B2B vs DTC Marketing: Choosing an Approach
When you’re searching for a digital agency or web design company to partner with on your next project, you may find that some shops specialize in B2B (Business-To-Business), or specialize in DTC (Direct-To-Consumer) approaches, and other shops may be generalists. While some folks may talk about the consumerization of B2B, or say that “marketing problems are marketing problems”, there are some key differences between the two categories to consider:
First off, let’s quickly define B2B for the purposes of this article: I’m talking about businesses, or parts of a business, that specifically sell to other businesses. This may be tools like software, machinery, or construction materials, or it may be services like financial accounting, security, or legal consulting. Here are some fundamental things to consider when planning for marketing projects in these categories:
B2B Decision Makers
Unlike many personal purchases, business purchase decisions generally require the agreement of 3-6 people, depending on the size of the organization. Each of those people will have a slightly different set of concerns, so B2B sales collateral usually needs to be more comprehensive. You’ll need to convince the people who will be hands-on with your product that it will improve their lives; the person who will be in charge of integrating your product with their existing infrastructure that your product won’t break everything else; and the person who’s signing the check that your product will offer a solid return on investment.
Extended B2B Sales Cycles
Because many B2B purchases tend to be rather large, fit into annual budget cycles, and require the alignment of multiple stakeholders, it sometimes takes a long time to get someone through the funnel from awareness to conversion. It’s important to take this into consideration when evaluating marketing efforts. Say, for example, you know that it typically takes a new customer three months to sign a new contract, but you’re trying to measure the effectiveness of a marketing campaign in weekly intervals – you’re going to have troubles, because those two time periods are so out of alignment.
Trust is Top Priority
It’s completely false that B2B purchase decisions are not driven by emotion. The truth is, most B2B decisions are rooted in fear. The person responsible for selecting your product may lose their job if it fails to deliver. Their business could lose untold sums of money if things don’t work out. These things tend to go unspoken, but they are on everyone’s mind when they are considering a purchase. The more you can do to build trust, and set people at ease, the more likely you are to close the deal.
On the other hand, DTC marketing, and DTC websites, are for brands who are selling directly to consumers. For the sake of this conversation, I’m going to exclude brands who sell to consumers through third-party retailers – I’m talking about buying directly from the source. While the highest levels of marketing rules carry over (you need to solve a problem, differentiate from competitors, etc.), there are a few unique considerations to make with DTC.
One of the greatest benefits for DTC brands is that they get to own the customer experience, from end-to-end. From the first time someone hears about the brand, to the purchase experience, to unboxing, you get to determine what that feels like for your customers. The flipside, is that for good or bad – the customer’s entire experience reflects on you. But by taking ownership, and by creating a customer-centric experience all the way through, there’s much greater opportunity to build long-term brand value and loyalty.
Continuing on that theme, consumers are more conscious than ever of brands and products that deliver real value to their lives. These days most product categories are pretty crowded, and if you’re lucky enough to have found an underserved niche, expect to face fast-moving competition very soon. Clearly differentiating at both the brand and product level by showing the real value that you deliver to customers is essential.
Consumer purchases are also typically driven by emotion, but in this case, personal aspirations play a much larger part in the decision making. As the classic saying goes, “people aren’t buying your product, they’re buying a better version of themselves.” When you’re telling your product story, don’t forget that people place a tremendous value on how they feel.
As more and more transactions move online, it can start to feel like the business world and consumer sales are merging into a single field of digital commerce. While there are certainly overlapping themes, it’s important to keep the unique needs of your customer in mind, and remember that there are some basic functional differences between B2B and DTC transactions. When choosing a digital agency to partner with for your next project, it’s critical to go with someone who understands the needs of your business and your customers.