For many marketers, two paths diverge in a wood – B2C vs. B2B – and we are expected to choose one for our entire careers. Once chosen, B2B and B2C marketers self-segment and seldom intermingle again. However, with the consumerizaton of modern marketing tools – namely, using Facebook to build a community knows no B2C/B2B boundaries – we are experiencing a convergence of these disciplines that will allow us to switch teams. Although sales cycles and go-to-market strategies may remain different, the importance of engaging with potential buyers and consumers at a social community level will continue to grow.
B2B vs B2C marketing
Historically, B2B and B2C marketers have been separated due to:
- The sales cycle (e.g. larger dollar enterprise purchase vs. impulse buy at the supermarket),
- The value chain (e.g. sales rep to buyer vs. marketer to supermarket to consumer) and,
- The target buyer (e.g. decision makers and users vs. individual)
Strategically, marketers will need to build up expertise in the differences here to understand their audience and how to address them in tone. Nonetheless, the channels through which they engage and best practices on those channels are becoming more ubiquitous across B2B and B2C marketing.
Managing communication channels and understanding how to leverage each of them correctly, especially in the social space, will allow marketers to bridge between B2B and B2C in the 21st century. Fundamentally, these channels are vehicles for engaging communities of buyers. Over the past few years, these buyers, who are also consumers of B2C goods, have become accustomed to engaging with social media to look for reviews, ratings, get tips from friends, etc. These learned consumer behaviors are bleeding over into B2B purchases and general business operations. In effect, the B2B buyer is also the B2C consumer and she now expects the same responsiveness from her business interactions that she’s come to value in her consumer life. A seasoned marketer, thus, needs to understand the totality of the buyer’s personality – not just one portion of her perspective.
In addition to understanding the expectations and perspective of one’s audience, as marketers we need to master the ways to engage with customers where they spend their time. We can no longer broadcast to them; we need to have valuable conversations with them.
Feeding your Community
In Melissa Barker’s recent article, “How to Care and Feed Your Community,” she suggests that content creation is one of the most important tasks of a community manager. As a marketer, both on the B2B and B2C side, content creation is also a core responsibility in the role.
For example, as a marketer at Disney Parks, developing weekly newsletters and blogs for our fan communities were key components of every campaign I led. Our fans became accustomed to us posting content about new attractions, special offers, and the best tips for a magical vacation on these channels first. We also knew that our most ardent and outspoken fans would engage with us through the blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. Nonetheless, we were also competing with established (read: since 1997) forums and communities where a “marketing” voice wasn’t necessarily welcome. One of my key challenges was developing ways to engage with customers and fans without appearing to intrude or dismantle what they had built. We needed to “engage authentically,” as Melissa also contends, to ensure we were continuing to build community with our “guests.”
One way that we engaged authentically was to share sneak peaks of new content or websites with our strongest advocates. I would invite them to focus groups or start an informal Twitter conversation to get their feedback. Over time, I became a trusted partner for them and they would frequently send me suggestions, re-tweet or ask me questions about upcoming initiatives. While I wasn’t officially engaging on Disney’s behalf (e.g. tweets were my own), I was able to capture the voice of the customer to help drive new initiatives in a way that did not intrude on their established norms.
Similarly, as a product marketing manager at Jive Software, I engage two audiences through content I create. For my internal audience, Sales, I communicate new product launches, our strategic positioning and provide marketing collateral to be used in the field. We also use our Jive platform to engage socially with the sales team to answer questions as subject matter experts and provide support to close deals faster. Externally, I’m engaging with customers and prospects in the Jive Community, on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I leverage my experience at Disney daily to inform my understanding of best practices for communicating with customers on these platforms. Although the context may be different, the types of content, lengths and frequency of posting is consistent with the B2C world.
The inevitable convergence of B2B and B2C expectations
Our target audiences spend more time at work than they do at home; yet, their knowledge of what’s possible – particularly with technology – is bred in their personal lives. The expectations of how they should be treated, what information is available and how quickly providers respond to their needs will continue grow out of their consumer experience. As marketers, we need to be utility players. We need to break down the siloes of B2B and B2C marketing with respect to how we understand of our target audiences in order to be successful. I challenge you to make the leap in your career from B2C to B2B or vice versa. If we don’t know our audience from all angles, we will be leaving money on the table.
Do you think there will be a convergence of B2B and B2C marketing in terms of social skills needed?