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Making personal connections and showing a high awareness of customers' needs is not exclusive to B2C marketing. Businesses need their service providers to understand their specific needs and concerns, too. For that reason, empathy marketing applies to B2B and B2C marketing alike.

How can empathy apply to B2B marketing, you ask?

First, let's establish a common scenario of how vendor decisions are made. We need an understanding of the decision-making process to apply empathy marketing.

Note that this model is an oversimplification; each business creates a process that makes sense for its own needs.

A B2B Decision-Making Model

When a brand decides to make a high-level purchase, it assembles a team of stakeholders. Those stakeholders use their unique viewpoint to analyze what each possible vendor offers.

Eventually, the stakeholders narrow their choices to two similar suppliers. The group holds deeper discussions and does additional analyses to select the winning vendor.

The key to B2B empathy lies in understanding how organizations make choices that favor one vendor over the other. The decision-making process has two levels, according to Colette Stevens and Paul Hague:

  1. Fast-thinking processes are rooted in instinct or emotion. Think of a flight-or-fight situation, or a smaller decision such as choosing between iced tea or soda. We make hundreds of quick decisions every day, but a business doesn't need a purchasing committee to decide what pencils to buy.
  2. Slow-thinking processes are more calculating and logical. For those, we research and weigh the pros and cons. That is the process we associate with business decisions. As Stevens and Hague write, "Something which is expensive and critical to the future of the business has a much longer journey."

Organizations also have rules for making buying decisions. When a company does not need to make an immediate decision, it builds knowledge and assesses the facts. The higher the level of spend, the more (we can assume) the decision has greater strategic importance, and the longer it will take to reach a conclusion. Purchasing policies are designed to give the correct people the final approval.

Our responsibility as B2B marketers is to understand the entire buying team's mindset and what it's looking for during research. When creating B2B marketing content, we must consider all the people potentially involved in that decision-making.

Applying Empathy to Your B2B Marketing

1. Understand what is driving the acquisition

Whether the brand is seeking to scale its business or it is dissatisfied with a current supplier, it's up to B2B marketers to understand what the pain points are and how our solution or service helps solve the problem.

A company typically changes from its current supplier only if it decides another brand or product would better serve its challenges. However, companies also make a change so that they become compliant with industry regulations or to lower expenses.

Information about pain points comes from discussions with the decision-makers. Listen to the frontline salespeople in touch with the target businesses. Follow leading publications and social media sites in your industry. Run surveys with your current customers about what they're looking for in products and services. Look for trends in the conversations, and let that drive your marketing message.

2. Be more strategic about the content you're creating

The sheer volume of B2B content is overwhelming. A full 65% of business decision-makers purchasing technology said they felt they were getting too much material from marketers, and that a lot of what they were receiving was useless, Forrester research found.

Around 80% of B2B decision-makers want relevant content provided to them at each stage of their buying process. Those businesses would rather be anonymous until they're ready to reach out to you.

Use what you learn from the first step to brainstorm topics and the best form of content delivery. Conduct research on keywords and searches to see what your audience is looking for. Look at how the audience is engaging with your various platforms. If you see higher engagement with email or LinkedIn, lean into it.

3. Think about the 'why' behind your product

Consider why your particular brand is in business. It's likely because you saw a way to solve an industry problem.

Businesses aren't buying a product or service; they are buying into a vendor's approach to solving a problem. They want their vendors to understand and share in their challenges. Purchasing is therefore more of a partnership than it is a mere transaction.

Emotionally intelligent digital marketing creates messages around why you started your business in the first place. You illustrate through highly aware content how you solve your shared problem. You connect to the similarities in your mindsets and discuss how you're both striving to make whatever field you operate in better than before.

In your content, talk about the "why," but always keep it relevant. Perhaps a short video on your founding story will resonate with your target businesses. Others may find case studies insightful and helpful in their decision-making processes.

4. Remember the people behind the business

Even if an organization uses a purchasing committee or has a clearly defined bid process, people are behind the decision-making. Those people don't turn off their emotional side when making a business purchase. Even the most logical people will still emotionally invest to some degree in the businesses they choose to buy from. In exchange, they want their vendors to feel personally invested in their success.

Again, case studies are helpful in reaching the people behind the business. They show how your care and investment in other businesses helped solve a problem for that business. You can also capture those stories through video testimonials or blog posts.

5. Connect using your unique values

B2B buyers all essentially want the same thing: to save their company time and money, work more efficiently, and disrupt daily operations as rarely as possible. If everyone provides the same value, how are you different?

Tap into your unique value proposition to draw on how you help your business customers achieve their goals. Your unique value should be evident in every aspect of your digital marketing, from the brand website to social media marketing to drip email campaigns.

The Competitive Advantage in Empathy Marketing

Only 30% of marketers are proficient in truly empathizing with their consumer, a study by Reach called The Empathy Delusion found.

For B2B marketing to succeed, you must earn the organization's trust. Empathy marketing gives your brand an edge in building those B2B connections.

The stakeholders want to know your company is there to help them succeed, even if they are not ready to purchase from you right now. You must understand the roles of the people on the decision-making team to know what concerns them.

It's up to your content marketing to share credible stories about how your brand helps customers achieve their goals. That is the heart of empathy marketing, whether B2B or B2C.

More Resources on Empathy in Marketing

How to Use Empathy in Your B2B Brand Storytelling

Empathy Mapping for Marketing Content: What It Is and How to Do It Well

Putting Heart Into Your Business: 'Heartificial Empathy' Author Minter Dial on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

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image of Nick Vasilikaris

Nick Vasilikaris is the CEO and founder of Digital Time Savers, a full-service marketing agency harnessing high EQ and empathy for effective brand-building.

LinkedIn: Nick Vasilikaris