On the surface B2B may seem like more focused and precise work than Consumer outreach, addressing a narrower and smaller audience of users; but many of the same disciplines are employed to solve challenges in smart, efficient ways, regardless of the channel. So – why is there so often a terrible gap between the professional look and proficiency of much B2B positioning and outreach, when compared to B2C? I believe, after looking back at some of our best work and at some of our frustrations, that a lot of the problems lie in the preposterous idea that B2B has somehow been immune from the passing of time, itself.
For businesses (and, indeed, whole industries) that have survived for decades on an exclusive diet of customer lunches and golf outings, a level of professional presentation may seem daunting. But in a fully developed Digital Age, it’s essential for B2B firms to face the demands of outreach and positioning with smart, modern, thoughtful discipline. Consumer outreach, in contrast to B2B, is grounded in a stronger foundation of highly developed competence because, frankly, it was necessary. We never could take a million shampoo users to lunch. Good for us. We had to develop skills.
B2C strategy recognizes the optimal end-user in deep and insightful ways.
Here then, are some ideas to get you thinking about your B2B customers:
- Understand the person who is really making the choice to hire you or buy your product. Why are they doing so, and what obstacles are they likely to face in making this assignment?
- Recognize that your target customers have a number of options available to meet the challenges you are designed to serve. And – here’s a surprise– those options may include solutions you do not recognize as competitive to your services or product.
- Your target customers need a compelling reason to change direction. They need an even more compelling reason to choose – you.
The best B2C marketing actively intends to separate the brand from its competition at every point of impact. But in reviewing B2B websites, I found that most looked very much the same; and few said, in any clear language, what they actually offered.
Some Website direction from the B2C side of the desk:
- Do not look like your competition. It is the most natural thing in the world to want to look like the other boys in the club. But it muddies the waters for those making choices. And that confusion will hurt you.
- Never assume that your customer recognizes the problem you solve. Anticipate their needs and give them a reason why your deliverable, in general, and your service, in specific, is the right solution to their challenge.
- Be as specific as possible about your advantages over your competition. Paint a clear picture as to why you are a smarter choice. Be positive. Use case studies and good, clear examples of your solutions.
- Make sure that you understand the difference between what your customer will see as a benefit, and what you might value as one.
I reviewed a tech company recently who used their website to share the reasons why their firm is a great place to work. Nice, if their goal is recruitment (and maybe it is), but not so effective if one is looking for a technology company. I’ll bet you can think of a quick fix that would draw the line between happy employees and good service. Me too. But they didn’t do that.
And one more note about The Good Old Days:
For those B2B businesses who built their customer base on golf courses, in relationships that were always one-to-one and all the more powerful because of that intimacy, I get it. You know your customer. You play cards at the same table. He turns to you like a trusted member of his board. You know that you have his business today and for the foreseeable future. You should never put something commercial between the two of you. And I hope you never do. It is business done just as it was in 1900. And 1940. And 1980. Time did stand still. May we all have some connection to that kind of intimacy in business. It makes our work all the more human and brings our professions into the orbit of our personal lives in ways that can be fulfilling and deep and important.
But if your relationship with your customers is anything less than that, or if you need to increase your customer base beyond those whom you might already call close friends, it behooves you to understand the demands of a New Age in ways that use insight, skill and persuasiveness and the most professional and effective methods and tools available. On the other end of that exercise, I promise you, there are customers to meet who will play cards at your table and become trusted friends. You’ll just meet them in new ways.