Wednesday, February 28, 2007

B2B or Not B2B : Getting the Right Message Out

I think we've all pretty much got the distinction down between B2C (business to consumers) and B2B (business to business). But B2B is by no means a monolith, and, just as with B2C, you need to know your audience and respect the distinctions within that audience.

B2C actually does a pretty good job of knowing their audience. At least with their advertising, it's generally pretty easy to see who they're  after. Thus, when I see Dennis Hopper telling the baby-boomers that the generation that was born to be wild is now going to redefine retirement, I know that the add is aimed at me and mine. (Of course, we really have no choice but to redefine retirement, because most of us don't have pensions. But that's another story.)

And when I see the iPod ads, with their cool, contortionist, dancing silhouettes, I know they're after the young folks (and that they don't mind selling a few to the "forever young" brigade, either).

B2B is trickier, especially when it comes to technology sales. In fact, I've kiddingly "invented" categories for G2G (geek-to-geek) and T2T (techie-to-techie).

Kiddingly aside, you're really lucky if you can get away with pure G2G/T2T. If the techies are buying - and don't need sign-offs from the business or financial folks - you may be able to get away with having just one story line and set of messages. If you're just selling to technologists, you know that you'll have to focus your message on a lot of technical detail. You'll need to tell your audience what it does, how it's built, how it works.

Where marketers sometimes go wrong in their messaging is when they try to make B2B.


Somewhere along the line  - if I'm remembering correctly, it was in the 1990's - there was a complete about face with respect to marketing messaging for technology. No one, we were told, wanted to know about the product features, the nuts, guts, bolts, bells, and whistles. No, we were told, nobody buys features, they buy benefits. I don't know how many debates I got into about why you need to talk about both, and my mantra soon became "Someone, somewhere in the organization is going to want to know what the product actually does". That is, what the product actually does besides improve productivity, increase effectiveness, yield 90 day ROI, and all the other things that the business and financial buyers (supposedly) wanted to here.

Now, there is no denying that people - especially on the business side of a technology purchase - want to learn about the benefits. But sometimes the benefits are so high level and abstract that they mean nothing. The same benefits statements could be equally applied to SFM, CRM, ERP, compilers, testing tools,document organizers. You name it. Every technology-based product out there will save you money.

What marketers sometimes fell down on was explaining how their whatever-it-is provides these benefits. Now you may not be able to make a direct connect the dots in which every feature links to a benefits statement, but if you can't lay out your features right there next to your benefits and tell someone how the feature supports a benefit, you've got a problem.

What's the nature of the problem? Well, you may or may not have a features problem. But if you can't support a benefits statement with some level of features statements then you definitely have a benefits problem. (I.e., you may well be kidding yourself.) Even when you're selling to a business user, you need to make the connection to features. (And even when you're selling to the business user, in most cases IT will be involved in any technology purchase, so you need to have all the platform-security-scale-performance-features info at the ready.)


Where some marketers fall down is in selling to the technologists themselves. I've yet to meet a techie who wanted me to tell them what the benefits of a product are. The benefits they can figure out for themselves - and sometimes the benefit is just "this is cool." I've yet to meet a techie who didn't want me to supply all kinds of technical information.

In most cases, a B2T sale will also involve business/financial decision makers, so you need to make sure that you do have information on benefit and expected return that will help your techies justify their purchases.

The B2B Bottom Line

Nothing earth-shattering here. Just another reminder that, in B2B sales that are technology based, you need to make sure that you have messages and information that appeal to different audiences. And you need to make sure that those messages tie together so that people understand how benefits are derived from features. 

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