B2Bs need an attitude shift: become a B4B

At times, I can’t but feel a bit of desperation when I see B2B companies still stubbornly marketing themselves from their own standpoint. Go to almost any B2B website or read almost any B2B company brochure and you’ll see it inundated with phrases like “we provide our customers with…” or, worse still: “XYZ is a company that provides its customers with…”.

“We”? “Our customers”? “A company” and “its customers”? How can anyone even think these phrases could motivate a purchase?

If your materials are in the “we” mode, understand that it’s the same as talking at an internal staff meeting. Nobody else is interested except—perhaps—your colleagues.

If you’re using the third person, you’re not talking to anybody. Think about it. You’re just stating a claim out into space. If it doesn’t go totally unnoticed, the best it will achieve is a “So what?”

Hence the need for an attitude shift.

I’ll clarify. If we think of ourselves as a business-TO-business company, it subconsciously leads us to think about a one-way communication channel. Me talking TO you. Not expecting an answer or dialogue. Not trying to understand. Just talking about what is important for me.

Now let’s think about ourselves as a business-FOR-business company. Maybe it means we are a business that creates business. Maybe it means we’re there to help. Notice how both interpretations implicitly include YOU. Subtly guiding our thinking more towards what we can do for the other party.

I know it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a new term like B4B to take root. I’m 100% sure, however, that if you as a corporate marketer adopt this frame of mind, it will subconsciously lead you to form a better connection with your audience.

You’ll find the beginnings of the B4B idea in this older blog post: Marketers—a breed alienated from real life?

What’s your opinion? Please share in the comments.


  1. Douglas - 2010-03-11 @ 10:11

    Totally agree. And while we are at it, why don’t b2b companies use conversational marketing?

    • Kimmo Linkama - 2010-03-11 @ 12:18

      Hi Douglas, nice of you to leave a comment!

      You’re so right about conversational marketing. It isn’t seldom that one tries to write conversational brochure copy, for example, and the comments are along the lines of “it’s too flashy/conspicuous/colloquial”.

      Old habits die hard, but it is the duty of us writers to try to bring about a shift, even if it’s a long journey. Perhaps we should become better pedagogues (or demagogues even?).

  2. B2Blog - 2010-03-11 @ 15:32

    Writing for B2B is surprisingly hard…knowing the perspective of the customer enough to write B4B style without sounding stupid takes a high level of awareness. When done, it is awesome.

    On The Media did a piece about animation last week, about when humans recoil because it is *almost* too lifelike. I think the same applies here. Even getting it close can make you sound phoney.

  3. Mark W. Schaefer - 2010-03-11 @ 16:05

    I love this perspective, Kimmo. Thanks for the well-written and persuasive post!

  4. Pia Maria Halttunen - 2010-03-16 @ 11:29

    Good point!

  5. Kristin - 2010-11-12 @ 09:22

    Kimmo, I think you are about to become my new hero. Great post!

  6. Kimmo Linkama - 2010-11-13 @ 12:21

    Thanks to all you commenters! With the rising popularity of the “talk with your audience” mentality brought about by the rising popularity of social networks, I wanted to point out that traditional marketing methods can also work better if they adopt a more human, one-on-one approach.

    It’s totally doable—in fact, has been for the 20+ years I’ve been in this business—which is why I am time and again amazed that more companies are not doing it.

  7. Rebecca Caroe - 2010-11-15 @ 03:49

    Great post – thanks. I overcame some of the B2B versus B4B attitude by getting my staff to imagine the business as a single person. This was easy when the name “Edward Erdman Ltd” was the founder’s name…. Imagine you are Edward Erdman, the man not the business. Now what would you say / do / write?

    Try it

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