What makes business to business marketing different from business to consumer?

Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing are very different. Some people think marketing is marketing and whether you are marketing to consumers or marketing to businesses, you are still just marketing to people, right?


Although the marketing programs may be the same for each type of business (events, direct marketing, internet marketing, advertising, public relations, word of mouth and alliances), how they are executed, what they say, and the outcome of the marketing activities differ.


Your business-to-business market is required to substantiate their purchase through a logical argument, financial scrutiny, and data. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t emotion behind the purchase. Keep their needs, desires, and motivations on the table, but back it with logic, financial benefits, and strong data.


Here are some of the main factors to consider that make business-to-business markets special and different to consumer markets:


  1. B2B Markets Have A More Complex Decision-Making Unit

In most households, even the most complex of decisions is confined to the small family unit while items such as clothes, food and personal items usually involve just one person.  The decision making unit (DMU) in business-to-business markets can be much more complex. Depending on what you are selling, your items may be purchased by one junior office person, but at the other end of the spectrum, high-value, high-risk purchases may have a large number of senior decision makers evaluating a large range of purchase criteria.  In the case of plant equipment for example, we might expect a CFO, R&D Director, Production Director, Purchasing Director, Head of Legal Department, CEO and a number of upper-management department heads all to be involved.

Faced with a multifaceted and knowledgeable buyer, it is important that the B2B marketer demonstrates a high level of expertise in all of its interactions with the target audience.  This refers not only to product knowledge, but also to the technical and other back-up that the buyer will receive throughout the life of the purchase.

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  1. B2B Buyers Are More “Rational”

As consumers we are often less well-informed, less accountable to others and far more susceptible to whims, indulgences, and showing off than is the case when we are in the workplace.  We therefore have a tendency to make purchasing decisions that a rational observer (a business-to-business buyer that has to make a profit each month) would not make.  As consumers we are far less likely to ask whether the product we are buying has an ROI (return on investment).  We buy what we want, not what we need.


Due to the accountability that constrains most B2B buyers, trust and security are key issues.  No B2B buyer wants to risk his or her livelihood or reputation buying an unreliable product and service.  This makes emotional issues such as trust and security absolutely critical.  This in turn places greater emphasis on brand, reputation, case studies and other factors which convey reliability and consistency.



  1. B2B Markets Have Fewer Behavioural And Needs-Based Segments

In a consumer market with tens of thousands of potential customers, it is practical and economical to divide the market into 10 or 12 distinguishable segments, even if several of the segments are only separated by small nuances of behaviour or needs.


Needs-based segments in a typical business-to business market are usually:

  • A price-focused segment, which has a transactional outlook to doing business and does not seek any ‘extras’.  Companies in this segment are often small, working to low margins and regard the product/service in question as of low strategic importance to their business.
  • A quality and brand-focused segment, which wants the best possible product and is prepared to pay for it.  Companies in this segment often work to high margins, are medium-sized or large, and regard the product/service as of high strategic importance.
  • A service-focused segment, which has high requirements in terms of product quality and range, but also in terms of aftersales, delivery, etc.  These companies tend to work in time-critical industries and can be small, medium or large.  They are usually purchasing relatively high volumes.
  • A partnership-focused segment, usually consisting of key accounts, which seeks trust and reliability and regards the supplier as a strategic partner.  Such companies tend to be large, operate on relatively high margins, and regard the product or service in question as strategically important.




  1. Personal Relationships Are More Important In B2B Markets

An important distinguishing feature of business-to-business markets is the importance of the personal relationship.  A small customer base that buys regularly from the business-to-business supplier is relatively easy to talk to.  Sales and technical representatives visit the customers.  People are on first-name terms.  Personal relationships and trust develop.  It is not unusual for a business-to-business supplier to have customers that have been loyal and committed for many years.

The B2B salesperson is also different to the consumer salesperson, in that the focus is on listening and cultivating a limited number of relationships rather than the more quantity-driven and transactional approach seen in consumer markets.  This places emphasis on face-to-face contact and, as already mentioned, this salesperson must have an in-depth technical understanding of whatever he or she is selling.  Trade shows therefore become far more important in B2B markets.



  1. B2B Buyers Are Longer-Term Buyers

Purchases which are expected to be repeated over a long period of time – are more common in business-to-business markets. The longer-term focus in business-to-business markets reiterates two key points for the B2B marketer to bear in mind: first the importance of relationship-building in business-to-business markets, particularly with key customers; and second the importance of a technically focused sales team.

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  1. B2B Buyers Are More Demanding

They have a responsibility to make the right decision when purchasing on behalf of their companies.  They take fewer risks and therefore need quality to be absolutely right.  They have the expertise to recognise a bad offering when they see one.  They are used to getting what they want.  They are often paying more than they would as a consumer and therefore expect more in return.  They are likely to regard themselves as interacting with the product or service supplied to them, rather than playing the role of passive recipient.

The implications for business-to-business marketers are clear.  It is our job to meet the target audience’s needs; we must therefore raise our game to ensure that our product, services and intangibles meet and exceed customers’ requirements.

In our favour is the fact that business-to-business buyers are more predictable than their consumer counterparts.  This means that good quality market intelligence and close attention to our target markets’ needs place us in a strong position to meet the needs of the market.




It is essential for marketing professionals to understand that efforts designed to take advantage of the difference between B2B and B2C marketing will find more success when reaching leads. However, at the end of the day, no matter which side of the B2B or B2C divide a marketer works on, all marketing is P2P — person to person — despite the external differences.