There have been volumes written in recent years about the need for Marketing and Sales alignment in the B2B world. However, there is less buzz around this topic in the B2C world. The reasons why are numerous, but let’s focus on two concepts behind this: brands and consumer demand.
Marketers in the B2C world are focused on building “brands” that will attract buyers based on certain characteristics. Marketing to consumers is much more about lifestyle than it is utility, so if brands can make themselves cool enough, they will attract a loyal following of like-minded people (what Seth Godin would call “Tribes”). If brands succeed in their ultimate pursuit, they don’t have to worry about sales. Bad news is there is only one company who has achieved this – Apple (maybe an honorable mention to SoulCycle). People buy Apple products because of their affinity for the brand, while pretty much every other B2C brand still has to rely on person-to-person interactions to support the customer. They have to help customers select the product or service that best suits them, and then get them to purchase it. This doesn’t mean that marketing is keeping their customer-facing channels in the dark. They certainly share information, and they let their counterparts in operations and sales know what they are doing, but they’re not adapting the story for these audiences.
The concept of demand relates closely to the discussion around brand. If brand-builders are creating a notion of what the company is, and how their products are compelling, people might start showing up to learn more. Customers are likely doing research online, but they might also call into a call center for more information or pop in to a retail store to see, touch and experience the product in person. These customer touchpoints flow as a result of marketing efforts, but the link between why they showed up to browse (or buy) and the person awaiting them when they arrive is weak at best. The salesperson doesn’t know who the person is, they have no idea what their journey with the brand has been up to this point, and they don’t know their preferences, their buying power or any other key details. Demand flows in like a school of fish; marketing and sales represent a stationary “net” waiting to capture what swims into it.
Contrast this with the B2B world. The most successful companies have marketing flowing into sales in a seamless way. Sales teams know where the buyer’s process started, what information they requested, the size of their company, and maybe even their budget or timeline to purchase. Demand is so precious in B2B that every lead needs to be treated like gold falling from the heavens. On the B2C side, demand is often taken for granted. Phone calls and store traffic (aka, demand) often become operational metrics that drive staffing costs, rather than golden opportunities to link the brand story to the customer’s experience.
Here are four reasons why B2C marketers should be focused on closing this gap and acting more like their B2B counterparts:
1) Most B2C Products and Services are Commodities
I know the “C” word makes a lot of marketing people uncomfortable, but this is the reality in today’s marketplace. Most products we buy as consumers have a reasonably comparable alternative. If companies want their products to stand out, they’re left with fewer options to differentiate because there isn’t enough separation on product, price or placement. This is why 89% of companies in a study published by Gartner in 2015 confessed that they expected to be competing for customers on “Customer Experience” alone into the future. Customers have a ton of choice, and when they are looking to buy, the person they encounter could be the difference between the brand separating itself or losing to the competition. While there are still some areas in B2B where product superiority can win the deal, B2C marketers need to focus on helping win the conversations in the trenches with a differentiated story.
2) Marketing Investments in B2C are HUGE, But They Need to Work
Consumer marketing and advertising investments in the US topped $183 billion in 2017. These dollars are evidence of brand builders at work. In the past, those dollars were being spent to drive awareness with the hope that awareness would be converted into demand – people showing up with an interest in buying. However, according to a study out of the University Notre Dame’s Idea Center at the Medozca School of Business, marketing executives no longer have the luxury of just driving awareness or demand. Most respondents – 68% – identified “sales and revenue numbers” as the primary way they’re being evaluated. Marketers need to work cooperatively with their partners downstream, those who are talking with customers to ensure that marketing messages and sales conversations line up. The more that demand converts into revenue, the more effective those huge investments in external marketing are.
3) Growth Requires Agility Large
consumer-focused companies are not known for being able to mobilize quickly. But just like their B2B counterparts, these companies still need to grow. Growth in B2C isn’t necessarily always about winning new customers, it often comes by expanding the relationships they have with existing customers. But if companies are adding products or services to their portfolio to gain share of wallet, they need to move fast and mobilize their teams to make sure their investments pay off. New offerings need to be integrated into the various sales channels quickly and marketing needs to play a key role in that process. If customer-facing teams don’t have clear messaging, value propositions and expectations, the time and marketing dollars invested in these new revenue opportunities could be wasted.
4) Many B2C Categories Face Significant Outside Threats
The internet and ecommerce are disrupting business. That everyone knows. However, it is driving a need for marketers to look much more closely at how they go to market. While they want maximum distribution for their products, they also need to make sure they have channels in their mix that can maximize profit margins and produce a positive customer experience. Take the home improvement goods category as an example. Manufacturers have gotten margin pressure from big box stores and ecommerce providers but, at the same time, rely heavily on specialty retailers to deliver a more hands-on experience for their products. Marketers need to be at the forefront of determining how to support each of these channels, not only so they can get the right results, but so their brand promises are coming through effectively at each touchpoint. If the brand strategy is not customized for each channel, and supported all the way down the point of customer interaction, marketers will be complicit in their products becoming commoditized even further.
Marketing teams inside large organizations will always have to rely on their partners in sales -and in various delivery channels- to execute their plan. However, the realities in the B2C landscape and the pressures for marketing to deliver results, are forcing marketers to reexamine those relationships and their role. Throwing money into advertising to drive more demand isn’t enough anymore. Brands can’t be what the marketers say they are; brands need to match what the customer experiences every time they’re in front of someone representing that brand.