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Rumors About the Death of B2B Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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Social media has disrupted the traditional B2B model in a big way, from B2B PR to marketing and customer service.

Customers now have the power to interact directly with brands anywhere and at any time, through multiple channels. Traditional B2B PR or marketing is often being supplemented (some say replaced) by targeted collateral more focused on an employee’s specific problem, instead of the company’s.

Sales is no longer the guaranteed gateway to a product, because prospects can research so much before ever contacting a company. Consequently, there’s no telling when a prospective customer may come across a company and start their research.

These developments have started causing commotion in the B2B world. Some have gone as far as saying that the term “B2B” is dead.

The B2B Brand in 2013

Constellation Research proclaims, “B2B and B2C are dead. It’s a P2P and M2M world.” Mike Stiles writes for Oracle’s blog that we’ve moved into a B2P (business-to-peer) world. On Forbes.com, Rick Segal speculates about how “B2B Has Ceased to Be.”

“The customer is not a corporate entity, but an independently minded, highly connected, always-emotional human being,” Segal writes. He adds that business decision-making is 90 percent emotional, but many B2B marketers are still focused on “organizational psychology.”

Speaking from a B2B tech PR perspective, I can safely say that B2B isn’t dead, but stiff, inhuman messaging is definitely on the way out. To appeal to an audience of any size, through any medium, you need to know the issues they face. Whether B2B or B2C, the customer is thinking about how the solution can help fulfill his or her need.

I tend to agree with Jon Reed’s perspective on Diginomica: B2B still exists at the core, which is the “complex sale,” as opposed to the “impulse sale” common to B2C. A B2B sale often involves a lot more moving parts than a B2C sale and businesses have to prepare accordingly.

Complex, Yet Human

B2B isn’t an obsolete term, because the empowered and connected customer still expects a different kind of conversation with Microsoft than with Oreo. Whether that dialogue takes place on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, on the phone or through email, a B2B company is appealing to a different side of the customer than a B2C organization.

Really, it comes down to the frame of mind we all have when making different purchases. Browsing the iTunes store is a little different than looking for six-figure automated marketing solutions that will have to deliver measurable leads and be approved by four other team members.

Digitally, the audience for B2Bs has definitely gotten more personal and communications should reflect that. But, at the end of the day, the prospect is still thinking about the relationship between his or her own business and the solution provider.

The main difference today is that B2Bs should be tweaking their PR and marketing messages — at least online — to appeal to that prospect on a personal rather than organizational level. What issues does the prospect face in the workplace? What is he or she thinking about while looking for a solution or reading a B2B website? What collateral or messaging does he or she need to take the next step?

Whether speaking with a prospect on a sales calls or engaging them on Facebook, whether an exec talks to a reporter or briefs an analyst, a company should still be providing the same information as before —but with a tone adapted to the specific purchasing environment.

Check out more posts like this on March's blog, PR Nonsense.

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