7 Key Differences Between B-To-B and Consumer Marketing

When asked if he could write an effective direct-mail package on a complex electronic control system, a well-known copywriter replied, “No problem. It doesn’t matter what the product is. You’re selling to people. And people are pretty much the same.”


There are seven key factors that set business-to-Business (B-to-B) marketing apart from consumer marketing:


    Most consumer advertising offers products that people might enjoy but don’t really need. If we subscribe to a magazine, we do so for pleasure – not because the information is essential to our day-to-day lives.

    In B-to-B, the situation is different. Business buyers need to buy. All business enterprises must routinely buy products and services that help them stay profitable, competitive, and successful.


    Your typical business reader is sophisticated and has a high interest in – and understanding of – your product.

    The prospect usually knows more about the product than you do. It’s folly to believe a few days spent reading about mainframe computers will educate you to the level of your prospect – a systems analyst with six years of experience.

    The sophistication of the reader requires you to do a tremendous amount of research into the market, the product, and its use. The business audience does not respond well to slogans, hype, or oversimplification.


    The business buyer is an information-seeker, on the lookout for information and advice that will help him do his job better, increase profits, or advance his career.

    “Our prospects are turned off by colorful, advertising-type sales brochures,” says the marketing manager of a company selling complex software products. “They’re hungry for information and respond better to letters and bulletins that explain, in fairly technical terms, what our product is and how it solves a particular problem.”

    Don’t be afraid to write long copy. Prospects will read your message – if it’s interesting, important, and relevant to their needs.

    Don’t hesitate to use informational pieces as response hooks for ads and mailers. The offer of a free booklet, report, or technical guide pulls well – despite the glut of reading matter clogging the prospect’s in-basket.


    In consumer direct response, copywriters are geared toward producing the “package” – an elaborate mailing that does the bulk of the selling job.

    But in B-to-B direct marketing, the concept of a package or control is non-existent. The purchase of most business products is a multi-step process. A VP of manufacturing doesn’t order a $35,000 machine by mail. First, he requests a brochure. Then, a sales meeting. Then, a demonstration. Then, a 30-day trial. Then, a proposal or contract.

    Thus, a single piece of copy does not win the contract. Rather, it takes a series of letters, brochures, presentations, ads, and mailers – combined with the efforts of salespeople – to turn a cold lead into a paying customer.


    You don’t usually consult with a team of experts when you want to buy a pair of shoes. In most consumer sales, individuals make the purchase decision. But a business purchase usually has many players involved.

    For this reason, a business purchase is rarely an “impulse” buy. Many people influence the decision – including the purchasing agent, company president, technical professionals, and end-users.

    Each of these audiences has different concerns and criteria by which they judge your product. To be successful, your copy must address the needs of all parties involved with the decision.


    B-to-B copy cannot be superficial. Clarity is essential. You cannot sell by “fooling” the prospect or hiding the identity of your product. Half the battle is educating your prospect, quickly and simply, about what your product is, what it does, and why he should be interested in it.


    There are two parts to this principle. Let’s take one at a time.

    1. The Business Buyer Buys for His Company’s Benefit.

      The business buyer acquires products and services that benefit his company. The product or service should save the company time or money, make money, improve productivity, increase efficiency, or solve problems.

      Let’s say you sell a telecommunications network and your advantage over the competition is that your system reduces monthly operating expenses 50 percent. If a prospect spends $40,000 a month for your competitor’s network, you can save his company $20,000 a month.

      That’s $240,000 a year … or more than $1 million in a five-year period.

      Yet, despite this tremendous benefit, prospects aren’t buying. They seem interested, but few sales are closed.

      Why? Because in addition to buying for his company’s benefit, the prospect also buys for himself.

    2. The Business Buyer Buys for His Own Benefit.

      While the buyer is looking to do right by his company, he has an equal (if not greater) concern for his own well-being.

      Although the idea of saving $240,000 a year with your telecommunications system is appealing, your prospect’s thought process is as follows:

      “Right now, I have an AT&T system. Your system sounds good, but I don’t know your company. If I switch and something goes wrong, I’ll be blamed … maybe even fired. I’d rather see them spend an extra $240,000 a year than lose my $90,000-a-year job!”

      This play-it-safe mentality is natural, and it affects buying decisions daily in corporations throughout the country. Data processing professionals are fond of saying, “Nobody ever got fired buying IBM.” Buying IBM ensures the prospect that no one can criticize his decision, even if Brand X is the better choice from a business and technical perspective.

      There are many reasons the business buyer is for himself first, but we don’t have room to go into them here. However, understanding his motivations – and the differences between business-to-Business and consumer marketing – will make you a far more successful B-to-B copywriter.

[Total annual revenue of business-to-business companies in the United States is more than $6.5 trillion. That means there are hundreds of thousands of companies that need marketing materials – from Web sites, e-mails, and e-newsletters … to sales letters, direct mail packages, postcards, and self-mailers … to brochures, catalogs, videos, and PowerPoint presentations – to sell their products and services to business buyers.

You can get in on this bonanza too. Click here to read about AWAI’s brand-new exclusive program, Secrets to Writing to the Business-to-Business Market. Created by Steve Slaunwhite, Bob Bly and a stellar Board of Advisors, you’ll quickly learn who the clients are, what type of assignments they have for you, how to write B-to-B copy that works and much more.]

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: January 17, 2006

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