The 7 Key Differences Between business-to-business and consumer

By Bobby Cox,2014-01-20 22:12
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The 7 Key Differences Between business-to-business and consumer

The 7 Key Differences Between business-to-business and

    consumer marketing

    by Robert W. Bly

    When asked if he could write an effective direct mail package on a complex

    electronic control system, a well-known direct response copywriter replied, “No

    problem. It doesn‟t matter what the product is. You are selling to people. And

    people are pretty much the same.”

    He’s wrong.

    Yes, there are similarities. But there are also differences in selling to business

    and professional buyers vs. the general public. In fact, here are six key factors that

    set business-to-business marketing apart from consumer marketing:

    1. The business buyer wants to buy. Most consumer advertising offers people products they might enjoy but don‟t really need. How many subscription promotions,

    for example, sell publications that the reader truly could not live without? If we

    subscribe, we do so for pleasure - not because the information offered is essential to

    our day-to-day activity.

    But in business-to-business marketing, the situation is different. The business

    buyer wants to buy. Indeed, all business enterprises must routinely buy products and

    services that help them stay profitable, competitive, and successful. The proof of his

    is the existence of the purchasing agent, whose sole function is to purchase things.

    2. The business buyer is sophisticated. Business-to-business copy talks to a sophisticated audience. Your typical reader has a high interest in - and understanding

    of - your product (or at least of the problem it solves).

    Importantly, the reader usually knows more about the product and its use than

    you do. It would be folly, for example, to believe that a few days spent reading about

    mainframe computers will educate you to the level of your target prospect - a systems

    analyst with six or seven years experience. (This realization makes business-to-

    business writers somewhat more humble than their consumer counterparts.)

    The sophistication of the reader requires the business-to-business copywriter to

    do a tremendous amount of research and digging into the market, the product, and its

    application. The business audience does not respond well to slogans or


    3. The business buyer will read a lot of copy. The business buyer is an

information-seeker, constantly on the lookout for information and advice that can help

    the buyer do the job better, increase profits, or advance his career.

    “Our prospects are turned off by colorful, advertising-type sales brochures,” says

    the marketing manager of a company selling complex „systems‟ software products to large IBM data centers. “They are hungry for information and respond better to letters

    and bulletins that explain, in fairly technical terms, what our product is and how it

    solves a particular data-center problem.”

    Don‟t be afraid to write long copy in mailers, ads, and fulfillment brochures.

    Prospects will read your message - if it is interesting, important, and relevant to their needs. And don‟t hesitate to use informational pieces as response hooks for ads and

    mailers. The offer of a free booklet, report, or technical guide can still pull well -

    despite the glut of reading matter clogging the prospect‟s in-basket.

    4. A multistep buying process. In consumer direct response, copywriters‟ fees are geared toward producing the “package” - an elaborate mailing that does the bulk of the selling job for a publication, insurance policy, or other mail order product.

    But in business-to-business direct marketing, the concept of package or control

    is virtually non-existent. Why? Because the purchase of most business products is a

    multistep buying process. A vice president of manufacturing doesn‟t clip a coupon

    and order a $35,000 machine by mail. First he asks for a brochure. Then a sales

    meeting. Then a demonstration. Then a 30-day trial. Then a proposal or contract.

    Thus, it is not a single piece of copy that wins the contract award. Rather, it

    takes a series of letters, brochures, presentations, ads, and mailers - combined with the

    efforts of salespeople - to turn a cold lead into a paying customer.

    5. Multiple buying influences. You don‟t usually consult with a team of experts when you want to buy a fast-food hamburger, a soda, bottle of shampoo, or a pair of

    shoes, do you? In most consumer selling situations, the purchase decision is made by

    an individual. But a business purchase is usually a team effort, with many players


    For this reason, a business purchase is rarely an “impulse” buy. Many people

    influence the decision - from the purchasing agent and company president, to technical

    professionals and end-users. Each of these audiences has different concerns and

    criteria by which they judge you. To be successful, your copy must address the needs

    of all parties involved with the decision. In many cases, this requires separate

    mailings to many different people within an organization.

    6. Business products are more complex. Most business products - and their applications - are more complex than consumer products. (For example, clients I now

    serve include a commercial bank, a manufacturer of elevator control systems, a data

    processing training firm, a database marketing company, a mailing list broker, a

general contractor, and a semiconductor manufacturer.)

    Business-to-business copy cannot be superficial. Clarity is essential. You

    cannot sell by “fooling” the prospect or hiding the identity of your product. Half the

    battle is explaining, quickly and simply, what your product is, what it does, and why the

    reader should be interested in it. “In high-tech direct mail, the key is to educate the

    prospect,” say Mark Toner, who manages the advertising program for Amano, a

    manufacturer of computerized time-clock systems. “With a product like ours, most

    customers don‟t even know of its existence.”

    In short, in business-to-business marketing, the rules are different. In the months to come, we‟ll explore ways to increase response and profits in this exciting and

    challenging marketplace.

    Business buyers are looking for personal benefits

    by Robert W. Bly

    In a column titled “The 7 Key Differences Between Business-To-Business And Consumer Marketing,” I described the six key factors that set business-to-business marketing apart from consumer marketing. They are:

     The business buyer wants to buy.

     The business buyer is sophisticated.

     The business buyer is an information seeker who will read a lot of copy.

     Business-to-business marketing involves a multistep buying process.

     The buying decision is frequently made by a committee and not by an


     Business products are generally more complex than consumer

     products. Recently, I have formulated a seventh principle which I would

     like to add to the list

     The business buyer buys for his company’s benefit - and his own. There are two parts to this principle. Let‟s take them one at a time.

    The Business Buyer Buys For His Company’s Benefit

    The business buyer must acquire products and services that benefit his

    company. This means the product or service saves the company time or money,

    makes money, improves productivity, increases efficiency or solves problems.

    Let‟s say, for example, that you sell a telecommunications network and your

    primary advantage over the competition is that your system reduces monthly operating

expenses by 50 percent. If a prospect is spending $40,000 a month for your

    competitor‟s network, you can replace it and provide his company with the same level

    of service for only $20,000 a month.

    The company benefits because it saves $240,000 a year in communications

    costs - more than $1 million in a five-year period.

    Yet, despite this tremendous benefit, you find that prospects are not buying.

    They seem interested, and you get a lot of inquiries. But few sales are closed.

    Why? Because in addition to buying for his company‟s benefit, the prospect also buys for himself.

    The Business Buyer Buys For His Own Benefit

    The second part of principle #7 is that, while the buyer is looking to do right by

    his company, he has an equal (if not greater) concern for his own well-being and selfish


    Although the idea of saving $240,000 a year with your telecommunications

    system is appealing to your prospect, his thought process is as follows:

    “Right now I have an AT&T system. Your system sounds good but I don‟t know

     you or your company. If I switch and something goes wrong, I will be blamed.

    I may even get fired. My boss will say, „You shouldn‟t have gambled on an

     unproven product from an unknown vendor - why didn‟t you stick with good ole

     reliable AT&T?‟ He will say this even though he approved my decision. So to

    be safe, I will stick with my current system...even though it costs my company an

     extra $240,000 a year. After all, I‟d rather see them spend an extra $240,000 a

     year than me lose my $60,000-a-year-job!”

    This play-it-safe mentality is only natural, and it affects buying decisions daily in

    corporations throughout the country. Data processing professionals are fond of

    saying, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” Buying IBM ensures the prospect that

    no one can criticize his decision, even if brand X is the better choice from a business

    and technical point of view.

    A corporate pension fund manager, writing in Money magazine, noted that no money manager ever got fired for losing money invested in a blue-chip stock. A

    different example, but the principle remains the same.

    The Business Buyer Is For Himself

    Concern for making the safe, acceptable decision is a primary motivation of

    business buyers, but it is not the only reason why business buyers choose products,

services and suppliers that are not necessarily the best business solution to their

    company‟s problem.

    Avoiding stress or hardship is a big concern among prospects. For example, a

    consultant might offer a new system for increasing productivity, but it means more

    paperwork for the shipping department...and especially for the head of the shipping

    department. If he has anything to say about it, and thinks no one will criticize him for

    it, the head of shipping will, in this case, work to sway the committee against engaging

    the consultant or using his system...even though the current procedures are not

    efficient. The department head, already overworked, wants to avoid something he

    perceives as a hassle and a headache, despite its contribution to the greater good of

    the organization.

    Fear of the unknown is also a powerful motivator. A middle manager, for

    example, might vote against acquiring desktop publishing and putting a terminal on

    every manager‟s desk because he himself has computer phobia. Even though he

    recognizes the benefit such technology can bring to his department, he wants to avoid

    the pain of learning something he perceives to be difficult and frightening. Again,

    personal benefit outweighs corporate benefit in this situation.

    Fear of loss is another powerful motivator. An advertising manager in a company that has handled its advertising in-house for the past decade may resist his

    president‟s suggestion that they retain an outside advertising agency to handle the

    company‟s rapidly expanding marketing campaign. Even if he respects the ad agency and believes they will do a good job, the ad manager may campaign against them,

    fearing that bringing in outside experts will diminish his own status within the company.

    In these and many other instances, the business buyer is for himself first; and

    his company, second. To be successful, your copy must not only promise the benefits

    the prospect desires for his company; it should also speak to the prospect‟s personal

    agenda, as well.

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