Once upon a time, defining whom you were selling to guided everything, from how you priced and distributed your products to how you marketed them.

The starting line for just about any company's go-to-market strategy was to figure out whether it's a business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), or business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) firm.

You may have noticed the use of the past tense there. Like nearly everything else about life right now, business has undergone a transformation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is forcing a re-evaluation of all kinds of systems we used to assume made sense.

And now, regardless of whether your company slots into the B2B, B2C, or B2B2C category, the truth is that you're actually in the B2P—business-to-people—business.

It's time to understand what that means—and how to act on it.

"Those who engage in B2P marketing approach their business customers not as mere organizations, but as individual people with unique wants, expectations, and tastes," according to Marketing-Schools.org.

Similarly, an article in MediaPost explains: "B2P marketing is the recognition that businesses aren't actually buying what you're trying to sell. Individual decision makers—people—are making the decisions for their companies, not impersonal disengaged companies as a whole."

We work at home and live at work

Think of how quickly the pandemic dissolved the barriers between the "business persona" and "at-home persona." Working together in an office has given way to working from home and "zooming" from the living room, spare bedroom, or kitchen table. The person approving a $100,000 enterprise software purchase is likely the same person approving her family's streaming movie rental that same day. And she might do both from the same room in her house, probably wearing the same casual clothes.

Though it was always true that real people were responsible for purchase decisions, it used to be easier to compartmentalize how we thought of those people: either as a person representing a business or as a consumer representing himself or his family. And we treated those purchase decisions differently.

With those distinctions now in flux, how do you navigate the new B2P world?

Don't just change your tone—rewrite the song

"Earlier in the pandemic, mission-based or cause-related marketing messages were surging, according to March 2020 polling from the IAB [Interactive Advertising Bureau]," reports an article in The Drum. "But as the months wane on and societal divisiveness on everything from mask wearing to social justice percolates, #InThisTogether platitudes don't resonate as they did at the start of the pandemic."

So, skip the platitudes and investigate for yourself how your customers, prospects, partners, and coworkers are dealing with the current challenges. In other words, focus on the people rather than their roles, or your previous images of what they represented.

Find out what your customers crave

As Liz Hayward of Amito writes: "Think human to human, over B2B. People are craving connection in lockdown. Now's the time for marketers to dig deep into the expert brains in the business, to create the technical content that can make a difference to your audience right now. Take the time to understand what's needed and bring solutions to those knotty problems and overwhelming challenges your customers are facing."

Instead of spending time crafting clever sound bites about how much you care about your customers in "these difficult times," find out what they really need from you. Have actual conversations with them. Ask them questions. And listen—really listen—to what they say.

Only by listening deeply to your customers' real-world, in-the-moment needs can you devise new strategies that address the specific challenges people are experiencing.

Sell less, give more

"Many of your best target customers aren't buying right now. Budgets are frozen, cash is being conserved.... Invest in your relationships, lean in on building value, give generously," Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing, advises in an Engagio article.

And communicate—sincerely, strategically, and at a pace that makes sense for your audiences.

"Our communications since coronavirus began have had more immediacy," writes The Marketing Practice's CMO David van Schaick. "We all seem to be a bit more down-to-earth and I hope we keep hold of this. If it's acceptable to have your child interrupt your video call, it's acceptable to say it like it is, without bombast."

Be real

"I think we are putting aside the concept of thought leadership, which now seems somewhat pompous in its ambition," van Schaick continues. "We have replaced it with helpfulness, utility, connecting with people, offering them something of value, entertaining them. This is liberating for anyone in the communications game. Suddenly it's OK not to have a didactic 'message' in every communication; it's enough for it to be useful, or empathetic, or just fun."

In other words, focus your communication on real, living, breathing, people. They're the ones who need your help right now.

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Forget B2B and B2C: It's a B2P World Now

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image of Colleen Martell

Colleen Martell is CEO of Martell Communications, where she connects tech clients with the right audiences, and puts content to work in multiple ways and on multiple platforms.

LinkedIn: Colleen Martell

Twitter: @MartellComm