Why Selling B2B is Harder than Selling B2C

Last Updated Feb 2, 2011 1:22 PM EST

Many executives wrongly believe that selling to businesses is the same as selling to consumers. As a result, they employ strategies that have worked in consumer-oriented businesses, like brand marketing, advertising, value pricing, and so forth.

This concept turns up in comments whenever I write about the uselessness of branding in B2B markets. Inevitably, somebody writes "what about Coke?" as if that had some relevance to the discussion. I suspect that the belief that "selling is selling" comes from MBA programs that love consumer marketing case studies.

The truth is that B2B selling is not only different from B2C selling, it's massively more difficult, for the following eight reasons:

  • REASON #1: The B2B buyer is vastly more sophisticated. For instance, because the Internet makes comparative pricing information publicly available, it is not at all unusual for a buyer in a B2B transaction to know more about the product category and the competition than the sales professionals who are trying to sell that type of product.
  • REASON #2: The stakes are much higher. B2B buyers and decision-maker are being paid - often quite high salaries -- to understand what they're buying and how it will be used. They can lose career points and get fired if they make a wrong decision, something that never happens when a consumer purchases a consumer product.
  • REASON #3: B2B selling requires more knowledge. It's not enough just to understand a product and be able to present it coherently. B2B selling generally involves diagnosing a customer's challenges and then coming up with a customized solution that may very well involve a long-term business partnership.
  • REASON #4: B2B selling demands better people skills. When consumers buy a product, typically there's only one or two decision-makers involved (like a husband and wife). Corporate buying decisions can involve dozens of decision-maker, influences, stakeholders, and nay-sayers.
  • REASON #5: B2B selling involves more patience. While even "big-ticket" consumer sales (like homes and cars) can be completed in a day or a week (at most), many B2B deals involve weeks and months of intermittent activity, meetings, phone calls, back-and-forth documents, along with all the politics and persuasion that characterizes large bureaucracies.
  • REASON #6: B2B selling is more sensitive to the economy. One of the first things that happens in an economic crisis is that firms lock down their purchasing, add more layers of decision-making, and demand concessions from their vendors even for deals that have already been signed. Such tactics devastate even the best designed sales campaign.
  • REASON #7: B2B selling involves very large sums of money. In consumer sales, million dollar deals are unusual and limited primarily to luxury home sales. In B2B selling, by contrast, deals that involve millions of dollars are so commonplace as to be almost unremarkable. Even billion dollar deals are struck from time to time.
  • REASON #8: B2B selling is burdened with bad marketing. The problem is that many marketing professionals can't get their heads around the previous seven reasons and insist that they can use techniques from Mad Men. I can't tell you how many complaints I've heard from sales professionals who are carrying useless marketing teams on their back.
None of this would be a problem if it weren't for the fact that executive who don't "get it" make it more difficult for sales professionals to get their job done. Selling B2B is vastly more sophisticated than anything that goes on the world of B2C. As such, it needs more support, more training, and more of the RIGHT kind of marketing, specifically lead generation.

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