Don Draper - Ad GuruEvery month, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by B2B marketers trying to entice buyers from various businesses to inquire about their products. It pales in comparison to the half-trillion a year spent on ads to convince consumers like all of us to buy soda, cars, insurance, vacations, pizza, and all-the-other-stuff-we-need. But B2B marketers still spend a lot of money. So, it never ceases to bother me how little my B2B peers try to learn from their B2C counterparts. Maybe, just maybe, those big brands know a thing or two about persuasion.

I don’t know if it’s arrogance or ignorance, but there is so much we B2B marketers can learn (and steal). And I’m not talking about TV ads. We B2B folks don’t have the mega ad budgets, or really much right to advertise on television. Aside from IBM and the Big Four, B2B television ads are like pebbles in the ocean. Sometimes, very expensive pebbles:

Did you see our Super Bowl ad?

No, I missed it. Is it going to keep running?

Well, uh, we kind of blew the budget on it.


But persuading people is not just about big television ad budgets. It’s about understanding people’s wants and needs, meeting them where they are, and giving them the best experience possible. All of this builds great consumer brands that are powerful and durable. In this multi-part rant post, I’ll cover three things I think B2B marketers can learn from B2C marketers and apply in their marketing programs. To start, let’s talk about people.

We Don’t Sell to Businesses; We Sell to People

I was chatting to a veteran B2B marketer recently, and he mentioned something I hadn’t heard in a long time: No one sells to companies; we all sell to people in companies. Too true.

When it’s said, it’s obvious. But if you are a B2B marketer, think about the nouns you use in your marketing copy. I’ll bet you say things like, “Our company saves organizations 78% on their purchases,” or “Our company makes teams 45% more efficient.” Where are the people? While these statements may be true, and appealing to an extent, they don’t get to the heart of the matter.

What you want to do is convince the people within the office buildings. Maybe instead of business-to-business (B2B) we should call it business-to-professional (B2P). A consumer is just you when you are not working. You are still a person with needs and emotions. B2B marketers need to convey help their product or service helps people in their profession. Or, maybe, how to get more life in their work-life balance.

Here are three steps you should take to make your B2B marketing more about the people.

Map Out the Buying Center

Wait, you just left us thinking about people, and now you are spouting this technobabble, you say? Yes, but indulge me for a minute. We’ll get there.

In B2B sales, unlike in B2C, there is rarely just one person involved in the buying process. The buying center just a term for the group of people involved. Importantly, these people will not just have different roles in the company, but they will have different roles in the buying process.

For example, the buyer titles at a pharmaceutical company may be CEO, head of research, senior scientist, and lab technician. You need to figure out who is the decision-maker, who is the influencer, who is the budget holder, and who may be what’s called a gatekeeper. Depending on the size of the purchase, the decision-maker and the budget owner might be different people, even at the same company.

So, your first step is to map out the people in the buying center. Then, based on your product, you need to figure out their role in the purchase process. Now you are ready for the next step. (For more on the roles in the buying center, read this.)

Map Out Personas

Buyer personas are profiles of the people in the buying center. In our example above, you would want to describe each of the four jobs, the kinds of things they care about, what success looks like, and more.

Consumer brands spend a lot of time studying their target buyers. You have no doubt heard about demographics. Ad people spend a lot of time here. Even before they think about extolling their features or touting secret ingredients, they want to know what makes their ideal customer tick.

In one great example, Best Buy mapped out its four most common customer types. Meet Buzz, Barry, Ray, and Jill, Best Buy’s four personas:

  • Buzz (the young tech-enthusiast)
  • Barry (the wealthy professional man)
  • Ray (the family man)
  • Jill (a soccer-mom type who is the primary shopper for the family but usually avoids electronics stores)

Best Buy trained its sales reps to treat each of the four differently, catering to their needs. According to the company, its efforts increased sales from Jills over 30 percent. Taking the time to be patient and clear meant real money.

So, how do you build a persona? Get to know what they are thinking. As Adelle Revella from the Buyer Persona Institute puts it:

Built from the real words of real buyers, a buyer persona tells you what prospective customers are thinking and doing as they weigh their options to address a problem that your company resolves.

Get your marketing team to do interviews. You need to speak to people directly. Here’s a post I wrote a while ago you can use to get started.

Talk to People

Okay, now you know who the people are and what they care about. Time to talk to speak their language and directly to them.

This means you are going to need to change the way you write your marketing copy. Let’s take the example from the intro above: “Our company saves organizations 78% on their purchases.” If you want to communicate to the CEO persona, then how about, “We can shave 78% off of your basic supply costs so you can make your margins look better.” Or, even better, “We can give you a margin advantage over your competition. The CEO of Acme Corp told us it was part of the reason his stock price doubled last year.” Notice the use of the pronouns you and we. It’s about the person and what they care about, and the people in your company communicating with them. In the case of CEOs, who tend to be competitive and measure success in terms of their share price, we are speaking to something they care about personally.

Now, let’s take the same example and tailor it for the head of research. How about, “We can reduce the money you spend on chemical ingredients so you can put more money into your people.” What head of research does not want that? Maybe they are competitive, wanting to out-research their grad school rivals. “The head of research at Acme Corp told us he was able to hire more scientists and even a few interns with the savings we brought. No need to go to the CFO and ask for more money.” (Great. More people. No tedious and uncomfortable money-grubbing.) “He even told us that his expanded staff got them to clinical trials six months faster than he planned.” (Even better. Prestige and profits on the way.)

You may ask how you can write different copy for all these different people. That’s a lot of work! Yes, it’s more work. But it will pay off. There are ways of segmenting your audiences, either by the marketing channel you use or how you train your salespeople or sales partners.

Now that we know that we are really trying to persuade people, not businesses, time to understand what people are looking for or asking about, and where. That will be the next post.