B2B: business-to-business

The question of what exactly the acronym B2B stands for is common, especially for those who are less experienced in sales. On the other hand, more experienced B2B marketers and salespeople are less interested in definitions, but rather in strategies and methods to help them reach their target audience.

In principle, a thorough analysis of your target audience is the foundation for the optimal alignment of sales and marketing. However, the ongoing digital revolution presents challenges, even for established B2B companies. In this article, we provide a B2B definition, explain the specifics of the business model, and offer some tips for successful B2B marketing.

What is B2B?

The acronym B2B stands for “business-to-business.” When a company has a commercial relationship with at least one other company, it is described as B2B. This relationship can include delivering both goods and services. The key aspect of B2B is that two or more companies come into contact with each other, which clearly distinguishes it from B2C (business-to-customer) – a business relationship between a company and private consumers.

Definiton

The acronym B2B (business-to-business) describes commercial relationships between two or more companies. This is distinct from commercial relationships with direct consumer contact – B2C (business-to-customer).

The world’s largest business consultancy – IBM (International Business Machines) – provides a prime example of successful B2B. The company supports a total of 20 different industries with its products and services, from strategy consulting to supply chain management and customer relations management. This generates around half of its total revenue.

B2B and B2C comparison

Unlike B2B, B2C (business-to-customer) refers to business relations between companies and end consumers. That is, a product or service is offered directly to the consumer by a company. Supermarkets, tourism firms, hairdressers, and all other companies who don’t specifically cater to other businesses, are all good examples of B2C.

The fact that the target markets for B2B and B2C are often very different has a significant impact on marketing and product design. Below is an overview of the differences between B2B and B2C.

  B2B B2C
Products Often non-standard or niche products, products cater to the individual needs of the customer and usually require more consultation Often mass produced products, products are normally for personal use or consumption
Customer expertise Potential customers have a strong expertise, business partners are well-informed about current products, prices, and competitors, thorough counselling and support is crucial Customers don’t usually have industry-specific knowledge, prices and offers can be compared easily and transparently, but the customer doesn’t always have access to current market conditions
Customer relationship Direct customer contact is vital for creating a long-term and personal relationship Well-functioning customer relationship management (CRM) is vital for effective relationship building
Purchase process Multiple employees are actively involved in the decision-making process, complex multilevel purchase process Purchase decisions are mainly emotional, purchase process is often done at short notice
Transaction volume High transaction value, relatively low number of sales Mostly small transaction value (exceptions: luxury goods, automotive industry, and real estate), high number of sales

Key areas of B2B

When it comes to a successful business relationship, business customers and private end users have different expectations. B2B customers have a high level of expertise due to their industry involvement, and they expect a similar level of industry and product knowledge from a business partner. Furthermore, having a permanent contract and a strong, sustainable relationship with customers is even more important in B2B than in B2C. After all, most of the time B2B involves dealing with individual employees who are responsible for their entire company’s purchases. As a general rule, an individual B2B customer tends to generate much more revenue than a B2C customer.

If you want to meet the expectations of a business customer, you have to coordinate the B2B processes with all relevant departments of their company. This may include sales, customer support, and marketing.

B2B sales

The quotation management and the distribution of products or services are the responsibility of the sales team. After completing a sale, it’s crucial to deliver the goods quickly and error-free, or to provide your service without any complications. The principles of B2B and B2C are similar up to this point. However, unlike in B2C, B2B salespeople must have an extensive and intimate knowledge of the product or service to meet customer expectation. In addition, different soft skills are required for customer acquisition. While B2C aims to quickly establish many customer relationships, the focus of B2B is on developing stability and loyalty in individual customer relationships viapersonal contact.

A B2B sales representative has to prepare themselves specifically for their contact person, get a sense of their needs, and communicate with them eye-to-eye. Ideally, they will cooperate with the same contact for years to come. In contrast, the larger number of customers involved in B2C tends to make this individual approach impractical. Being able to deal with frequently asked questions is therefore more important for B2C sales representatives.

Customer support

Effective customer support is another key requirement for a fruitful and lasting business-to-business relationship. Due to their complexity, B2B products and services normally require comprehensive consulting services to support them. The supplier’s customer support staff must be able to answer any questions the customer may have about the product or service. Since the staff will have to deal with industry experts, they should also be prepared to provide answers to complex questions quickly and competently.

B2B marketing

B2B marketing includes all marketing activities that have a positive effect on the commercial relationship between two companies. Its aim is to develop a foundation of trust and to strengthen the loyalty of the customer. Compared to B2C marketing, which is broader and relatively impersonal, B2B marketing is focused more directly on the customer.

Take the right measures

Successfully implementing B2B marketing requires a rethink, because the best way to address business customers and private customers is different. Spontaneous and emotionally-driven purchases are rare in B2B, since customers only make a purchase when a specific need arises.

B2B and B2C marketing both require similar basic marketing tools, including a professional and presentable website, targeted e-mail marketing campaigns, social media marketing, and content marketing. However, the challenge of B2B marketing is to focus these marketing measures on a specific target group of business customers.

  • Website: you should be able to answer yes to the question, “Does your website demonstrate professionalism?” since displaying knowledge and competence in the online sphere is an essential foundation for marketing success. Your website should provide potential customers with introductory information about your business and product or service. Given the expert knowledge of your target audience, this information may be more detailed than for a B2C audience. Using an emotive tone of address is therefore less important. In addition, potential customers should be able to easily find your contact options to contact the relevant salesperson quickly.
     
  • E-mail marketing: if the customer’s decision-making process takes a little longer, it helps to present yourself to them. This can be done, for example, with the help of a newsletter to inform your potential customers about new offers, conduct opinion polls, or launch new marketing campaigns. Your target audience are always likely to be interested in up-to-date information about their industry, so you could take advantage by rewarding a newsletter subscription with some free informational or training materials.
     
  • Social media marketing: regular social media activity not only helps keep in touch with your target audience, it can also increase your reach with relatively little effort. However, it’s important to select the appropriate social networks for your business. You will find businesses on Facebook and Instagram, of course, but these sites are generally better suited to exciting content aimed at private end consumers. If you’re looking to reach B2B customers, you should also use business-oriented social networks like LinkedIn. Additionally, sharing current industry news with your target group should be an integral part of your social media strategy.
     
  • Content marketing: to strengthen your brand and distinguish yourself from competitors, you shouldn’t neglect content marketing. Its focus is less on the sale of products and services, but rather on producing informative content, which ultimately adds value to the company.
     
  • Trade fairs: attending trade fairs is highly important for B2B marketing, largely because they give you the opportunity to engage with other industry professionals. Because of this, there is significantly less scatter loss than with other kinds of marketing activity. Furthermore, trade fairs offer you direct contact with the relevant decision makers of potential or ongoing business customers.

B2B marketing trends

The digital revolution is also driving change within B2B marketing. To prepare and react to these changes effectively, it’s important to identify emerging trends.

  • Online commerce: as digitalisation advances, the number of online transactions between businesses continues to increase. Having an informative website and your own online shop should be standard practice to keep pace with this trend.
     
  • B2B platforms: these platforms are becoming increasingly important. Sales portals such as Amazon Business and Alibaba are already well-positioned in this area, and their reach is due to develop further thanks to their extensive search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEA) activities. Use these platforms to reach potential customers sooner rather than later.
     
  • Data integration: to ensure the key details of your product or service are communicated clearly, it’s helpful to gather related information into coherent data and present it to your customers.
     
  • Target audience-oriented approach: because the target audience must be more clearly defined in B2B, you can tailor your content and advertising efforts precisely to their needs. To this end, make use of social media and industry platforms to learn more about your target audience’s activities.
Summary

Commercial relationships between businesses are not a new phenomenon, but the continuing growth of digitalisation means that processes need to be rethought and adapted. An individualised approach to B2B marketing is a key factor for success, improving your ability to compete in the market. In this sense, clearly defining a target audience brings many advantages to your business. In terms of marketing to business customers, it pays to remember that, unlike in B2C, you are dealing with experts who tend to purchase based on specific needs and tangible benefits, rather than on emotion.


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