brand loyalty, price sensitivity or contact behaviour. With this kind of sophisticated understanding marketers are able to shape more targeted messaging and services and feed results back into their system.
Increasingly, there is also a narrowing of the divide between the nature of B2B and B2C communications. In an article in ‘The Financial Times’ in 2011, Alex Dayon, VP at Salesforce.com said that ‘The idea that B2B and B2C requirements differ is stuck in the ’90s. It is true that B2B and B2C are developing at a different pace. But there are different complexities to the relationships and differences in the number of people involved.’
Most importantly no matter how automated the systems, it is worth remembering that every B2B buying decision still requires a personal response to your messages and brand. Whilst B2B may appear like a purely rational decision focused on price the reality is that the decision is still heavily influenced by personal perception and satisfaction in the service received. The full cost is not just the ticket price of the item; it is the cost of the price plus reliability, lack of stress and service. And so much of this perception will extend from the power of individual relationships built by sales teams, call centre staff or delivery drivers. As the legendary marketer Mark McCormack said: ‘all things being equal – people will buy from people they like. All things not being equal, they will still buy from people they like.’