There is no difference in B2B vs B2C marketing

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Marketers make a big deal out of the supposed difference between B2B marketing and B2C marketing. B2B is more complex, some say. B2C is easier, others say. B2B requires more software. The perception that B2B marketing is different than B2C marketing has, in turn, created entire sub-industries of software and services that are needless, expensive distinctions. As a result, an awful lot of people believe one form of marketing is better or worse than the other, and that artificial distinction can cost your company a lot of money.

Let’s reframe the discussion instead about complexity. The main supposed difference between B2B and B2C marketing is that B2B sales are more complex, which means that there are typically a lot of decision-makers, the sale process takes place over a long period of time, there are multiple rounds of proposal, negotiation, and pricing details, and ultimately a deal is contracted and invoiced. This is in contrast to the average B2C sale where the consumer identifies a product, takes it to a point of sale transaction, and walks out with the product in hand.

The distinction we need to make isn’t about who you’re selling to. The distinction you must make is how complex your sale is. There are B2C purchases that have the same level of complexity as B2B purchases: cars, college educations, houses, mortgages, etc. These sales take long periods of time, they have multiple decision-makers, and there’s typically a third party involved in the financial details.

There are also B2B sales that look like B2C transactions. Hundreds of thousands of apps live in the Apple Store and Google Play Store that are B2B focused. There are web analytics apps, business management apps, dashboarding apps, accounting apps, etc. and they all look like frictionless B2C transactions. Just pick an app, tap Buy, and it’s yours in literally seconds.

The distinction we should be making is whether a sale is complex or transactional. The tools for each kind of selling and marketing are significantly different. Any kind of complex sale is inevitably relationship-driven because the sales cycle is typically long, the time between purchases is long, and thus the value of repeat sales as well as referral sales is high. This in turn makes managing a relationship very valuable.

Any kind of transactional sale can be made more profitable by reducing friction in the buying process. The fewest barriers you can place between the buyer and their product will result in the greatest conversion.

Understanding how your sales process actually works in terms of complexity of transaction (regardless of the artificial B2B vs. B2C distinction) opens up doors for you to improve your marketing processes. If your sales process is complex and relationship-driven, then you should be considering marketing automation software even if you’re a B2C company. If your sales cycle is transactional, it should have a strong digital component and you should be heavily investing in eCommerce optimization tools to refine and hone those processes, even if you think of yourself as a B2B company.

Reframe your thinking about how your business does business and you might find a whole new world of marketing tools and methods suddenly available to you that will make you more efficient, more profitable, and better able to serve how your customers want to buy from you.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


5 responses to “There is no difference in B2B vs B2C marketing”

  1. While I agree with the premise in the article as I read through it, the headline is misleading. B2C and B2B are very different animals, and not just for the reasons you state. For me, the difference lies in who is buying the product and their reasoning behind the purchase. This is infinitely harder in the B2B world than when you are in B2C; it’s akin to riding a bike along a circuitous, obstacle-laden course versus riding a scooter down a straight, clearly defined path. It’s the difference between selling a can of Coke to little Jessica and making Coke products the beverage of choice at a line of restaurants. And while it’s true that consumer based pricing and ease of use are invading the B2B space (thank goodness) and the lines are blurring in some areas, like apps, the fact that they’re being USED by business people doesn’t change the sale or the marketing. You are still essentially selling to a consumer who is willing to pay 2.99 or whatever to make their lives easier. The B2B sale, as you’ve noted, is generally much pricier and usually has a buyer, a user, an influencer, and tons of other personas to consider.

    Anyway, thanks for making me think! I like the blog a lot!

    1. Christopher Shaffer Avatar
      Christopher Shaffer

      I have to disagree with you Maren. Just because the price point or purchase motivations might be different, the sales process is essentially the same. You have a product, you get a lead, you close the lead. While the overall strategies and tactics might SEEM different, they really aren’t. While making a t.v. ad (yeah…right not in this day and age) might grab the attention of little jessica and persuade her to buy a can of coke, it might not work so well for Pretty Patricia the Purchaser. A Linkedin ad or an ad in an industry forum speaking to PPP’s motivations on the other hand…..just might do the trick. At the end of the day, people making purchasing decisions, not “companies”. That’s the reason why tools like Twitter, which are considered B2C, can be extremely effective when you’re doing B2B marketing. It’s all about connecting people with products and services.

      1. Christopher Shaffer Avatar
        Christopher Shaffer

        On a side note, I don’t think I’ve ever written a paragraph with that many “p”s in my life.

      2. The sales process may be similar for the buyer, but not the seller. There’s nothing in B2C that compares to selling enterprise software through 3 committees to thousands of users. On the other hand I think that B2B vs. B2C is arbitrary compared to more relevant criteria like verticals – automotive vs. healthcare would sort companies far more effectively as far as wisdom they could share than B2B vs. B2C

  2. I always say that marketing is to people. Many B2B marketers get hung up because they seem to think they aren’t marketing to people.

    Crappy photo of me. I weighed 50 pounds more then!

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