June 26, 2013
How To

Five Ideas on the Business-to-Individual Concept for B2B Marketers

SUMMARY: For the next two weeks, we are going to explore some cutting-edge marketing ideas. This week's B2B Marketing newsletter covers the business-to-individual (B2i) concept. In gathering information for this article, I had to travel to San Francisco, enjoy a wide-ranging phone interview and then negotiate a conversation with the two most prominent experts on marketing moments of truth.

This article offers five lessons on why you should be marketing to the individual, even as a B2B marketer.
by David Kirkpatrick, Senior Reporter

For the next two weeks, the MarketingSherpa B2B Marketing newsletter will feature articles on two cutting-edge marketing concepts — the emerging "B2i" or business-to-individual idea, and the challenge of marketing to digital natives versus digital immigrants.

These articles will not be the typical how-to instruction, although you will find some tactical advice for tackling these emerging marketing topics.

This week, we take a look at the B2i concept. Essentially, this idea postulates B2B and B2C marketing strategies and tactics are coming together and merging into simply marketing to individuals.

This can be seen in personalization across both marketing disciplines, and even in how there is some measure of mirroring between lead nurturing and engagement with B2B marketing and ongoing customer engagement and nurturing in consumer marketing. One happens before the sale, and the other after, but the basic marketing principles are increasingly similar.

Getting personal is increasingly important for B2B marketers. Here's an example of why you want to be connected to the person and not the database record.

Brian Carroll, Executive Director, Revenue Optimization, MECLABS, said, "When I speak to audiences and ask how many of them updated at least one thing on their business card this year — phone number, job title, name, address or email — at least 50% of the audience lifts their hand. My research has shown that at least 4% of your list is changing every month and that means that after a year, 48% of your list has changed something."

To find out more on this topic, we were able to speak with an incredible group of industry experts:
  • Rich Fleck, Vice President of Strategy, Responsys

  • Jim Lecinski, Vice President US Sales and Service, Google

  • Michael Ni, CMO, Avangate

  • Brian Solis, Principal Analyst, Altimeter Group

Read on to learn more about the B2i marketing concept, and be sure to catch next week's MarketingSherpa B2B Newsletter, where we'll cover the challenge of marketing to digital natives versus digital immigrants.

Idea #1. Creating relationships should be a philosophy, not just a marketing strategy

Solis had great insights to kick off this topic:

You know, the concept of B2i is more important than the world of just business is ready to handle, but it is exactly what we're talking about in these [marketing] moments of truth.

What we're really talking about is just real people talking to real people, and I have often said that maybe the best thing for business is to think about it if we just stop talking B2C and B2B and really just started looking at P2P — just the idea of people-to-people.

Some of the best businesses that I'm working with today are looking — even though that they might have business customers — they're looking at what the relationship would be between their business customer and then the ultimate customer because they know that if they can empower their customer to think about the people that they're trying to reach, they could design a better product or service to not just add a competitive advantage, but to deliver a better experience proactively.

Then, they know that they're going to have a competitive advantage against all of the other B2B companies. And, they’re mindful about the customer, and to me this is incredibly important because without it, we are going to get caught up in business as usual, which is, as you know — design a product or service, sell it, market it incredibly well and then react to what happens.

When you can consider what it's like to deliver a better experience even as you are baking it into the product or service, when you're thinking about what reactions could look like, when you're thinking about how do you best … not just condition but introduce a positive experience in every step, then you have this fantastic relationship from the get-go and where the model of people to people is just literally proven in everything you do.

It's not just a matter of strategy, but it's almost like a matter of philosophy.

Idea #2. Relevance matters, too

Lecinski made the point that along with relationships, relevance is part of the B2i marketing concept.

At Google, we talk about the concept of relevance, which I know many companies, many marketers are thinking a lot about, and obviously, I can have the best relationship with you as a customer, whether that's a B2B customer or a B2C customer, if I can have a relevant conversation with you or talk with you about things that you find relevant.

So, the only way I can know what's relevant to you is to have some sort of two-way discussion or two-way relationship with you, and if I have that ability, then we can have a B2i type conversation as opposed to either a much more mass B2C or mass B2B-type conversation.

Idea #3. The customer is now completely in charge

This is a concept marketers have hopefully been hearing for a couple of years at the very least — the idea the customer is now in charge of the buying process.

A 2011 study by the Corporate Executive Board and the Marketing Leadership Council with 1,500 participants found for B2B companies, those prospects complete 57% of their research before the first engagement with Sales.

In speaking with industry thought leaders, most believe the number is even higher today. There isn't research to cite, but thought leaders feel B2B prospects are likely completing 70% to 85% of their research before ever even raising their hand. Sales loves this because these prospects are essentially self-qualifying. For marketers, it's a challenge.

Ni said consumers — and this includes B2B buyers — are more empowered than they ever have been before.

"In fact, they are buying more like 'prosumers,' especially as it relates to digital goods," he added.

Ni said people can go online and drive the conversation.

"It's really self-directed. And, this gets to now fundamentally how it's changing the touch points, and how marketers have to think about how they treat the customers every time they engage with them. Because, customers clearly are engaging any time, any place. Whether it's online, on their [mobile] device, in social — and they expect to be serviced."

He continued, "They expect it on their own terms … you see that businesses are buying more like consumers. The ability to pay as you go, taking down the upfront costs."

Ni made the point that individuals at companies can now buy technology directly with corporate credit cards incrementally without having to go through a more arduous process through accounting. When these individuals need some sort of asset, they now just go out, do some research online and buy the smallest piece of what they need and get the higher level buy-in at the company later when that piece needs to be expanded upon.

For more tactical advice, Ni said companies should make it easy for those prospects to conduct self-discovery and self-service. His advice was to provide content and tools that enable those potential prospects to make the decision to buy from you.

Below are three tactics from Ni to help you implement B2i to your B2B target customer.

B2i represents a shift for B2B marketers in terms of how to engage, transact and continually service the new buyer expectations.

Here are 3 specific tactics to try and implement B2i.

1. Can your customers buy online, via a self-service channel? Most B2B marketers are familiar with lead nurturing and invest a lot of time in content marketing and other tools, but fail to acknowledge that there are some buyers who will never convert to a large deal as required by their direct sales team, even though they are real, qualified prospects.

Adding a self-service, e-commerce site will immediately add a new revenue line, albeit small, justify marketing spend and provide a path to future growth.

2. Can your e-commerce site co-exist with direct sales in a symbiotic relationship? There is often an artificial wall separating e-commerce from Direct Sales, usually with channel conflict concerns. In the new B2i world, every prospect can be thought of originating as a smaller deal, and leveraging the e-commerce channel as an upsell path to direct sales. Addressing incentives on both teams will see a boost in revenues, as product usage guarantees a different kind of sales conversation — one that is consultative versus a hard sell.

3. Can your contact center seamlessly sell and service your customers? In the B2i world, every touch point needs to be prepared to transact, as necessary, at all times. Contact centers need to be able to easily upgrade, downgrade, pro-rate, co-terminate and extend contracts — including first-time trials — and ensure long-term customer satisfaction. This means that there is a prior knowledge of the customers’ purchases, interactions and intent during the moment of truth that empowers the agents to act in real time during the conversation.

Marketers can achieve this by making the latest promotions/offers available and integrated into their commerce system of record. Begin with on-the-glass integration, and execute a deeper business process integration over the long term.

Idea #4. Pay attention to the behavior of your prospects

Fleck said at Responsys, the team uses analytics to track behavioral cues from those digital visitors and then uses that information to create what he described as "engagement paths" to guide those prospects along.

Two segmentation areas based on behaviors were "recencies and frequencies."

For example, Fleck explained, "We have a problem here if this person hasn’t clicked in 37 days. They are two times more likely to opt out and become inactive. [So] taking those kind of cues and building out programs that would drive that person back into active status [is a lead nurturing goal]."

Fleck also offered a couple of tactical points:
  • B2i segmentation: target customers based on their current activity level in email. B2B customers go through a lifecycle (New, At-Risk, Active, Inactive) just like B2C customers — it’s just that their stages and timing in the stages are different. So, implementing a activity-based approach is a key component of moving to a B2i strategy.

  • Lead nurturing: understanding the different stages of lead nurturing, based on customer behavior, is a key success factor in driving more b2b engagement. Leveraging automations to target the different stages is an important component of targeting B2B customers in this important stage.

Ni added testing is important in this process as well. He suggested A/B testing.

"How do people buy? Do they engage at this price point? Or, do you have to move through resellers [that] puts a very specific context for that buyer to buy in?" Ni asked.

Idea #5. Speak directly to your prospects

Lecinski said it's important to provide personalized messaging. His main point was, "people sell brands to people," not brands selling to brands. He added personalization does involve a lot of gathering personal data on your prospects, so be sure and be transparent about what you are collecting and how you plan on using it.

The smart B2i marketer is aware of the privacy concerns of those people who are engaging with you — even if they’ve yet to raise their hand.
Solis agreed that people buy from people, not companies, as the managing director of MECLABS, Flint McLaughlin, has said many times.

It really is that simple. Right? And, also, in that simplicity, is its true promise.

People do buy from people and I think that for some reason just we've forgotten that. I mean, we're now investing in the most clever marketing strategies, the most clever technologies, and most capable solutions to try to reach as many people as possible, and then even if you look at the promise of social media, where the keyword there is social, we're still using them as sort of broadcast mechanisms, as ways to sort of not engage or build relationships but just to reach you and hold you.

When we look back to the tactical data, it's almost like we have to press pause on all of this stuff. OK, what are we trying to do? You know, what it is?

If we know this is about people-to-people, then what does the relationship look like? What does the experience look like? What do we want people to feel, what do we want people to say? What would referrals look like?

I believe that [the B2i concept] is at the beginning. You know this is something where you can literally talk about it as this idea of experience, architecture where you bring in the elements of user experience and you bring in the elements of surprise and delight, and then you combine that with everything else in terms of creative marketing, sales, product design, etc., to literally design the experience you want people to have and share, and then the result is that's where people usually share.


Altimeter Group




Solis' latest book — What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences

Related Resources

The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing (research from the Marketing Leadership Council)

Winning the Zero Moment of Truth (free e-book from Google by Jim Lecinski)

Email Marketing: Your questions about personalization and length

Email Marketing: 5 tactics to personalize your email message for better results

New Chart: What it takes to personalize email

On building targeted lists for B2B Lead Generation Programs

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