B2B marketing today has a problem. A serious one.

Not all B2B marketers are on the wrong path, but many are, and it’s easy to see why. If you take a marketing course in business school, it will most likely focus on B2C marketing. If you read marketing trade publications, the features will focus on B2C success stories. A search of the Harvard Business Review, for example, shows 1,584 consumer marketing-related case studies, but only 284 B2B case studies.

chango intervention street sign conceptCan you think of any brilliant B2B marketers? Maybe a few comes to mind. Can you think about brilliant B2C marketers. Yes, and very often they come from the advertising world.

Everybody loves the work of Ogilvy or Wieden + Kennedy, but if you bring Old Spice’s shirtless Mustafa into the boardroom, things are going to get a little bit awkward. The mass messaging and amusement tactics that work for B2C simply don’t translate to B2B marketing.

Your B2B targets are high-involvement, high-maintenance buyers. They don’t need a catchy slogan or a video of a cat dancing Gangnam Style. They need nuanced education and personal persuasion. They need marketers to understand both how their businesses run and the very specific challenges they face.

So, does that mean that B2B sales organizations should throw their marketers out along with their Myspace strategy documents? Heck no. Marketers can still bring plenty of value in terms of strategic marketing, positioning, and lead generation. They just need to watch out for these four B2C tactics that fail for B2B:

1)   Big Buys

Back when I worked in consumer marketing at GE capital, I was surprised to discover the B2C marketing tactic that works best with the average consumer: Babies. Cute, fat, giggly babies drive the most sales. And if babies fail, there are always puppies and kittens. That’s just not true in B2B, unless you kidnap an executive’s newborn and demand sales in exchange for the child’s safe return. (Don’t — it doesn’t work out well.)

If you’re planning a big advertising, tag-line centric B2B campaign, take a step back and reevaluate. Taglines don’t help B2B buyers make purchase decisions. In some cases, a B2B presentation that comes off as overly slick can even drive potential customers away.  Business executives need marketers to provide them with informative and engaging content that communicates a problem they’re facing and articulates how the marketer can help them solve it.

2) Going Aggressive

Aggressive selling simply doesn’t work with highly educated B2B buyers. It’s like dating: you woo differently on the dance floor at the club than over dinner at a five-star restaurant. With B2B, your pitch needs to be subtle, caring, and a little bit iterative; you want to reinforce your BVP (business value proposition) without it ever feeling like you’re pushing for a sale.

When in doubt, think of what a used car salesman would do…and then do the opposite.

3)   Ignoring Place and Promotion

The classic 4 Marketing Ps are  Product, Pricing, Place, and Promotion, but marketers often shortchange the last two, which are sometimes the most important to B2B.

When it comes to B2B, your potential audience will generally be much smaller than a B2C audience, which means you often have to work harder to place your offering in front of B2B buyers. And once you’ve done that, you still need to grab their attention with a great pitch (the promotion) that is simultaneously specific and memorable.

4)   Inflexibility

If you go into an Apple Store and ask for a yellow iPhone, you’re going to be rightfully rebuked. But if a B2B buyer asks you to customize the solution you’re offering, you better listen.

Cost-effective B2B marketing is all about establishing long-lasting relationships with clients; as a result, you need to prove that you’re willing to make a strong effort to meet a B2B buyer’s specific needs from the get go. That way, they’re not buying a product that may not fit; they’re buying a partner who will do anything to meet their needs.

The days of mass marketing and transactional selling in B2B are gone. The days of personal, educational content marketing are here. That said, if you want to bring a shirtless Mustafa to your next B2B pitch and have him dance Gangnam Style while holding a baby in one arm and a cat in the other, please promise to send us the video.