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B2C lessons for B2B marketers

Nick Reynolds
Nick ReynoldsChief Marketing Officer Asia Pacific
As Chief Marketing Officer for Asia-Pacific at Lenovo, I am responsible for marketing PCs, tablets, smartphones, enterprise servers and storage, in a diverse and fast growing region. I’m an energetic and highly driven marketing leader who embraces innovation and has a deep understanding of the customer-led, digital transformation happening in the current market. I joined Lenovo in 2007, bringing with me a wealth of expertise from both sales and marketing roles built at several FORTUNE 500 companies including Dell, Apple, Gateway and SABRE.

Follow me on Twitter @nickonthemove

Marketing continues to evolve in our hyper-connected digital and social world. For me, the field of business-to-business marketing (B2B) is one of the most interesting areas that has changed.

Once upon a time quite distinct processes existed to reach and influence your business-buying audience. It started as it always should: with the right products at the right cost in the right markets. From there, segmenting the market, managing databases of customers and prospects, targeted lead gen campaigns with DM or eDM and telemarketing, and industry events were all key elements. (I hasten to add these are all still part of the B2B mix).

While B2B remains its own customer segment, the boundaries between traditional B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing methods are blurring . And there are valuable lessons we can apply from one field to the other.

So, what’s the reason for this blurring? As with their consumer counterparts, business buyers have become more informed, discerning, influential and social.

As social business strategist and in-demand keynote speaker Bryan Kramer put it so well recently (and quite provocatively to get his point across!), “there is no more B2B or B2C. It’s H2H: human to human.”

While I contend there is still some distinction, Bryan’s point is a very good one. Business IT buyers retain different motivations from consumers buying a personal laptop or mobile phone, but they still expect a human experience. Digital marketing techniques help facilitate this experience, with more personalised, targeted offers and content, and the relationships can now be developed further.

McKinsey’s Nicolas Maechler, Adina Poenaru, Thilo Rüdt von Collenberg, and Patrick Schulze illustrate how B2B companies now prioritise customer-centricity and customer experience in the buying cycle in meaningful ways, enabled by the digitisation of company functions and processes. McKinsey contends – and I would agree – that the trick in getting modern B2B right involves striking the right balance between human and digital interactions in the more-complex relationships which characterise B2B transactions.

 

My B2C learnings and takeaways for B2B marketers

I recently spoke at a brand forum on how B2B and B2C marketing is becoming more aligned. Here are three brief takeaways from that session:

  1. Social selling

Social media is not just a consumer play anymore, as social has become an important part of the B2B marketing mix. However, many B2B marketers have been slow to recognise the importance of social media and content marketing. For example, in B2B settings, social selling is a powerful weapon where salespeople use social media to engage with prospects and answer questions until the buyer has made a decision. The Sales Navigator tool in LinkedIn is a great example, offering connections by industry and company size, and facilitating introductions through networks of existing contacts. At Lenovo, our social selling pilot in Australia used the Social Selling Index (SSI) that LinkedIn provides. Results have been positive, with our average sales team member SSI score of 31 now increased to 61. Our sales reps now have better pipelines 45% of the time and are 51% more likely to reach their quota when engaged in social selling.

At Lenovo, we’ve seen core B2B marketing tactics such as eDMs, events and lead generation considerably improve when social selling and good content strategy have been added to influence our primary IT decision-makers. Our ROI has improved too – we now spend up to 38% less on these more-traditional B2B activities as a result of deploying social selling & still reach our sales targets.

 

  1. Understanding millennials

We think of millennials primarily as a B2C audience, but they have a big influence on B2B outcomes. I’ve recently written about this generation in a branding context, but to summarise, millennials don’t just shape consumer behaviour, they are shaping trends in business too! Just take for example IT purchases (the increased use of more YOGA-like convertible and detachable PCs), and adoption of apps in the workplace for improved collaboration, dashboards and sharing (think of Slack, Domo and OneNote), this group is very often driving the consideration of new products and brands in the workplace.

Accordingly, we’ve measured the influence of millennials on Lenovo’s B2B sales. When we segmented our IT decision-makers within target organisations, we found a group we called “IT progressives”. They comprise just 22% of the market, and they’re typically younger (age 22-30), highly engaged, and very progressive in IT.  It turns out our IT progressives are the most highly influential group on other IT decision-makers, recommending technology products and brands up to eight times more often than average. This is a critical trend that B2B marketers need to exploit; otherwise a brand can easily become redundant.

  1. Adding emotional elements

It’s often said that B2C marketing is characterised by emotional hooks whereas an organisation’s IT buyers (B2B) respond to more “scientific” messages around performance, affordability and value. But we believe our buyers are human, and emotion will certainly sway them. This ties in to my point on IT progressives who are more emotionally driven, caring deeply about their decisions because they believe technology can advance their careers and shape the way their company performs. One of my global branding colleagues, Quinn O’Brien, spoke about this insight recently with CMO magazine. Quinn made a great point: in the consumer space, marketing can be said to be around 80% emotion and 20% features/performance based. With B2B, you can probably flip that equation but the 20% emotional brand element is still a hugely powerful and influential piece of the puzzle for effective B2B marketing today.

To close, we should pose the question: are there lessons from the B2B space for B2C marketers too? I think there are so here’s one example.

In B2B marketing with far fewer end-customers, we’ve become adept at managing customised and personalised relationships. This has certainly been the case at Lenovo where we track each business customer’s ‘share of wallet’ and spend by product line, tracking them through the lifecycle from acquisition to development and retention. This obsession with the customer in B2B needs to come to B2C marketing too. Digital technology allows us to track each individual consumer across multiple channels, online and offline, through their own customer journey. We can deliver more unique and personalised marketing than ever before. In that respect, the commonplace B2B experience can be replicated for B2C prospects and consumers.

With all the digital tools available today, there really are so many fantastic opportunities to bring greater emotion, personalisation and data-driven insights to our B2B strategies from B2C marketing, and of course, vice-versa.

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