Let’s be honest, business to business (or B2B) marketing has often been seen as the less glamorous cousin to FMCG marketing. Indeed, FMCG marketing (or to be more specific, advertising) forms what the general public considers to be “marketing”. And so, new graduates battle for places on Unilever’s legendary marketing training programme in the hope of securing a future in marketing to consumers.
Which is great news for those people who choose to specialise in B2B marketing, where there are more opportunities often at attractive salaries. And for those who relish this part of marketing, B2B roles are just as challenging and require just as much creativity - and arguably more so: how do you differentiate one business law firm from another?
In fact, some of the differences between B2B and FMCG marketing are gravely overstated and nowhere is this more true than in the tired old maxim that FMCG consumers buy for emotional reasons, whilst B2B buyers are rational.
What nonsense! As the marketing guru, Drayton Bird, once wrote, a B2B buyer is just a consumer in a suit. And he or she will face all sorts of emotions when making a purchasing decision: Will this make me look smart in front of my colleagues? Will it help me get a promotion? What will happen to me if it doesn’t work? Will my boss bawl me out if I don’t buy it and our competitors do?
Indeed, some people now suggest we redefine all marketing as H2H marketing: Human to Human marketing.
There are, however, some opportunities and challenges that are greater in B2B marketing which might make a career in this area more appealing:
Having argued the case for emotion in B2B buying decisions, it is true to say that any decision needs to be seen as rational and balanced by the firm’s shareholders and the individual’s boss and colleagues. Ideally there needs to be a clear and positive return on investment on the purchase for it to be seen as rational.
Moreover, many business purchases - particularly large ones - will involve more than one decision maker and the marketer finds themselves needing to consider their differing needs.
These decision makers may include procurement professionals, perhaps the closest to the rational buyer you’ll ever encounter and considered by many to be particularly tough nuts to crack.
The importance of relationships
For the reasons described earlier, it’s essential that a relationship of trust is developed between supplier and client in many B2B relationships. In spite of all the talk of one-to-one marketing in consumer markets, few consumer decisions compare with the magnitude, implications and value of B2B contracts.
So B2B marketers will often find themselves involved in establishing and nurturing trusting relationships between their firms and potential clients long before a sale is made. This process often means getting involved in events, content marketing and thought leadership, creating case studies and testimonials, PR and communication strategies.
Complexity and Intangibility
While a B2B item to be used in a manufacturing process, such as gear bearings, will often be a matter of specification and QA, many marketers in the B2B space are marketing professional services, which are often complex and intangible.
This challenges the most experienced marketers as it requires copy, collateral, materials and strategies that communicate the benefits of the service in an accessible and persuasive way that differentiates them from the competition.
And because services are very difficult to compare without experiencing them, the responsibility for putting together the most compelling argument falls on the shoulders of sales and marketing.
Sales vs Marketing
As we’ve mentioned sales it’s worth mentioning that in B2B markets, marketing tends to work hand in hand with a sales team. And it’s a relationship that isn’t always easy. When times are tough sales can accuse marketing of not providing the right leads, while marketing claims the sales team are poor at converting the leads provided.
Successful B2B marketers work closely with the sales teams, finding out about their needs and helping to fulfil them in a collaborative way.
Concentrated Purchasing Power and Longer Relationships
The Pareto Principle comes into its own in B2B markets. There are often relatively few buyers out there and of those, 20% are responsible for 80% of buying decisions. And once they buy B2B buyers tend to establish longer term relationships with suppliers than the more brand promiscuous consumer.
So get it right and ensure the client is satisfied and the returns are potentially huge. But the flipside of that coin, of course, is that the consequences of getting it wrong are significant.
In short, it would seem the B2B environment is more challenging and the customers more demanding. And while many marketers will relish that, others might ask about the benefits of taking on the challenge. Here are four:
You’re more likely to be a big fish in a smaller pond in B2B marketing, getting involved in key decisions, finding sales opportunities and determining the best strategy to use to develop the business.
You can expect rewards for your efforts, if you meet targets. As the value of each individual sale is greater than that in consumer markets, so a few wins can make a big difference.
And because the talent pool of candidates interested in B2B marketing is sometimes a bit smaller, firms are willing to offer attractive salaries to attract the best people.
The line of sight between your marketing activity and business results is less ambiguous in B2B markets. Indeed the results on the bottom line can be measured and reported on with relative ease. This can be massively satisfying for those with drive and ambition - and looks great on the CV.
You’re likely to get involved in a wider range of marketing activity in a B2B marketing job. Indeed, in a smaller firm you may be a one person marketing team covering everything from social media management and simple design to strategy development and lead generation. It’s an exciting prospect for the marketing generalist.
B2B marketing is an excellent option for many marketers, whether new to the workplace or those who are experienced and want to try their skills in a new environment. Consider whether a B2B marketing position might be right for your next move.
At Regan & Dean we recruit for a really interesting selection of B2B marketing roles from a broad range of sectors - from financial services, to Associations and B2B publishing/media companies. Candidates we speak to enjoy marketing to the corporate world and have made a conscious decision to build their marketing career in this area. It’s no less strategic and, in fact, in many cases more targeted, and it has to use the latest marketing techniques to create stand out in the professional world.
We’re pleased to have built a reputation with our clients in providing clever, innovative B2B marketers - and look forward to continuing working with our clients and candidates in this dynamic and challenging sector.