There are fundamental differences between marketing to consumers and marketing to business buyers: B2B buyers are logical and systematic. Consumers make purchase decisions on a more emotional level. Because these differences impact the way people buy, they also impact the way people advocate the brands they use. With different audiences, motivations, considerations and responsibilities to consider, many of the same advocacy principles apply, but there are some key differences in how organizations should approach brand advocacy in the B2B and B2C worlds.
#1 DIFFERENT AUDIENCES
B2B and B2C companies target different personas. In the B2B world, the target is the individual consumer. In B2B, it’s a group of professionals – often with very different needs, goals and motivations. A B2B company and a B2C company may share some of the same customers, but they need to be handled very differently. We know that peer recommendations drive sales for both B2B and B2C organizations but they advocate consumer and B2B brands in different ways to different groups. When consumers make recommendations, they do so to their personal networks – friends and family. When business professionals make recommendations, they are targeted towards their professional networks.
“Understanding the community you’re working with is critical to a successful advocate marketing program.”
There is often an overlap between consumer and professional life – some people have just one Twitter account for both personal and business use. However, many people actively separate these two aspects of their lives: LinkedIn for work, Facebook for play, and two distinct Twitter handles. Some people take it a step further and manage multiple social avatars to segregate different roles, topics or hobbies within their personal and professional lives. However, people are becoming acutely aware of their own social audiences – and are sensitive to what these audiences want to see from them. For example, a CFO is unlikely to recommend an accounting package on Facebook. Likewise, they are unlikely to recommend their favorite dry cleaners on LinkedIn. As marketers, being aware of your audience, and their behavior as advocates, will help you tailor your advocacy program to suit the preferences of your customer advocates.
#2 DIFFERENCES IN SCALE AND STABILITY
Last year, Ford sold over 2.5 million vehicles. Apple sold almost 75 million iPhones in Q1 2015 alone. Global Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies like Coca Cola sell to just about everybody on earth, with a potential advocate community of billions. On the B2B side, there are 43,500 listed companies – and if we assume that SMEs outnumber listed enterprises 100 to 1, that adds up to 4.5 million companies worldwide. In general, B2C organizations have larger customer bases. So there’s a major difference is the scale of advocate programs between the B2B and B2C worlds.
This doesn’t necessarily make brand advocacy easier in either domain. Consumer-world companies may have a larger customer base to work from, but consumers tend to be fickle about which brands they buy from. 44% of US consumers switch brands when they receive poor service. B2B organizations may have a smaller customer base to work with, but they tend to be more stable – they have a lower rate of customer churn. The importance of big-ticket corporate investments (those that support operations) makes it more difficult to quickly switch vendors without causing disruption. So consumer companies have a wider pool of customers to engage, but B2B firms have more stability and longevity of advocates.
#3 DECISION BY COMMITTEE
In the consumer world, there’s generally one decision-maker. We know they pay attention to recommendation from peers, but aside from a few of life’s major purchases (like the family home, car or holiday) there’s only one decision-maker. In the B2B world, there’s rarely an individual buyer – particularly when it comes to high value, considered purchases like technology.
On average, the corporate decision-making group involves 5.4 people. On top of that, there will be a large number of influencers – dominated by the people who will use the product (or service) to be more productive or to monitor performance. A larger Decision Making Unit (DMU) means a longer buying process – which in turn drives a longer sales cycle for B2B vendors (and an increased risk that a sale will never be made). The larger the group, the less likely the group will ever reach a consensus.
“For every person added to the decision making group, the buying process becomes longer and less likely to succeed.”
In the B2C world, recommendations can lead quickly and directly to purchases, with just one consumer making the decision – which is why consumer websites are now embedding user feedback into their product pages. In B2B, a recommendation may get your firm added to a short-list, but it won’t close the sale. Consequently, B2B organizations need a strong sales team, armed with suitable customer references.
So what does this mean for B2B advocacy programs? Convincing each of these many stakeholders is a critical step towards closing a sale. Providing “eye-level” social proof (testimonials and references that match the stakeholder own role, challenges and seniority) will help you create consensus among the decision group and push the sale over the line. Bringing customers and customer-generate content into your sales process will help you communicate the personal value of what you do, as well as overall value to the business. They all want to know what’s in it for them. In each decision-making group, there’s always a skeptic. Providing plenty of social proof from peers is the best way to eliminate resistance and turn the skeptic into a strong supporter.
Where B2C organizations need to put their focus on recommendations to drive sales conversions, B2B orgs need to cover both recommendations and references – so having a strong customer reference management process is critical to achieving a high sales close rate.
#4 FORMAL PROCUREMENT PROCESSES
Consumers frequently follow a purchase journey that usually involves discovery (via search engines) and the evaluation of social proof using customer reviews, but few have a formal procurement process. With one decision-maker, and nobody to answer to afterwards, they don’t need a formal process to govern spending. They can make quick decisions.
“Long, formal procurement processes give vendors more opportunities to put happy customers in front of buyers.”
Conversely, business buyers have to follow a formal procurement process – to control spending, ensure the right purchases are made, and prevent fraud. Note that the B2B customer’s buying process, isn’t the same as your sales process. Each one is different, so it’s necessary to understand their process, figure out where how you can adapt your own process, and interact with the prospect at appropriate times – without being perceived as interruptive or self-serving. Often, this means being quick to react to forward motion in the buyer’s process.
#5 DIFFERENT MOTIVATIONS
Goals differ between people as individuals and people as professionals. In both groups, brand advocates recommend products and services to help their peers. It’s a deep-rooted social thing; part of the glue that holds communities together and makes them successful. In the lives of business buyers, more is at stake. Buyers within companies have a vested interest in advocating the brands they buy from: they want these companies – their suppliers – to survive so that they can continue to gain business value. When a key supplier goes out of business, it can have a serious impact on business continuity. Bill Lee, author of The Hidden Wealth of Customers says:
“As your importance to such customers increases, your success becomes increasingly important to them. They want you to have the success and funding that comes with it to continue to innovate and help their businesses succeed.”
#6 DIFFERENT ADVOCATE CHALLENGES
Because B2C and B2B brand advocacy relate to people’s personal and professional lives, respectively, the challenges/asks you present to them need to map to their respective goals. For example, in the B2B world, it’s appropriate to ask a customer to speak at an industry event about the value your organization has delivered to them. It is likely they will appreciate the chance to share knowledge and raise the profile of their own “personal brand”. For a B2C firm, asking a consumer to speak at an industry event would be less appropriate.
On the content front, customer-generated content is valuable to prospects on both sides of the B2B/B2C divide – yet the types of content that are used differs. B2B businesses tackle complex business problems, so long-form content like whitepapers and case studies are used to educate prospective customers on problems, solutions and best practices. In the consumer world, prospects face simpler problems, making short-form content more appropriate. In either case, it is necessary to consider your content marketing strategy and work out where customer and user-generated content can be slotted into marketing content to provide a valuable social proof element.
“B2B and B2C organizations have different business and marketing objectives, so they want to engage with customers in different ways. That means they have different asks.”
B2C customer review sites have been around a long time. Amazon has incorporate customer reviews in product pages for almost ten years now. Customer ratings have a direct influence on the sale of consumer goods and can make or break a business, so activating happy consumers to post positive reviews is a foundational part of any B2C advocacy program. Likewise, sites like G2Crowd.com, TrustRadius and IT Central Station have emerged more recently to help corporate buyers gain easy access to customer opinions about enterprise suppliers. However, corporate procurements are often deemed to be “sensitive”; customers don’t want (or are not allowed) to talk about suppliers and partners outside the walls of the organization. This sensitivity presents a barrier to B2B advocacy that consumer organizations don’t face; it can be more challenging to find happy customers who are free to share their opinions.#
If you’ve noticed any other differences between B2B and B2C brand advocacy, let us know in the comments below.
Find out more about advocate marketing and what it can do for your B2B business in our whitepaper: What is Advocate Marketing?