Unveiling the human side of business
B2B marketing has been viewed by some as lacking some of the emotional aspects that are typically known to drive B2C marketing. This notion would suggest that B2B decision makers tend to prioritize logic and rationality over emotion. However, we know that B2B decision makers are, first and foremost, human beings, and can be emotional in their decisions as well. Overlooking this fact has led to missed opportunities in marketing research.
The process of researching businesses as human beings presents unique challenges. Unlike individual consumers, businesses have complex decision-making processes involving multiple stakeholders. To break through these barriers, researchers must possess a profound understanding of the industry in which target businesses operate, the end customers they serve, their business processes, as well as the crucial trigger points along their decision-making journey.
Once the key individuals who are responsible for decision-making within organizations are identified, researchers must focus on unearthing the human factors that influence business decisions. These factors include personal motivations, values, aspirations and emotions. Business decision makers may have personal interests intertwined with their professional responsibilities – some are willing to take short-term risks for long-term business value, and others may prioritize immediate returns for job security or career development opportunities. While the hierarchical or managerial position within an organization has been known to influence decision makers' choices, their individual identities also play a significant role. Acknowledging the human aspects of decision makers adds another layer of complexity to the research process.
Recognizing business decision makers as human beings allows B2B marketers to leverage the extensive demographic insights gained from consumer personas. These insights assist in identifying patterns, preferences and trends, which, in turn, guide marketing messaging, content creation, and media selection for effective B2B customer engagement.
In a recent campaign, a Canadian bank successfully overlaid consumer personas onto its business customer portfolio. Among the bank’s 20 predefined consumer personas, five exhibited a strong preference for travel rewards through the consumer credit card that the bank offers. A few other personas were found to prefer cash rewards instead. When promoting a suite of business credit cards, the bank carefully analyzed how business owners chose between travel and cash rewards as consumers, which allowed them to strategically cater their messaging towards customer preferences. The campaign revealed that business owners belonging to the five consumer personas that favored travel rewards also responded positively to business credit cards that award travel points.
Media consumption is another area where the marketing industry possesses a wealth of consumer insights. However, it falls short when it comes to understanding business behaviour. Traditionally, trade publications and online or offline professional forums have been popular media selections for B2B marketing. However, mass advertising channels such as radio and out-of-home platforms could also be used effectively to engage B2B customers. Understanding business decision makers as human beings opens up a multitude of new opportunities. B2B marketers can allocate their media budget towards channels and programs that targeted business decision makers frequently engage with as consumers, at the optimal time of day.
While B2B marketers often face limitations in firmographic data, there are exclusive sources of data available to them that are not accessible to their B2C counterparts. It is not a secret among professionals in insights and marketing that what customers express in focus groups or surveys may not align with their actual behaviour. This effect is magnified in the B2B realm due to the extended decision-making processes and involvement of multiple stakeholders. However, the integration of marketing and sales in many B2B industries facilitates the collection of feedback from the sales team. Nowadays, technology, including advanced CRM platforms or AI-powered tools for analyzing unstructured voice data, enable the validation of research insights against the real-life observations made by sales teams. Combining such first-hand data with the personas of business decision makers would significantly enhance B2B marketers’ abilities to understand their target audience both as organizations and as human beings.
Incorporating consumer insights into B2B marketing research represents a powerful strategy for achieving success. By understanding the underlying personal motivations and preferences of B2B customers, B2B marketers can tap into the well-developed toolbox of their B2C counterparts and utilize a broad range of tools to drive effective marketing strategies.