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An illustration of a computer with graphs that are popping out of the computer's screen. The graphs resemble the type of information that a b2b marketer may be analyzing when preparing a marketing strategy.

What is B2B Marketing and B2B Sales?

TJ Kiely

Apr 12, 2021

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At its essence, marketing is all about your audience. Peter Drucker, one of the 20th century’s most influential thinkers on the subject of corporate management, once said: 

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.

The marketing approach you take can vary widely depending on many factors, but your marketing strategy largely depends on whether you are marketing to a B2B or B2C audience. Here, we’ll unpack what you should know specifically about B2B marketing.

Table of contents

What is B2B marketing?

Like every other business-related topic, marketing comes with its own alphabet soup of acronyms, and “B2B” is one of them. What does B2B mean? B2B stands for “business to business.” So, B2B marketing refers to business-to-business marketing – any strategy or marketing campaign that one business or organization aims toward another business or organization. Similarly, B2B sales are sales made from one business to another business. 

B2B marketing definition: any marketing strategy that one business uses to target another business.

Common types of B2B customers are:

  • Companies that purchase services or products from other companies (For instance, think of SaaS companies that sell their  subscriptions to large corporations, or a small parts manufacturer that sells parts for use in manufacturing to a larger manufacturer.)
  • Non-profits or for-profit institutions like schools or charitable organizations that purchase products or services from other companies
  • Government agencies that purchase products or services from private companies
  • Wholesalers that purchase products for resale

Why is B2B marketing important?

Whether you are one of millions of small businesses that cater to other businesses or a large B2B enterprise, B2B marketing is important for building brand awareness, for differentiating your business from that of your competitors, and for lead generation that results in sales. 

B2B marketing, when done correctly, keeps your business top of mind for customers and helps you maintain a long-standing conversation with the companies you are cultivating as potential customers. This is particularly important for B2B companies because the sales cycle for B2B can often be much longer than the typical sales cycle for a B2C purchase. That means that there are more opportunities for potential customers to be distracted by your competitors in a B2B environment. Maintaining a strong relationship with your audience through good B2B marketing strategies will keep them focused in the right direction – toward your product or service.

Business to business marketing has grown in importance, as the B2B buyer journey has evolved over the years to a more research-intensive approach. According to Gartner, 67% of a B2B buyer group’s time is spent on research and internal discussions, and only 17% is spent with potential suppliers. With this change in customer behavior, providing B2B marketing materials that inform and educate potential prospects attracts more leads and results in better ROI for marketing campaigns. (Be sure to check out these 20 Brilliant B2B Marketing and Digital Business Stats and Facts to read more about how the B2B buyer journey is changing.)

Gartner graph showing B2B buyer journey research time

How is B2B marketing different from B2C marketing?

Just how does B2B marketing differ from B2C marketing? These are the main ways:

 B2B MarketingB2C Marketing
Target AudienceSmall group of decision makers in target businessesLarge and broad customer base
Buyer MotivationLogicEmotion
Content NeedsEducationEntertainment
Sales CyclePotentially lengthyFairly short
Decision-Making ProcessMultiple stakeholders and stepsSingle stakeholder

The main difference is the target audience, of course. Business-to-business marketers have businesses or organizations as customers and buyers, and their target audience is a small group of decision-makers within those organizations. B2C companies, on the other hand, have an individual consumer as a customer, so their target audience comes from a large potential pool of people. 

But the differences go somewhat deeper than that. B2B businesses typically have different motivations to buy than B2C consumers. For instance, it is not unusual for B2C consumers to be motivated by emotion or impulse. (That’s why candy bars are strategically displayed at the checkout counter in your local grocery store, right?) On the other hand, B2B buyers are less motivated by emotion and more likely to be motivated by logic, financial concerns, or business goals. The messaging for B2B marketing, then, is quite different from the messaging for B2C marketing.

The content needs of B2B and B2C audiences also vary. For example, B2C audiences may enjoy a more lighthearted, entertainment-style approach to content in the form of memes or social media posts, while a B2B audience may value a more educational approach in the form of whitepapers, case studies, and webinars. These general principles are not set in stone, of course, and may vary according to the product or service you offer. However, as a general rule, the content needs of B2B and B2C audiences are different.

As noted earlier, the sales cycle for B2B may also be quite a bit longer than the B2C sales cycle. For many B2C purchases, the research, consideration, and purchasing phases of the buyer journey may all happen in a very short time frame. In the B2B world, however, that is rarely the case. Most purchasing decisions in a B2B environment may take weeks, months, and in some cases, even years to finalize. The longer B2B sales cycle necessitates a different approach to marketing than the short B2C sales cycle requires.

The B2B sales process typically includes a different decision-making process on the part of the buyer. In B2C sales, the consumer may be one person, who only needs to consult, at most, a checkbook balance before making a final decision. A B2B purchase, however, may need approval from a complex assortment of organizational stakeholders, each with their own opinions and agendas. Understandably, that added complexity lengthens the decision-making process and alters the marketing strategy involved.

B2B marketing strategies

Volumes have been written about B2B marketing strategies, and there’s no shortage of advice about which ones to use. What is the best B2B marketing strategy?

The best B2B marketing strategy for your business is the one that resonates with your target audience the most. Yes, we know that may sound like a cop-out answer, but it is the truth. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for creating the best B2B marketing strategy. 

There are, however, some general puzzle pieces that are a part of every successful B2B marketing plan. Once you understand how B2B marketing works by fitting these puzzle pieces together, you can design your marketing strategies to align with your target audience. 

Research and define buyer personas

Gather demographic and psychographic information about your audience to define buyer personas. Think of this process as putting meat on the bare bones of your idea of who your customer should be. Take time with this step because it will inform all your other business marketing decisions. 

Map buyer journey

Once you have your buyer personas clearly in mind, you can map out the buyer journey more easily. What steps will your customers likely take as they look for solutions to their problems and make their purchase decisions? Think each step of the process through, from the initial stage down to the actual purchase and beyond. 

Research and analyze competitors

No marketing strategy is complete without a thorough competitor analysis. What are other brands in the market doing that is working to attract your target audience? What are they missing? Where are the areas where you can differentiate your brand? 

Establish organizational and campaign goals

The old adage goes, “if you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it.” That certainly holds true in the case of marketing campaigns. Establishing what you hope to achieve with your campaign and how that achievement will support larger organizational initiatives will help you to design campaigns that align with identified success metrics.  

Create marketing plans that align with buyer journey stages

Armed with your personas, your buyer journey maps, and your goals, you are equipped with everything you need to build marketing plans designed for success. Be sure that your plan includes content for every stage of the buyer journey and that each piece of content, no matter its form, adds value for your audience and strengthens your relationship with potential customers. Evaluate each part of your plan under the lens of value to the customer.

Analyze results and optimize your campaign as needed

Track campaign metrics against your stated goals and make adjustments to content creation and planning as needed.

Common B2B marketing channels

Where do B2B marketers put their content? How do they get their content marketing message to the right audiences? Here are some of the most common channels for B2B marketing:

The charts below, courtesy of the Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budget, and Trends 2021 Report, illustrate how B2B marketers have distributed content in the past 12 months (since the COVID-19 pandemic). 

Chart of B2B social media marketing channels used for organic content
Chart of paid B2B social media marketing channels used over 12-month period

Examples of B2B marketing done right

Want some examples of B2B marketing worth emulating? Look no further than HubSpot. Long recognized as a leader in inbound marketing expertise, Hubspot demonstrated its agility in 2020 by taking its must-attend annual conference, INBOUND, virtual. Unlike many B2B events that were simply canceled in the wake of the global pandemic, HubSpot pulled out all the stops and created a valuable virtual experience for attendees. The company ramped up excitement for INBOUND 2020 with email planners and calendar integration prior to the event, heavy social media promotion over a month prior to the event, a strong social media presence on Facebook and Instagram during the event, and on-demand access to the content after the event. 

For a great example of a B2B email newsletter, take a look at CB Insights. You might think that a newsletter about venture capital, tech trends, and startups would be a bit bland in your inbox, but this content is a refreshing combination of impeccable research, clearly expressed insights, and humor. That’s likely why over 700,000 subscribers keep tuning in to read. CB Insights is a perfect example of a newsletter that provides value to readers because its marketers understand the audience well.

Example of B2B email marketing for CB insights

 (Source: CB Insights)

Another great example of B2B marketing content done right comes from Deloitte. The brand’s Deloitte Insights series unabashedly provides thought leadership across several industries in multiple content formats to appeal to various buyer personas. From deep-dive analyst reports to articles, videos, and podcasts, Deloitte provides something for every stage of the buyer journey and every type of stakeholder with a final say in the decision-making process. It’s an example of a fully visualized marketing plan.

Example of multimedia B2B content marketing from Deloitte Insights

(Source: Deloitte Insights)

The Bottom Line 

Marketing and selling your products and services to another business requires a different mindset and approach than marketing to individual consumers. But business-to-business marketing is more important than ever before. 

Once you have a deep understanding of your customers and the steps they will take in their decision-making process, you can create high-quality content to distribute across multiple digital marketing channels including email, social media, blog posts, virtual events, and more. If you keep your eye on your marketing goals and your fingers on the pulse of your customers, your marketing plans will be successful.