What Cloud B2B Marketers Can Learn From Their B2C Counterparts

    When it comes to the on-demand world of cloud offerings, the traditional dividing lines between Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer (B2C) are beginning to blur. As a result, B2B marketers in the ‘as a Service’ (aaS) space could learn a few things from their B2C counterparts.

    The B2C market typically has been defined by the diversity of its audience, its emphasis on the customer experience, shorter buying cycles, a plethora of options and, along with it, more potential for churn.

    The same could be said of the on-demand cloud computing industry as well. Think about it. No matter what particular flavor of Software as a Service (SaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS) you’re selling, your audience has no doubt broadened beyond the members of the IT department. Today, your messaging must resonate across various lines of business and demonstrate -- in a simple and straightforward way -- how your offering can help them to achieve their goal of an improved customer experience.

    It could also be argued that the on-demand decision process is becoming more akin to a consumer experience versus the typical business IT decision. Granted, when a consumer makes a purchase, the decision-maker is typically a party of one whose choice is driven by emotion or need. While the B2B cycle involves more people, it’s still an emotional decision for one person who then has to convince a larger group based on business justifications. However, with on-demand B2B services, that individual has fewer people to convince because they can often purchase online and may even be able to start using the tool or implement the service themselves. 

    (If you don’t think this is true, consider how many diverse communication tools your company now may be using -- survey tools, email management tools, chat clients -- thanks to the ease and increased buying power afforded by on-demand services.)

    Not only is this particular B2B audience now more diverse, but they, like their consumer counterparts, have quite a few options at their fingertips. They’re shopping around and have more purchasing power and flexibility than ever before. Buying cycles within the on-demand space are shorter thanks to the ability to purchase services on a subscription basis versus the hoops one must go through for a capital expenditure. On the down side, the subscription model also makes it more difficult to lock in a customer over time. Similar to the B2C market, if your customer doesn’t like what they purchased, they can now move more easily to another provider.

    To be clear, I don't think we’re completely there yet, but this narrowing gap between B2B and B2C within the industry is showing early signs of being a trend. To stay ahead of the curve, I suggest the following five B2C techniques that B2B cloud marketers can employ to capture both interest and dollars:

    1.  Keep it simple. Cloud service offerings are not inherently simple concepts, but that’s all the more reason to keep your messaging as concise and direct as possible. Let the target audience and the respective problem they are trying to solve guide your marketing efforts. Avoid jargon, long-winded narratives and product-centric soliloquies. Cut to the chase quickly so they’ll stick around to hear more.

    2.  Engage with them. Don’t talk at them, talk with them. Understand where they hang out online, and then have readily-available content that connects with their needs. Follow up, ask questions and provide answers. If they can’t get what they want from you, they won’t hesitate to look elsewhere.

    3.  Speak to individual needs. Today’s tech buy may include a larger number of stakeholders, but the decision-making team is made up of individuals with varying needs. The customer service manager is looking at your offering in a much different way than the IT or operations managers. Make sure your messaging, and the content format in which it is provided, speaks to each.

    4.  Be memorable. The marketplace is crowded, so don’t shy away from ‘shock and awe’ approaches to gain interest. B2B marketers are often held back by the perceived stuffiness of the brands they represent. Take a cue from consumer marketers and go beyond the standard approaches (GoPro has done this so well) to stand out from your competition.

    5.  Earn their loyalty every day. Churn is the enemy in the cloud industry. With no upfront investment in on-premises equipment and a subscription-based pricing model, it’s easy to walk away. Make sure your offering delivers on all levels – pricing, implementation, simplicity, integration, support and innovation. Give them reasons to stay.

    Break out of your B2B marketing box and take a fresh look at the B2C marketing efforts that surround you every day. Stepping over the lines that have traditionally divided the two may be your first step to a more creative and more effective marketing campaign.

    Mark Roberts ShoreTel Chief Marketing Officer

    Mark Roberts has more than 20 years of technology sales, marketing and product management experience. As ShoreTel’s CMO, he leads the company’s marketing strategy, product marketing, demand generation, branding and external communications efforts. Other recent posts from Mark are listed below:

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