The blurring lines of B-to-B and B-to-C.

November 4, 2014



It used to be that there were two distinct types of marketing.

B-to-C, in which you used emotional connection and entertainment to create a bond with consumers, and use repetition to gain mindshare. The assumption was that these consumers were largely unsophisticated and easily persuaded – hit them over and over, and you can eventually win them over. They are impulsive, emotional, and tend to make decisions with their heart and through neighborly influence, but mainly through media repetition. Consumers can largely be bought with a spend x and get y formula. Overwhelm your competitor through the ad spend, and you’ll win.

B-to-B, in which the customers were more sophisticated, making decisions on more rational reasons like price, value, relationships, and reputation. This is a long sales cycle, in which potential customers will do their due diligence. This is a sophisticated relationship in which there is a fine line between marketing and sales, and the process becomes more sales (person-to-person) driven. And most sales are created through influencers and by committee, rather than one person making a decision.

A great deal of the marketing world still sees these two as separate. But there has recently been a movement that aims to treat more of the B-to-B like a B-to-C relationship. In other words, we are all human, and make decisions in a consumer-like way.

I agree with one thing: the lines are blurring between the two worlds, and that they should not be treated significantly differently. However, I don’t believe the B-to-B world is becoming more like B-to-C. I contend that B-to-C is becoming almost identical to B-to-B, and that consumers are more demanding and sophisticated than ever. Consider the new rules in the chart below.


B-to-B B-to-C
Niche customers More fragmented than ever
Long sales cycles Purchases considered for longer periods than ever
Influenced decisions Will trust friends and neighbors over paid media
Compares and contrasts competitors Has online resources to compare direct competitors
Requires nuanced sales through salesperson Expects high-touch customer interface
Is not impulsive Is less and less impulsive
Wants proof/case studies Wants authentic stories/proof
Requires attention after purchase Requires follow up after purchase
Benefit driven Benefit driven
Needs to feel authentic connection Needs to feel authentic connection


B-to-C is a more complex marketing model, but as the consumer model becomes ever more complex, they are starting to look very similar. And this is an opportunity to democratize the consumer model, which has largely been dominated by a handful of consumer product companies that win by spending. As consumers become more sophisticated, the opportunities to compete and the barriers become lessened.

At the end of the day, it’s a human trying to communicate with a human. If you treat them more like a human, you’ll win. If you treat them like a dehumanized unit, you will most certainly lose in the long run.