The Drum Awards Festival - Media

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By Michael Nutley | Writer for The Drum

April 20, 2022 | 6 min read

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B2B buyers are people too, but the digital customer journeys created for them rarely reflect that. So what can B2B marketers learn from the world of B2C?

business people

They’re Only Human, After All

This was the question posed by The Drum’s assistant editor Jenni Baker at the start of the Digital Transformation Festival 2022 session, B2B’s Digital Transformation Journey: They’re Only Human, After All, in partnership with B2B digital experience company Omobono.

All three panelists agreed that B2B customers’ expectations have changed dramatically in the last few years. Nigel Williams, chief strategy officer at specialist B2B technology marketing agency Kingpin Communications argued that this is partly due to the pandemic.

“We are all being shaped by this desire for a good online experience, and why should that be different in the B2B sphere?” he said. “We’ve all become avid e-commerce consumers, accelerated by the pandemic, and we’ve had lots of experiences, good and bad. And at some point you don’t accept that it should be much worse just because you’re in a B2B environment.”

The panel identified three key areas where B2B marketers can learn from their B2C counterparts, but where there are also significant differences to be bridged:

  • Understanding their customers,

  • Personalizing their communications, and

  • Humanizing their content

Who are the buyers?

According to Niaobh Levestam, EMEAR head of marketing at Cisco Webex, the biggest lesson is the need to really understand your customers.

“Companies like Spotify and Netflix almost know what you want before you want it, and that’s something B2B can really latch onto. Learning from the data they have on their customers and meeting them where they are,” she said.

But as Williams pointed out, knowing your buyer in B2B is harder than it might seem

“As consumers, we can be delivered exactly the right kind of content at exactly the right time, because we’re a known quantity,” he said. “In the B2B buyer’s journey, you have to get comfortable with anonymity, because you may not know everybody, but you may see that there is activity from personas and visitors whose identity you’re not aware of. And that anonymity’s become a bigger problem with working from home, of course, because people are going to pop up and you’re not quite sure where they’re from.”

Personalizing for groups

Chris Barnes, head of experience at Omobono, warned that, even if you do know your customers, personalization is harder in B2B because of the complexity of the buying process.

“All that data we’re collecting allows us to be a bit more personal, but the B2B space is a little bit more complex, because you’re dealing with accounts made up of multiple people. How do you create personalized experiences across an account?” he said. “It’s important to figure out where the line is between personalizing everything for everyone, and personalizing the things that matter in that environment.”

Barnes’ solution is to break the B2B account into three types of customer: decision-makers, end-users, and influencers, and understand what their needs are as you’re trying to engage with them.

It’s all getting emotional

Key to that engagement is content, and this is the area where Barnes is seeing significant change.

“We’re slowly starting to learn that businesses are ultimately staffed by people, who at the end of the day have needs just like the rest of us,” he said. “So we’re starting to get more emotional with our content and realizing that we don’t have to be so functional in the way that we talk to them. That being more brave and emotive actually resonates a lot with more people and engages them a lot more. The brands that are stepping out are seeing a big difference in how they’re engaging with people, and in the results coming from that engagement.”

The future is B2P – business to people

The session also covered the role of marketing technology in B2B, and the importance of integrating it across the business; the tools that can help with the marketing challenges; and the importance of social media and communities in the B2B space.

Omobono’s Barnes summed up how B2B marketing needs to change.

“The way we’re all judging experiences is no longer B2B and B2C. The baseline now is just the best experience in anything. If you order pizza and you can track it to your door, and then you go to a multi-million pound business purchase and you have absolutely no contact with anyone, that’s just not acceptable anymore. B2C pushes the envelope of our expectations, and B2B needs to catch up and meet them.”

To watch the full session, B2B’s digital transformation journey: they’re only human, after all, click here.

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