In working with B2B clients, I've noticed that many feel that their customers function very differently from B2C customers and that the customer journey is markedly different. However, the increasing availability of social media has brought the two business types—and their marketing—closer than ever.
In the past, B2B required a lot of research (much of it via word-of-mouth) and a personal connection between brand and customer. Deals were made on the golf course or over dinner. B2C customers, on the other hand, had very few opportunities for research, and they were mainly guided to purchases by advertising.
"I think, if anything, digital and especially social have kicked the customer journeys into a very parallel nature," says Paul Dunay, a Financial Services Marketing Leader at PwC. "It's just the time frames that are a little bit off."
Here's a look at how the B2B customer journey is beginning to resemble the B2C version.
1. Availability of information
B2B purchases are typically very expensive and require a lot of research. Now, however, the availability of online tools has added research to almost every financial decision for B2C customers, no matter how minor.
"Now you see consumers using research tools at home for an airline flight or a car," Dunay says. "They use similar research tools [to a business], and they ask their friends via Twitter or Facebook what they think. The B2B decision process may take a bit longer, since it takes some time to sell a large enterprise purchase within an organization, but the tools they are using are surprisingly similar."
Dunay notes that the tools available to the everyday B2C customers are not as abundant when making a B2B purchase, despite the financial commitment that B2B purchases require. He cites TrustRadius as one one of the few tools that are available to B2Bs in evaluating enterprise-level software purchases.
"We still don't have many tools like Yelp for B2B," he says. "There are 3,000 sources of information to buy an eight-dollar burrito, and no sources to buy an $800,000 IT system."
2. Coming into purchases prepared
The availability of reviews, information, and opinions means that both B2B and B2C customers come into purchase decisions armed with more information than ever.
"Before they even have a conversation with the salesperson, the customer has probably done a lot more research than they ever have before," Dunay says. "We tend to think, from a marketing perspective, that we are going to initiate the conversation. That is complete baloney. The customer is in control, they have decided that they have a need in this area, they know all of the players and they have visited all of the competitive sites. The data says the tables have turned because so much data is available to the customer."
3. All customers expect to be valued
As mentioned previously, B2B customers have typically had a closer relationship with their salesperson than B2C customers have.
Most B2C customers followed the customer journey of seeing the ad, going to the store, and buying the product. Now, B2C customers expect more from the brand; they expect a personal touch through social media and a greater sense that the brand cares about them and is honest with them. That's why B2C brands like Southwest and Chipotle have fared so much better in recent years than old-guard stalwarts like United Airlines and McDonald's.
B2B customers always expected to be remembered. Now, with the level of personalization that can be achieved in marketing, Dunay says they should expect even more personal touches from their B2B vendors.
"Let's say you are a major vendor with all kinds of product offerings, and one customer has visited your page looking for data center solutions," he says. "However, when they come back to your site, you show them your same old homepage, and they've got to try again to find your data center solutions, which are five clicks in."
"Wouldn't it have been nice for them to see data center solutions right on the homepage of your website, customizing that experience because you know that they’ve been looking at that kind of stuff? Amazon does it, shouldn’t we do that? I would guess that only 1% of B2Bs do anything close to that, and I wish we could."
B2B Marketing Is Learning From B2C
Research tools have allowed B2C customers to achieve a similar depth of research to B2B customers, and in general, B2B marketing and customer journeys are becoming more like their B2C counterparts.
"I think it took a while to get B2B folks up on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn," Dunay says. "There's always been this bizarre mindset of, 'That's B2C, and it won't work for us,' and I don't accept that as an answer. We are all trying to get to the same place. B2B has more touchpoints and longer timeframes, but we both want the effort to manifest in a sale."
"I've seen much more sophisticated attribution models on the B2C side, and I'm beginning to see efforts to attribute and weight touchpoints in the B2B cycle," Dunay says. "It's hard to say it's exactly the same, but there's a lot of commonality that wasn't there before."