B2B Messaging: It’s Harder than B2C

B2B Messaging: It’s Harder than B2C

Sean Campbell
Authored bySean Campbell

Business to Business (B2B) messaging is more intellectually stimulating and harder to create than Business to Consumer (B2C) messaging. B2B messaging is harder to test as well, which is why the use of solid research methods is critical.

These challenges exist for one simple reason: B2B sales are more complex. Consequently, this complexity leaves B2B marketers with a heavy burden, one that can only be lightened with solid customer insights.

B2B Buying Happens By Committee

With B2C sales, a marketer typically markets to an audience of one. But B2B purchases are always made by committees. Furthermore, B2B purchases almost always cost more than consumer purchases. For example, no one has paid 10 million dollars for a pizza. But lots of organizations have spent millions on software. This clearly leads to more scrutiny and more stakeholders reviewing each purchase. In fact, one study showed that at least 6.8 people have to sign off on a typical B2B purchase.

And million dollar B2B purchases don’t happen on impulse. While a typical B2C purchase decision may be made in minutes, it might take months or even years for a business to agree to drop thousands or even millions on a product or service. One study showed that 74.6 percent of B2B sales take 4 months or more to close, with nearly half taking 7 months or more to close.

Corporate purchasing teams are cautious about spending that kind of money. They vet the solution to make sure it’s worth the price tag. Remember, no single person wants to be responsible for wasting the company’s money.

All of these factors lead to decisions that take time to come to fruition.

Get the Gray Matter Engaged

These challenges come with an upside. B2B messaging is, in my opinion, a lot more fun to work on. B2B messaging has to be creative and pragmatic. Without creativity, you look like everyone else, and without pragmatism, you don’t get the sale.

Instead of thinking about how to drive a consumer to buy a new iPhone they probably don’t need, you try to figure out how to message a complex piece of technology that underlies the operations of an entire company. As opposed to messaging to one person, you have to build messages that resonate with a buying committee of 5 or more.

But, it’s impossible to craft effective B2B messaging without first understanding the needs of your target audience. Unfortunately, when it comes to buyers, most B2B tech messaging is pretty uninformed.

It’s Time to Run a Diagnostic

As a B2B marketer, there is an easy diagnostic you can perform to determine if your messaging efforts are working or not. This test also tells you whether your company’s messaging efforts are backed by solid data.

The next time you see a website, a content strategy, or a social media strategy laid out in a meeting with your peers, ask this question:

“What conversations did you have with our customers or competitor customers to inform this effort?”

Typically, the answer will be…silence. No conversations happened.

Is this the fault of the B2B marketer you are talking to? In a word, yes.

The B2B marketer you are speaking with may not have had the budget to do customer or competitor customer interviews, or they may have tried to get budget and failed.

But failure to get budget isn’t a substitute for actually knowing what people need to hear. You can only get that from conversations with customers. In essence, B2B marketers have to go to the source.

Messaging that isn’t based on customer conversations results in:

  • Product or service websites that fail to convert anyone.
  • Social media campaigns that generate no likes.
  • Blog posts that don’t convert.
  • Sales that don’t happen.

Peter Drucker famously said the sole purpose of a business is to “create a customer.” If your messaging isn’t helping to create customers or perhaps worse, repel them, isn’t it time you did some homework?

Go Beyond Your Own Customers

So, how do you define customer? Is it merely current customers? What about prospects? What about competitor customers?

First, I would suggest you need to talk to new prospects and your competitors’ customers as opposed to current customers. Many of your current customers were sold by messaging that was on your website months or years ago. You don’t want to talk to these folks first. You need validation on what you have that’s current and impacting potential new sales. In the words of Tom Hanks in the movie Apollo 13, “What do we have on the spacecraft that works?”

Once you know what out of your current messaging is doing an excellent job of creating sales, then you need to focus on improving it.

Prospects and competitor customers are the only groups that can give you an accurate sense of whether your current messaging is effectively persuading potential new buyers. These are the people who might need you to say something that is just a bit different to get them over the hump and pick you.

B2B Message Testing: Research Methods

Marketers in B2B should definitely invest in researching their potential buyers with both qualitative and quantitative approaches. B2B message testing studies that include both qualitative and quantitative approaches are ideal. But, B2B marketers can start small with a few in-depth interviews with prospects. Grab prospects who are at the earliest stages of your sales funnel and ask questions like the following:

  • What about our website led you to call/email us?
  • Was there something about our company or offers that wasn’t clear?
  • Who else are you considering at this time? (So you can look at their messaging).
  • Does Message A vs. Message B resonate with you? Which one positions us as a thought leader, a better choice, a better value, etc.?

Quantitative research is also highly valuable for messaging insights. Quant studies let you put numbers around key questions like:

  • How many people respond favorably to Message A vs. B?
  • What messaging resonates best with a given type of buyer persona?
  • How can we quantify the impact of one messaging strategy vs. another?

B2B marketers should also talk to (or survey) competitor customers. Through these conversations, you can get a sense for where the competitor’s messaging is better (or worse) than your own.

Mine Your Sales Messaging

One thing that’s often forgotten is that sales teams generate a lot of great messaging. Every day, in fact. Given B2B sales cycles are long, complex, and full of stakeholders, B2B sales teams are very good at teasing out phrases that work and value props that don’t actually resonate with buyers.

The next time you start a messaging campaign, remember to ask your sales lead, VP of Sales, or even front-line sales reps to share the messaging that works best. You’re almost certain to be surprised by what you hear.

Make Sure Your Messaging Matters To Your Buyers

Great B2B messaging has to speak to buyers on their terms, to their values.

To know how to do that, talk to buyers about what their terms and values are. You can gain this valuable insight by talking to B2B customers directly, hiring a research firm, and talking to your own sales team. Preferably, all three.

Cascade Insights is a market research and marketing agency for the B2B tech sector. Want to see how your messaging is resonating with your target customers? Check out our message testing research services. Want help crafting messaging that converts? We can help craft messaging and content that leads to sales.

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