What makes B2B different?


B2B Marketing Guide

What Makes B2B Different?

Fundamentally different

Image of different industries that Two Rivers Marketing works in.

B2B is a different animal. This is because of a few fundamental differences between B2B and B2C marketing. While many of the principles are the same, the strategies and tactics must shift to ensure success.

Generally speaking, B2B is more complex than B2C. The products and services, buyer journeys, distribution channels, number of people influencing a decision — all are often significantly more complex. That doesn’t mean success is more elusive or expensive than it is for our friends in the B2C world, but it does mean that you have to take a different approach to get there. While many of the same strategies and tactics are used in both B2B and B2C marketing, B2B applies them in different ways, leveraging different data and calls to action that reflect a more considered path to purchase.

This guide is designed to highlight those fundamental differences and help B2B marketers approach their specific challenges more strategically, creatively, and effectively.

Go big or go home

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As a general rule, B2B transactions tend to be bigger, often running tens of thousands of dollars or more. There are certainly B2C products that also push into a five-figure range (jet skis!), but rarely does a B2C product or service push into the six- or seven-figure world. Obviously not all B2B transactions run into the stratosphere like that, but it’s not uncommon. And even when B2B products or services have a low unit cost, they’re often bought in such high quantities that it means someone is still writing a sizable check.

These large transactions mean that a lot more is on the line for both the purchaser and the seller. The trickle-down effect of that dynamic is that buyer journeys tend to be longer and more complicated, and more people will have influence over the decision — an average of seven in firms with 100–500 people according to Gartner Group. It also means that a customer’s decision is more nuanced because they aren’t just buying a product or service, they’re entering into a relationship that could last for years.

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The average price of goods and services is typically far higher in B2B businesses than it is in B2C businesses. According to The Federal Reserve Payments Study (2016), the average B2B debit transaction was $31,118. In comparison, according to Federal Reserve Bank services, the average consumer debit card transaction was $44 in 2018.

This aspect of B2B marketing and sales also changes the emotional investment that customers make. While it doesn’t mean that snap decisions and impulse buys don’t happen, B2B customers will often form much deeper emotional connections to a brand. Don’t believe us? Try getting a farmer with a green tractor to drive a red one.

High value. Low volume.

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When going through initial discovery with a new 2RM client, we often hear some version of this statement: We could fit all of our customers on a school bus. Rarely are B2B marketers engaging in mass marketing. High-value, low-volume customers and prospects are the name of the game. And that single dynamic has a dramatic effect on which strategies and tactics B2B marketers find most effective.

When target audiences are smaller but the average customer is much more valuable, the pain of losing a customer is magnified. It hurts more because it’s a lot of revenue walking out the door and because it can be significantly harder to find a new customer. In short, churn hurts more, so B2B companies must work harder to retain customers who may not interact with them as frequently as B2C customers do. Providing useful content between purchases, increasing personal touchpoints, and other tactics help strengthen those relationships and inspire loyalty. It also means that marketing has to be more deeply integrated across the organization — departments with a lot of customer contact, like sales and customer service, can have an outsized impact on the effectiveness of a marketing campaign.

The upside of this high-value, low-volume dynamic is that B2B marketers can often narrow their target to the individual level — with highly personalized, highly relevant communications that speak to an audience of one. This results in marketing communications that are ultimately more effective and can often deliver a higher ROI.

You have more than one audience

In addition to the higher prices and smaller, smarter audiences often found in B2B, the other fundamental difference is the existence of some sort of distribution channel and the need for a concentrated channel marketing strategy. Dealers, wholesalers, distributors, field sales, agents … whatever your specific industry calls them, they have a major impact on the customer journey. And often, they own the relationship with the end customer. This requires three additional approaches for many B2B marketers.


You can’t go straight to the customer; you’ve got to market to the channel first.

A great relationship with the channel partner is a prerequisite for a great relationship with the customer. They can be your biggest ally or your greatest obstacle. The more love you give your channel partner, the more they’ll pass on to the customer.


You’ve got to help the channel market to your customer — especially if you want to maintain brand awareness and brand integrity.

Unfortunately, it’s not safe to assume that channel partners will carry the flag for your brand effectively. Their first priority is their business and brand, not always yours. But like most people, your channel partners are more than happy to take the easy road if you pave it for them. Provide them with great marketing tools and they’ll use them. Educate them on how best to represent your brand and reward them for doing so, and everyone will win.


You must often make a significant effort to gain access to valuable customer records.

The channel owns the customer. They’re the people that shake the hands, make the deliveries, and field the calls. They’re the ones that live nearby and have kids on the same little league team. And they’re the ones that know who bought what, when they bought it, how much they paid, and why and when they might need another one. That customer data is hugely valuable to your marketing team. If you can show your channel partners how it would be exceptionally valuable to them if they shared it (and that you won’t use it to compete directly with them), you stand a shot at getting access. If not, expect the door to be closed.

Partnership isn’t a hollow word

"Your partner in family nutrition since 1971."

Your grocery store is probably guilty of saying things like this. The laundry detergent on your shelf claims to be “your partner in clean,” and your cellphone company is fond of calling itself your “wireless communications partner.” Maybe, in the very best instances, there’s an ounce of truth in those statements. But chances are, the idea of partnership doesn’t really apply. You need a thing, they sell a thing, but there’s not really an ongoing person-to-person connection. But it’s different in a B2B world.

Transactions are fewer and farther between in a typical B2B customer relationship. Major transactions may only happen once every few years. But building and maintaining a solid long-term partnership with your customers makes sound business sense. One, the transactions are big enough to justify the investment of time and resources in between. Two, the sales cycle is often long and complicated, requiring a lot of attention to ensure that things come to fruition. Three, there are often multiple smaller (and more profitable) transactions — parts, service, maintenance — along the way. And four, they just feel good to be taken care of and attended to that way.

All of this adds up to honest-to-goodness partnerships that most B2C brands can only dream of. It changes the marketing conversation from “How do we grab attention and compel action?” to “How can we help someone be smarter, more efficient, more confident, and happier?”

Your audience is an expert. You need to be, too.

There’s nothing general about a B2B audience. You’re almost always targeting a very specific group of people. And because it’s a business audience with business needs, you’re speaking to people about something complex and highly technical that they may have spent decades studying, learning, and doing every day. You’re speaking to engineers about engineering, city planners about city planning, or growers about growing crops. That’s very different from a B2C marketer who might be speaking to those very same people about fat-free yogurt, Caribbean cruises, or vacuum cleaners.

This presents a special sort of challenge for those people writing and developing your marketing communications materials. They have to understand your industry as well as your audience does — even if this isn’t reflected in their marketing background. This isn’t an issue for B2C marketers because there’s almost always an expectation that the marketer knows more than the audience does about whatever product or service is being marketed. B2B is the exact opposite. We’ll rarely know more than our audience, so we must strive to rise to their level.

The only way to do that is to deeply immerse the marketing team in the business and industry and to rely heavily on the experts inside your company (the chemists, engineers, etc.) to help your team learn. That goes double for any and all agency partners.

Not a marketing-led organization? That’s okay.

Across the B2B landscape, it’s rare to find an organization where marketing drives the bus. That’s one of the first fundamental differences we see, and it has implications that cascade throughout the organization. Behind the president or CEO’s desk is usually someone from engineering, operations, sales, or even finance. And that’s understandable. Marketing isn’t usually the core function of the company.

Marketing plays a supporting role in the organization, but one that has grown increasingly influential. (Not only is lead generation a constant focus in a competitive global marketplace, but the importance of a strong brand in a B2B environment is better understood than ever.) This position in the organization does present some challenges, but with a slight change in perspective, those challenges become opportunities. Check it out:


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Executive leadership isn’t focused on marketing and may not fully grasp its benefits.

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Marketers who earn the trust of company leadership often have ample freedom to operate with significant autonomy.

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Marketing is seen as an expense rather than an investment, making proper day-to-day marketing activities and special projects difficult to come by.

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Measure everything. Then use data and metrics to make the case for the investment you need. Chances are your CEO is an analytical sort; use data to your advantage.

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Your boss doesn’t have a marketing background, meaning there’s a serious knowledge gap to overcome.

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You’re the expert. You get to teach, set the agenda, and lead.