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Written by Finn Ruijter, 04 June 2020

B2B marketing and B2C marketing: these are the differences

B2B marketing quickly conjures up the image of professional, sophisticated and dry. As if any kind of communication between companies is a formal affair, complete with suit and tie.

And conversely, when you think of B2C communications, you probably think of loose, casual and friendly. Ideally, you use trending hashtags and make jokes to score likes and shares. After all, you don’t want to scare off your customers by being too serious and stiff.

But actually, the differences between B2C marketing and B2B marketing are not so pronounced. Of course, the buying process is different, but fundamentally you are dealing with people in both markets. People with their own feelings, interests, hobbies, doubts and fears. And ultimately, your marketing is about enticing those people to make a purchase.

What is B2B?

Business-to-business (B2B) is the model in which a company primarily has other companies and institutions as customers. Companies that work for other organizations on a project basis often choose to call their clients “clients.

A B2B company sells the raw materials, semi-finished or complete products and services that other companies need to run, grow and make a profit. We illustrate this with some examples:

  • A wholesaler such as the Sligro or the Makro
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software.
  • A store specializing in office furniture

B2B marketing aims to capture the attention of buyers or decision-makers. The challenges and needs of this target group therefore play a leading role in the company’s communications.

What is B2C?

Business-to-consumer (B2C) is the business model that primarily targets consumers; the majority of customers are individuals. These are some examples of B2C:

  • A supermarket such as the Jumbo or the Albert Heijn
  • A streaming service such as Spotify or Netflix
  • A kitchen store or furniture store

The communication of such a company responds to the wants and needs of individuals in its intended target audience.

Blends of B2B and B2C

As mentioned, the label B2B or B2C indicates a company’s main customer base. That occasionally someone from the other target group buys is quite normal. Just think about it; at a supermarket, employees of a company around the corner sometimes stop by for a quick errand, such as because they have run out of coffee or toilet paper. And the hobbyist with stringent ergonomic requirements is better off going to the specialist office furniture store.

But there are also companies that are very clear that they are both B2B and B2C. A modern soccer stadium is a good example. On the one hand, it provides soccer fans with entertainment, but on the other hand, sponsors visit the skyboxes and the stadium rents business space under the stands.

A staffing agency is also a good example of a business that is both B2B and B2C. Indeed, without one of those audiences, the business collapses like a house of cards. After all, the employment agency derives its raison d’être from matching consumers with companies.

B2B marketing in practice

B2B marketing focuses on how businesses can benefit from your product or service. There is less personal emotion involved than in B2C marketing; you mainly want to give rational reasons why companies should choose your product or service.

That’s not to say that you’re marketing to the company as a whole. Because ultimately, a person within that company makes the decision. So think carefully about that person’s position, his or her powers, challenges, problems, and so on.

Most effective B2B communications highlight ways in which your product or service is profitable: monetarily, in terms of time, in terms of energy, and so on. So consider: what kind of return can the buyer expect?

Let’s take the example of a company looking for productivity software. If you sell this program to businesses, the main thing you want to show them is how they save time and therefore money. By helping employees plan their work better and collaborate more efficiently, they get more done. Because enterprise software represents a hefty investment because of its many licenses, you must allow for extensive demonstrations and trial periods.

B2C marketing in practice

A consumer does not have to answer to a chef or management. So a buying decision is a lot less rational; it involves more emotion.

In B2C marketing, you want to play on those emotions of your customer. You do this not by touting the features of your product or service, but by communicating the benefits of using it. A long-winded sales pitch is more likely to put off a consumer; so keep it short and to the point.

Because feelings play a greater role in a private purchase, the buying process is much shorter. The decision to buy can fall within a few minutes to a few days.

Consumers are also more demanding. Because of various plans and commitments, they cannot always stop by or take mail during business hours. Therefore, provide multiple distribution channels.

As an example again, that productivity software. For an individual, it is important to know how his life becomes easier and more enjoyable with such a program. Is it possible to make shopping lists with it? Can he share it with roommates? Is there a calendar in it? Can he divide tasks into categories? Does the app version provide notifications by way of reminders?

B2C customer B2B customer
Emotional decisions Rational decisions
Wants to improve quality of life Want to save time or increase profits
Lots of information can be daunting Needs a lot of information
Reads ratings and reviews Would like a test or demonstration
Short purchase cycle Long purchase cycle
Can return a misbuy more easily Can hardly reverse an investment
Relatively small amounts Relatively large investments
Higher purchase frequency Lower purchase frequency

B2B marketing vs. B2C marketing by phase

We looked at B2B and B2C separately and saw how residential and business customers differ. To maximize your conversion rate, you need to adjust your marketing and sales strategy accordingly. Now let’s zoom in on the stages of the buying process and how to be successful in them as a business.

Who to target ads to

In general, customers are becoming more discerning and competition from other companies keeps increasing. To ensure good results, both B2C marketing and B2B marketing must be hugely focused and optimized. However, there is a difference in who makes the purchasing decision between the two business models.

We saw that emotions play a bigger role with consumers than with business buyers. B2C campaigns can therefore target anyone potentially interested in a product or service, even if that person is not actively looking for it. You might just tempt him or her to make an impulse purchase.

Some B2C companies address the person who makes the decisions in the household. But that’s not strictly necessary; an ad can have just as much effect when a child or partner sees it. Buying a car or booking a vacation are good examples of expenses that family members decide on together.

In B2B marketing, you do want to address exactly the person who has the authority to purchase. After all, it makes little sense if fifty employees want a new office chair; their manager ultimately makes the decision, and that is the person who should see the advertisement for it. One way to target specifically is to choose a job title in Facebook Ads. Linkedin also allows you to target specific positions.

What triggers buyers

As mentioned, consumers are more emotional and impulsive. They want to know everything there is to know about a product as quickly as possible. For individuals, reviews and social proof are at least as important as the benefits themselves.

B2B customers take significantly longer to make a purchase. The average purchase amount is higher, so it is understandable that companies spend more time comparing products or services. They are as interested in the specifications as the benefits it will bring – not just to themselves, but to the entire department or even the entire company.

The length of time between discovery and purchase

This is a simple but big difference. B2C customers tend to buy much faster after “discovering” a product, while B2B buyers need much more time. This is partly because of the research they put into your products and services, but also because there is often a need to consult about making the purchase.

With companies, the stakes are also higher. Returning a business investment is often much more difficult than returning a purchase if you are an individual. If we take enterprise software as an example, the entire team has to learn how to use the new program. That takes time and therefore money. The pressure is therefore much greater to make the right investment all at once.

Reasons to buy

The reasons for making a purchase often differ between B2B customers and B2C customers. Of course, the deeper motivation is the same for both parties: the customer thinks he or she can somehow benefit from the investment. Sometimes the reasons why B2C customers buy overlap with the motivations of B2B customers.

B2C customers, you and I in our spare time, buy with the desire to improve the quality of life. Generally, these are things that make all kinds of tasks easier, improve the quality of relationships, maintain health, or simply provide comfort and entertainment. It helps if we already know a brand.

B2B customers buy with the goal of improving their business processes: making products and services faster, cheaper and with fewer errors. This is not to say that B2B marketing should be entirely emotionless. Even in business, you are dealing with people who have fears, desires and needs. You just have to be able to link those feelings back to those -primarily financial benefits. If a brand is less well-known, it can compensate for that novelty with social proof.

B2C marketing B2B marketing
Addressed to the end user Addressed to the decision makers
Entice customer to impulse purchase Building relationship with customer
Highlighting product benefits Highlighting product features
Leveraging social proof Offer trials or demonstrations

How do you recognize the differences in practice?

We looked at the differences between B2C customers and B2B buyers. One is impulsive, the other calculating. A consumer decides quickly, while a company needs more time to tie the knot. But how does that translate into communication to these customers? We look at some examples of B2C marketing and B2B marketing below.

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This ad from Salesforce, a popular CRM for businesses, captures the attention of managers by promising spectacular revenue growth. Instead of a “buy now” button, there is a button that allows the reader to read extensive information first. Next, Salesforce offers a free trial of its software.

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This National Postcode Lottery ad plays on emotions. Because what would it be like to win, with or without your street companions, 48 million euros? We all know that the probability is virtually zero, but with the text on the green button, everyone agrees – and that makes clicking on it a logical action.

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B2B ads are of all times. In 1957, DAF advertised its commercial vehicles by boasting more power, more freight, lower operating costs. For right-thinking entrepreneurs, that meant more profits.

. B2B marketing and B2C marketing: these are the differences

Halfords responds to emotions and the impulsive nature of consumers. This archetypal Dutch granny bike is scarce, so be quick! That you get €100 for your old bike makes this offer a real no-brainer.