What are the challenges of B2B PR?
3rd February 2016
For many purchases, decision making can be instinctive, but when it comes to buying services and products for your business, a gut reaction is not a good enough reason to splash your company’s cash. As Nick Clark, managing director of PR firm Nelson Bostock Unlimited puts it: “Most consumer purchases are low value that require little or no deliberation; generally B2B purchases are higher value which require procurement meetings, spreadsheets and performance benchmarks. I don’t need to know much about the manufacturing process, key efficiency benefits or ROI of a can of Coke, but my business might for a new industrial robot.”
This is why one of the key challenges when working on B2B PR campaigns has always been to present facts in an interesting way. Clark explains: “B2C PR traditionally appeals to consumers’ emotions, while B2B PR focuses on rational evidence. This difference can taint the language of B2B with jargon, and crowd campaigns with competing ‘benefits’ – often with dull and inaccessible results.”
However, things are changing in B2B. Clark says: “The push towards more integrated campaigns and the impact of social and digital media has blurred the lines. Brands now appreciate that what’s good for B2C might be just as useful for B2B, if used intelligently. What’s clear is that the days of endlessly plugging B2B products and services, often in increasingly commoditised markets, are long gone. Successful PROs deliver campaigns that work across the traditional B2B sales cycle and influence potential buyers right up to the point of purchase and beyond. The challenge, but also the opportunity, is demonstrating clear ROI and how campaigns link directly to sales – sometimes easier said than done.”
Another key difference between buying a consumer product and a business one, is that it is not just one person who makes the purchasing decision. Andy Turner, founder of agency Six Sigma PR, believe this creates the main challenge when working on B2B campaigns: “There are multiple decision-influencers and often multiple decision-makers too. This means you have to invest time understanding how decision-making happens in the target groups you’re trying to reach, then create campaigns that reflect the different needs and expectations of each group.”
Turner says another challenge is the fact that B2B companies are still often creatively more conservative, relative to B2C companies. “This can limit the number of creative options you can apply – or make selling a creative approach all the more difficult.”
This is why successful B2B campaigns focus on being informative and helpful to decision-makers and those around them who influence decisions. Turners says: “It’s a long-haul game where you build confidence and trust so that when the critical moments in decision-making arrive, your company/product/approach earn their place on the client’s shortlist. But there are no fixed rules when it comes to what works. A wholesaler selling low-value tools and materials to thousands of self-employed builders is entirely different to an aircraft engine manufacturer selling to a handful of airlines.
“For me it all comes down to knowing your audience, their business pain points and their information-gathering habits (media or otherwise).” Turner offers three key rules to follow:
- Help and inform, whilst playing down the sell.
- Recognise it as a long-haul game, so be patient.
- Test, check, measure and recalibrate against realistic, achievable goals.
Challenges of B2B PR
Bev Aujla, director at PR firm Lansons:
“B2B can often be perceived as the poor relation when reality is that it is anything but. In fact, B2B campaigns can be some of the most creative as they need to inspire and generate a call to action amongst prospects and decision makers through pure hard information. It’s less about reaching hearts, but more about tapping into analytical minds who have different buying cycles and a keen eye on factors such as return on investment. With B2B being integral in building a company's reputation and trust amongst stakeholders, the challenge to bring a B2B story to life is greater than B2C – more often than not, businesses, especially the larger ones, are less keen to ‘go public’ and be a case study. So influencing decision makers who can range from human resource directors, chief technology officers, financial directors to engineers and accountants, can be challenging, but it’s through showcasing relevance and the opportunity to win more customers that B2B can be successful.”
David Clare, digital marketing director at marketing agency Fox Agency:
“In reality, B2B communicators often face similar challenges as their B2C counterparts do. Take the rise of video for example. 59% of Internet traffic will be through video by 2017, so whether you are in B2B or B2C, video content will be essential, as will your team's ability to create such content.
“A major threat in 2016, that is particularly concerning to B2B communicators, is what we call at Fox 'the 85% rule'. This is the point at which a customer is through the sales pathway before they make contact. Once upon a time the role of a sales team would be to inform and educate. Now customers have Googled you, read your reviews and scoped your competitors. They've done 85% of the work already.
“This presents a threat. Customers know a lot, and your sales team may not be prepared for their depth of knowledge of your product. They will want more and will drive a harder bargain. But there is opportunity too. You can influence their research by securing positive online coverage which will turn up in searches. This is what will make sure they call your sales team and not your competitors.”