What can B2B marketers learn from B2C performance marketing?

Despite key differences including generally shorter sales cycles times and higher volumes, B2C businesses are more used to converting sales in the digital space, and many of their skills are transferable.

With fewer face-to-face meetings and B2B digital growth accelerating, B2B marketers can look to other areas for online skills that aid lead generation, says Dirk Wischnewski, CMO, B2B Media Group

According to eMarketer, B2B ad spend is only going one way – up. It’s predicted that by 2023, it’ll surpass $30billion, with nearly half directed towards digital advertising. To most marketers, this isn’t surprising, considering the evolution of B2B marketing over the last year. Given the disappearance of in-person events and subsequent pause in the use of traditional sales tactics, digital growth was inevitable. 

As B2B companies navigate the new – largely digital – marketing landscape, they’re faced with fresh lead generation and online marketing challenges. Yet some things never change – B2B marketers still want to generate leads that fuel their sales pipeline, both in the short and long term. They want to reach decision-makers and potential buyers. And they want to run ad campaigns at scale and cost effectively. 

To succeed, they need to go beyond their usual playbook. By harvesting valuable lessons from the B2C realm and applying them to the B2B context, B2B businesses can upskill their digital capabilities and drive online marketing ROI. 

Tried and tested

Performance marketing is one area B2B marketers can seek inspiration from. By definition, performance marketing allows brands to build objectives and goals around their buyers’ online behaviour – whether that be an impression, click or purchase. 

With their large online audiences, performance marketing is essential for B2C businesses, allowing them to track just how effective their marketing is and whether they’re reaching the desired buyer. B2C businesses love performance marketing as it allows them to optimise their ad spend online through measurable buyer actions. With vast experience in marketing their products online, B2C businesses are well-versed in online target audience segmentation and conversion optimisation, and models like cost per impression [CPM] v cost per click [CPC] or cost per lead [CPL]. These have become deeply rooted in B2C marketing, proving their value in driving sales. 

But despite competition for sales being stronger than ever amongst B2B businesses, performance marketing is yet to reach the same level of maturity in the B2B world. As lead generation climbs higher up B2B marketers’ agendas, they must adopt alternative marketing strategies that drive leads primarily from online channels. With its ability to track ad performance and link marketing against revenue-driving KPIs, performance marketing can fuel a lead generation engine that’s fit for today and tomorrow. 

But before we dive into the best B2C performance marketing practices that can be applied within B2B, there are some vital differences that marketers should take into account.

From differences to a common goal

While B2C businesses tend to have a large audience pool, B2B audiences are often smaller and more niche, with complex needs and wishes. Not only does this mean that there’s inherently less online traffic in the B2B world, but also that audiences are harder to identify and access online. 

The B2B marketplace is also very broad, making it harder to target prospects with the right touch points. This is especially difficult given that the shift to online happened very suddenly, as the pandemic forced marketers to abandon outdated tactics and open up to new ways of doing things. 

But perhaps the most vital difference between the B2B and B2C worlds is the contrast in lead time. B2C businesses can generate thousands of leads every day, as the customers’ decision-making process typically lasts from a few minutes to a few days. To capitalise on this, B2C businesses put maximum advertising pressure on users that have shown interest in a specific product. On the other hand, B2B buying cycles are longer, taking months, even years to close a deal. And rightly so, B2B products and services are a big investment, often involving numerous stakeholders in the decision-making process. It’s why a nurturing strategy tends to work better in B2B marketing, as it ensures the business remains top-of-mind. 

Despite some key differences between the two worlds, marketers have a common goal – to boost revenue while optimising ROI. It’s no surprise then, that similarities in how B2B and B2C businesses market their products are increasing – especially as B2B businesses grow their ad spend, target a digital-native generation of buyers and bring marketing and sales closer together. 

What B2B marketers can learn from B2C

With the gap between B2C and B2B narrowing, the marketing tactics and strategies that once differentiated them are becoming interchangeable. 

For B2B marketers, the main takeaway from B2C performance marketing is the decision to use audience targeting and to even try to add intent signals when running campaigns. In the B2C world, most marketers retrieve information on their potential customers’ intent from data generated on e-commerce sites. These data-laden sites provide indications around consumer interest towards products to specialised data providers, enabling B2C marketers to monitor consumer behaviour closely and target users precisely. 

In longer B2B sales cycles, analysing intent from online purchases isn’t an available option. Instead, B2B marketers should run online campaigns that target potential buyers according to their level of intent, as shown by content consumption on B2B publisher websites related to the products marketed. That way, marketers can ensure they’re serving potential clients with the right ads at the right time. In turn, B2B marketers can track ad performance with deeper granularity and segmentation to improve their nurturing strategy and steer their lead generation efforts. 

Like their B2C counterparts, B2B businesses can also buy traffic via programmatic advertising and on social channels, enabling them to reach audiences at scale on thousands of websites. This isn’t yet a commonly used tactic in the B2B space, but it’s an opportunity not to be missed. Instead of buying traffic from specific B2B publisher websites, B2B marketers can target and reach their audiences wherever they find them online. And it’s also cost-effective, allowing marketers to purchase ad inventory and audience targeting data separately to get the perfect mix at the best price. 

By running highly targeted campaigns determined by prospects’ age, gender, location and buying intent – with traffic bought via programmatic advertising and social channels – the most digitally savvy B2C businesses have prevented themselves from becoming invisible in the crowded and competitive online marketplace. This is a valuable lesson for B2B marketers as a matter of priority. 

By Dirk Wischnewski


B2B Media Group