A ‘Radical’ Approach for BTB Selling

When BTB marketers call my office, they always ask the same thing: “Do you have business-to-business experience?” They ask it as if they’re looking for a white-haired wizard with a pointy black hat and a big gnarly cane, some spell-weaving Merlin who understands the strange and mysterious ways of the “business buyer.”

I reply in two parts. First, I assure them. “Yes, we’ve worked successfully with a tremendous number of business marketers.” Second, I shock them. “But you know, there really isn’t that much difference between business-to-business selling and consumer selling, at least from the standpoint of creating offers, writing copy and designing ads and direct mail.”

“No difference?” they sputter, “But … but … but …”

I then smooth their ruffled feathers and explain what seems to be heresy. You see, I admit that some vital differences exist between BTB and consumer, but in my experience, the differences too often overshadow the similarities. And this can lead to some truly bad marketing materials.

If you begin with the assumption that businesspeople are emotionless, moneymaking robots – as many BTB marketers do – you end up with flaccid offers, ponderous copy and do-nothing design. Just look at the mail you get in your office.

Business buyers are just people with the same problems, fears, feelings and dreams as everyone else. They simply experience their problems, fears, feelings and dreams in their office instead of their living room. And because of the stress of the workplace, their emotional responses are often far more intense than those of consumers. And if you think money is the only issue business people respond to, you’re simply not in touch with the average person.

Usually, business buyers respond to the same motivators and techniques as consumers. Therefore, I never divide the known world into consumers and business people. Rather, I begin with the idea that I’m going to sell to real people, then adjust my approach based on who and where those people are.

Having said that, there are differences:

· Business buyers usually aren’t spending their own money. Even if you’re speaking to the owner, there’s a different mindset between personal expenses and business expenses. Therefore, most business purchases need to be justified in quantifiable terms.

· The buying process for major purchases often is complicated. It can follow a formal, rigid pattern of bids, budgets, bargaining and analysis. Business buyers need plenty of information to make a decision, often over a long time.

· You sometimes must talk to many layers in a company. These include decision makers, buyers, influencers and users. You may not be sure who’s who. Then there’s the mailroom and secretary barrier, people you have to go through to get your message to your target.

· Business buyers are particularly wary of taking chances on unfamiliar products. The cost for mistakes – in time, money and personal reputation – is too great. Though some like to be on the cutting edge, most prefer to play it safe. They are especially influenced by the actions and opinions of colleagues and competitors. And they have elephantine memories when it comes to bad experiences.

· Business buyers are time conscious during business hours. They don’t welcome cold calls from businesses they haven’t dealt with. They are barraged with mail and sort through it quickly. However, if something interests them, they will read it, though they want to get to the point quickly.

If you’re used to the straightforward sell of consumer marketing, this may send shivers up your spine. But wait. Stop cowering in the corner and look at those differences again. We’re talking about some pretty basic things: purchase justification, complete information, targeted messages, brand confidence and clear communication.

Does that really sound radically different? Don’t you consider the very same issues in consumer campaigns? Business marketing is very different in terms of pricing, planning, buying cycles and so on, but creating selling messages for the business market shouldn’t be all that different from creating selling messages for the consumer market. From a creative standpoint, they are more alike than different.

Would you like me to translate this into tips for creating BTB mail, ads and other marketing materials? OK. But you’ll have to wait until my next installment. Stay tuned.

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