Master the B-Sale

Marketing to companies, versus the American consumer, hasn’t been a sexy or flashy side of business. Companies like Apple, this year’s top business-to-business brand as judged by a new survey of small- and midsized business owners and executives, opts to quietly talk about its business arm in-store rather than going with a full-blown media push. But as startups and entrepreneurial ventures continue to drive the recovery, appealing to the needs of this fast-growing sector of the economy is key for companies looking to capitalize on the boom of the nation’s emerging business.

“With the ‘consumerization of IT,’ we’re seeing a convergence in B2B and B2C marketing, especially for technology products,” says Amy Bermar, president of public relations firm Corporate Ink, based in Newton, Massachusetts.

Bermar explains that while at face-value B2B marketing and B2C efforts have much in common, companies targeting businesses as consumers need to consider the following: “The buyers, the price points, risks, and expectations, are very different. At the core, when companies adopt a new product of technology, there’s a substantial risk and the need for tangible rewards is essential,” she says. But with return-on-investment being difficult for many startups and smaller companies to track, companies need to make it incredibly clear how their offerings can change a client’s business, she adds.

John Luginbill, CEO of Indianapolis marketing and branding firm The Heavyweights, agrees. “While B2C marketing and sales generally engage the emotions of the buyer based on status, desire, and pricing, with B2B marketing you must make the rational economic case and engage the emotions surrounding joy of success, dangers of failure, and the safety of your relationship.”

Reliability, besides a constant drive for innovation and new products, is key to developing a B2B marketing strategy. Companies marketing to other businesses need to prove that they are solving problems for them in an efficient way that will ultimately lead to higher profits, says Luginbill.

Adds Bermar, “Businesses need to see that you can drive growth, deftly manage organizational change—and above all else, minimize risk. The wrong decision made by a purchasing manager could cost the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars—and jobs,” she says.

How can companies prove their worth to new clients and potential customers? “Define the cost of saying no,” Luginbill says. “If a prospect doesn’t want to do business with you immediately, you have to clearly explain the negative consequences they would incur.”

Once you’ve gotten to “yes,” develop a sales price strategy that consistently communicates next steps, Luginbill adds. “First, clearly define what is next, and who has to do what in order for the client to engage you. Then, outline each step in the process and explain your initial timeline for delivery. There must always be a clearly defined future of a B2B sale to have any chance of moving forward.”

Rely on past clients and current customers to spread the word. Just like the consumer market, customers are always your best advocates, says Bermar. “Those who love you will actively promote you—and often are just waiting to be asked. Have a strategy in place to identify and connect with them, and let them help you sell.” Monitor customer service complaints and stay up-to-date with comments on social media platforms that can alert you to any potential problem. “If people don’t love you, find out why not and fix it,” says Bermar. “People love to talk about companies they love. So make them love you.”

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