There is still a difference between B2C and B2B

Many online marketers claim that “there’s no difference any more whether you’re talking to consumers or corporate buyers—you’re just talking to PEOPLE”. I’m claiming, though, that there is still a difference between B2C and B2B.

It is certainly true that all marketing should shift more toward a one-on-one style of talking to be efficient and engaging. Still, the differences between the B2C and B2B buying/selling processes have not disappeared. Some comparisons:



Single decision-maker A larger group, often across functional/departmental borders
Tackle possible objections of one person Tackle possible objections of many people, including some that see the proposed purchase as a threat to their position or status, or causing more work to them or their department
When the person you talk to agrees to the purchase, you can close immediately When the person you talk to agrees to the purchase, you need him/her as your “agent” within the organization to convince the rest of the purchasing team
May make a purchase on a whim or to follow a perceived trend Always look at return on investment and ancillary costs (service, repairs, lifetime ownership cost etc.)
Influenced by emotional arguments Influenced mainly by rational arguments
Usually has the money ready or easily available Usually needs to go through an investment proposal process before getting the funds
A single face-to-face contact may lead to purchase Purchase process is complex and usually requires several meetings, often involving groups of people from both sides
Purchase process is simple enough to be automated (advertising, direct mail, e-shops) Purchase always takes place through person-to-person contacts


The list could go on, but let this suffice for now.

Even looking at these examples, it is obvious that you will have to “talk to people” in substantially different ways if you’re selling to B2B customers. The differences also play a role in why you shouldn’t assume that using social media to engage B2B customers is similar to engaging B2C customers.

Or perhaps you disagree with my reasoning. Either way, shoot me a comment. I’m looking forward to a debate!



More on the subject in Alastair Allday‘s e-book Think Like a Copywriter (highly recommended).

There’s also a good article by Mike Collins in the online magazine Manufacturing Business Technology.


  1. Tom Albrighton - 2010-12-16 @ 22:43

    What a great post. It needed saying. I agree with everything you say, but with some caveats.

    First, your B2B model is really that of a fairly large organisation. In smaller firms, decision-making is likely to be tighter, and it’s even possible that one single person might have ‘final cut’ over buying decisions.

    Going further down that road, what if you’re selling B2B to a sole trader, or dealing direct with the boss of a small firm? I’m often in that position. You’re then in a fascinating hinterland between B2C and B2B. Some prospects will try to bring the ROI perspective, even though they’re not really in a position to be so rigorous. Others recognise that time and relationships are their most valuable assets, so they’ll just look for people they can work with, and who won’t let them down.

    Perhaps the most contentious point is when you say B2C = emotional, B2B = rational. It’s a good starting point, or rule of thumb. But as you say at the top, it’s more complex than that. Often, you might have a rational layer on top of an unspoken emotional core.

    For example, if you’re selling a camera to a photography geek, he’ll act like it’s all about features when really it’s about how he feels with that Leica round his neck. Similarly, a B2B buyer might pretend to be talking price when really they’re looking for a friend outside the office they can talk to. Your communication needs to work at both levels.

    Or in other B2B contexts, you might be looking for an emotional response from one individual in the organisation (e.g. marketing manager) and a rational response from someone else (e.g. finance director). Again, you need a message that can travel round the organisation and still get results. It’s easy on the web, where you can build pages for different people – harder in direct mail or broadcast ads.

    I guess the takeaway is that whoever you’re selling to, you might end up using skills from the B2C or the B2B side of the fence to get your sale.

  2. Kimmo Linkama - 2010-12-17 @ 01:15

    Tom, I’m honoured that you of all my online friends took the time to send a comment here!

    True, my B2B example is from the larger end of the spectrum. I just wanted to make my point clear: you can’t put B2C and B2B in the same basket and expect to succeed with both using a one-size-fits-all marketing solution—the “talking to people” thing—as I’ve seen many marketing bloggers suggest.

    Interestingly, you seem to bring up the same point as I did in this earlier blog post: you’re not actually selling to people, you’re selling to decision-making processes.

    The emotional vs. rational debate is a fascinating one. Okay, I admit that if it’s crystallised the way you did (B2C = emotional, B2B = rational), it looks pretty categorical. My point was perhaps a bit vague, but consumers are swayed by emotional arguments, whereas B2Bs mainly base their decisions on rational thinking. This is not to say emotion never plays a role in B2B decisions—we all know the saying “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”. Or why else would clients sometimes insist on meeting you face-to-face before making the final decision to work with you?

    Then again, I think a private person’s purchase of a house or a car, for example, compares to a company’s purchasing production machinery. Both are big investments to those making the decision, but the consumer is much more likely to be influenced by factors that make him look or feel good than the company purchasing team. It most often doesn’t matter to the company whether the piece of equipment comes from China or Germany, the point is in total ownership cost, uptime, MTBF or other measurable quantity that you can put a price tag on.

    But you hit the nail on the head when you say rational and emotional must play together.

    To condense all of the above: “You’re right” 🙂

  3. Laurie Kinsman - 2011-05-31 @ 01:44

    Great post, sorry I missed the chat.

    From the transaction POV, this comes across as B2C = one-to-one and B2B is one-to-many (and someone on twitter interpreted it as such).

    From the marketing POV, I’ve always believed the complete opposite. Starbucks doesn’t know me, Unilever doesn’t know me, Amazon doesn’t either (close, no cigar). These B2C co.’s traditionally market to … at best … segments *like* me. One-to-many.

    Human relationship (one-to-one) is still king in B2B, whether it’s a one-person shop or a tribe of 20 that need to approve.

    Like you said, it affects marketing & communications as well (online or off). I concede I’m cautious using the work ‘traditionally’ above, as those B2C segments become smaller and smaller with data/info that is getting closer to B2B relationship data. But the human element is a constant.

  4. Kimmo Linkama - 2011-05-31 @ 19:03

    Thanks a lot for your comment, Laurie! It’s particularly valuable coming from someone knowledgeable in the “heavy” side of marketing (referring to your company here, of course).

    Let me clarify a little. In the context of my post, B2C really is one-to-one in the sense that the marketer’s message is directed (and must be directed) to YOU in a way that’s as personal as possible. They have YOU as their prospect and it is enough to persuade YOU to make the sale. Who YOU are is based on certain generalizations, but there are many more people in that target group that feel the generalizations pertain to them than in B2B.

    While it is true that B2B marketers should also direct their message to one person at a time, they must constantly bear in mind that they’re convincing a group instead of an individual. Without a consensus, the decision won’t be made. Hence also the emotional vs. rational difference: the different emotional motivators of the different people in their different functions in a buying committee effectively cancel out each other. Not totally, of course, but to a greater extent than in B2C.

    I totally agree with you that “the human element is a constant”. Like Tom said in his comment above: “you might have a rational layer on top of an unspoken emotional core”—which I take as meaning all the participants in a buying decision have their own agenda or interest.

    That’s also the reason why B2B marketers have a more difficult task in crafting their marketing message. They must find a way to strike a chord with many functions involved in the buying decision, yet make sure these individual messages do not contradict each other.

    It would be fascinating to continue this discussion, especially with people who are front-line B2B company marketers. Please feel free to comment on the comments, folks!

  5. Vince Koehler - 2011-06-02 @ 06:47

    The post has great insights into the key differences. Seven of the eight points are right on target.

    The one area that b2b marketers struggle with the most is the role of emotion in the buying process. Particularly in a work environment, the participants will always rationalize their point of view with logical business case facts. However, we know from brain activity research (i.e. Jim Joseph’s book Experience Effect summarizes recent research) that decision making is highly emotional. Therefore emotion is still part of the decision making but it’s hidden more diligently. To address it marketers simply need to follow proven processes of creative briefs and personas to make sure we’re connecting with our audience (What’s in it for me) and then proving that emotional point.

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