Thursday, July 02, 2015

B2B and B2C are really just H2H (A Work-Related Post)

(Also posted on LinkedIn)



Someone recently approached me on LinkedIn - they had worked in the B2C email marketing space, but were thinking of going after a B2B email marketing position.  "What are the differences?" they asked. "What do I need to know to set myself apart in interviews, to show I understand the key differences, especially when it comes to Email Marketing?"
I told them I'd give it some thought and get back to them.  That weekend, I sat down, wrote what turned out to be a long email, and then said I reserved the right to later turn it into a blog post.
These are my thoughts on marketing in the B2B and B2C space...

1. B2C and B2B are both B2C as the subscriber is a human (not a company) and humans like dealing with humans. (B2C and B2B are really both H2H.)

B2B can often actually be more human-intensive than B2C. Where I might be fine to go to Amazon and buy some printer paper, a business will need more guarantee that they’re going to be supported: you can offer them great prices, knowledge about the right kinds of paper for their machines, changes in the paper industry and that they’re not going to be left in a position where they don’t have any printer paper.  And, if they buy new cash registers that you’ll be able to provide paper for them as well without a lot of hassle.  (And that you can scale if they deploy those cash registers to all of their locations at the same time.)

2. The B2B subscriber has more stakeholders to satisfy and will be your partner in selling your solution.

For B2C, it’s easy to create a problem the customer didn’t know existed and then explain why your product is the exact solution.  Think of the formulaic approach of every single infomercial as a blatant example. (Don't you hate it when you make pancakes and they come out a little dark? Your children think you're an idiot, stop respecting you and start doing drugs. Don't let this happen to you!)
However, in B2B, every company really is a unique and special snowflake - no one else has problems like theirs.  Your job is to strike a balance - you have an existing product and you’ll have to figure out how it meets your customer’s need or how they misunderstand their own need (or if they’re willing to pay for a customization). The person you’re engaging with is probably not the decision-maker or the person who writes the checks, so you need to turn that connection into a partner who will help you sell the solution.  So you have to prove you get them, that you comprehend their problem and are smart enough to figure out how to solve for it.

To use the office supplies metaphor again: B2C you’re selling copy paper.  B2B you’re selling confidence - once you’ve sold the subscriber on your solution, he or she has to then sell their boss on the solution - and then you’ve got to deliver because it’s their neck on the line.

3. Maintenance/support is far more important (and lucrative) than acquisition.

This is probably something you’ve had plenty of experience with as it holds true for both B2C and B2B - it’s expensive to acquire someone, but once you’ve acquired them, hopefully you’re making the investment to keep them.  Naturally, you keep an eye on your acquisition and attrition numbers, but hopefully acquisition and retention aren’t channel-specific initiatives but rather broader goals of the entire organization, with the support, strategy and thought-leadership company-wide.  If not, I’d say to run away.  An email acquisition goal is nice, but when it comes time to thinking about retention, it's gotta go beyond the unsubscribe.
If acquisition and retention aren't both broader cross-channel goals for the entire organization, run away.

4. Success breeds success.

Word-of-mouth is absolutely essential. Even if every company is different with different problems, people love the confidence that comes from a colleague or peer in their industry saying “I’ve had success with this company. There’s this guy over there you should call, he’s really helped me a lot.” 
And on the flip side “Don’t go with them. They talk a good talk - slick presentation, nice people. But they can’t execute well.” Or even the dreaded “Their salespeople are awesome, will promise you anything. But once you’ve signed the contract, they don’t care anymore.” People make or break it. In the end, it’s all H2H.

What does this mean for email marketing?

1. Acquisition is tricky:

referrals (I’m happy with B and I want to tell you about them)
warm leads (I think your product might meet my needs and this problem has the priority/urgency within my organization that I’m willing to hand over my email address in exchange for access to your white paper)
medium/cold leads (I’m at the same conference you’re at and I want to win that iPhone so I’ll drop my business card in the fishbowl)
cold leads (Be very careful here - most people can see through cold calls and cold emails.    I just met someone this past weekend who is very successful with cold calling/emails, but it’s because it’s not at scale - he identifies a target, learns all he can before he approaches them so that when he connects with them, they can tell he cares. Before I met him, I didn't think cold calls were possible, effective or even worth my time. But he's rare. Be like him. Don't be like the examples you get in your inbox and mailbox each week.)

Segment and score your leads. Be engaging and relevant. Nothing worse than a completely informal boilerplate letter to someone who was referred by a happy existing customer or an email that comes three months after the conference and is completely irrelevant beyond admitting that they got your email address at a conference.   It’ll be harder to do this at scale.

2. Most effort should be on retention (keep wooing, not selling)

Continue to reinforce the good choice the customer made. Educate, inform. Give your reader a reason to keep reading. Give them a leg-up on their colleagues, even within their organization.  Use it as an opportunity to reinforce your domain knowledge, flexibility and knowledge about the customer. But if it’s all sell, sell, sell, they won’t feel appreciated.  But if they feel you care, you’ll come to mind the next time they have a problem they need help solving.

Does that mean you're stuck having an account manager who personally handles each client?
  Or can you use Email Marketing and take advantages of scale of one-to-many to support your business?

I think you still can.

Part of it may be automations and triggers that support activities the customer performs.

I came to your site and downloaded a white paper. Give me a three-part treatment with additional case studies and an offer to connect me with another customer.

I just signed a contract - tell me what’s next, describe the roles and introduce the people I’ll be working with and how to get support

For a more ad hoc approach, it’s probably the education aspects:
- new features on your platform
- new opportunities (being careful to avoid feeling like you’re just selling)
- spotlights on customers and how you solved a problem for them (case studies)
- best practices
- industry news (not necessarily specific to you)

Today, the lines are really blurring between B2C and B2B.
 I personally have a B with one employee (me) and I’m also the employee of a Fortune 500 company that generates over $5 billion a year in revenue. And yet most B2B emails and postal mail I receive is impersonal and easy to discard, even when I’m a warm lead. 

Or, to put it another way - there are companies who want to book all their travel online without ever dealing with humans and there are families who want to deal with a person who can assure they’re going to have a good trip and if they run into trouble they’ll have someone they can call.  It's good to identify an audience segment. Just make sure you make the time to actually get to know them.
Everyone reading an email is a human.
Everyone reading an email is a human.  Think of your own inbox.  What do you want? Emails that are helpful, emails that encourage, emails that educate.  Emails that reinforce good decisions you’ve already made, emails that help you solve a problem you have. Emails from people or companies that align with your own self-image or represent things you aspire to. Emails that have a clear answer to “What’s In It For Me?”

What don’t you want? Selfish emails that seem to do more for the sender than they do for you. Emails from people or companies that don’t seem to get you or care who you are. Emails that seem disconnected or suggest a split-personality or that clearly have a short-term objective that’s at odds with your objectives.
B2C and B2B are really H2H
So really, in the end, B2C and B2B are really H2H. What you send today is influenced by what you sent last week and will impact the rates of engagement for the email you send next week and will be tinted by the other items around it in your subscriber's inbox.  Be honest, engaging, consistent and always asking “What’s in it for the subscriber who will receive this?” Make it something they open before all the other items in their inbox. (Or at the very minimum, make it something they will open.)

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