A colleague once quipped, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “76% of a B2B’s customers are people”. Their intention was to highlight how B2B sales & marketing teams rarely focus on the people that buy from them but the businesses they serve.
Sure, they take their buyers out for lunch, join them for a round of golf and maybe write a thank you card once in a while. However, most think of the individuals as buying for their businesses, not the person making the purchase decision or influencer of that decision. It’s a subtle difference but an increasingly important one.
B2B marketers have, for the most part, been shying away from individuals in their marketing efforts. They just don’t seem to understand the new customer expectation being set through social communications.
I argue that it’s their self-inflicted aversion to people that has made them so slow to adopt mobile and social media channels into the sales & marketing mix. Each of those communication channels are pointedly focused on the person rather than the business. Each is highly personal and requires a comfort level with person-to-person dialogue. Within the scope of business communications, it goes beyond “this is how my product will benefit your business”; a concept foreign to most B2B marketers.
Social marketing is forcing the industry to take a hard look at who their real customers are and how they must engage with them. Mobile and Social marketing channels require B2B businesses to get personal with those who influence and those making purchase decisions. It requires a conversation beyond product spec sheets, volumes discounts and distribution rules. It requires open – and sometimes public – dialogues with these individuals about what motivates them, what their personal needs are and how they impact their purchase decisions. Further, it requires true relationship building, which moves the dialogue beyond business and into the realm of personal issues.
To make this shift, B2B marketers and strategists must change their thinking from Business-to-Business to Business-to-People. The personal experiences B2B buyers & influencers are having in social channels have set the stage for how they wish to be engaged with in the workplace. Humanizing your brand within the B2B space will be met with less resistance than you may have fear but you have to step out of your comfort zone to achieve it.
I’ll extend the argument beyond the notion of “humanizing” your brand. It’s really about customer experience design. The expectation that all buyers have (B2B or otherwise) is to be valued, recognized, heard and appreciated. If their customer experience with your firm is more personal across all their business engagements with you, you’ll successfully build longer term and more permanent relationships. To do this however, you’ll need to reacquaint yourself with the PEOPLE that buy or influence buying decisions.
Moving the customer relationship beyond business benefits into the personal arena is as foreign to most B2B marketers as speaking another language. Yet, as alluded to in the opening paragraph of this post, even B2B buyers are, in fact, people. Isn’t about time they’re treated as such?
Agree or Disagree? Is Business-to-Business fearful of personal communications? Is social & mobile marketing pushing them too far beyond their comfort zone? Can they evolve?
Sam Fiorella – Sensei
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego