It’s a popular marketing story, if not the popular marketing story, of the past few years: a complex B2B company “consumerizes” itself, shifts its message to more directly appeal to the end consumer, and becomes more human in the process.
Left unanswered, usually, is the following question: what about the inverse?
While we don’t hear about consumer-driven companies pivoting to the B2B world, it has recently happened at nearly the same clip, as brands realize that a consumer value proposition doesn’t always translate to a corporate audience. The results are equally as interesting—especially when the companies in discussion own some of the most popular brands of the past few years.
Perhaps nowhere is this shift more evident than in the world of “consumer tech,” an industry that spans a number of verticals but has one core idea in common: building platforms that improve the way consumers live. From FitBit to Seamless, these companies have quickly set out to develop B2B stories—and in the process, they’ve revealed a few key lessons on how to make the evolution:
1. Understand the B2B buyer’s rational and emotional needs. At the end of the day, every corporate transaction still has a human being making the purchase decision. Appealing to this person’s rational and emotional needs can make the difference in closing the sale.
This is at the heart of our work with WebMD. Always a consumer powerhouse for health information, the company needed to create a better brand with advertisers, prove that it was more than just a “sick site,” and justify its premium price. We developed a new sales story that connected with marketers emotionally, powerfully showcasing the real lives of WebMD users and the unique sense of purpose with which they visited the site.
Then, we provided the rational “counter-punch”: on each communication, from trade ads to sales presentations to the campaign microsite, we hit home the statistical lift a marketer’s relationship with WebMD provided.
Similarly, Seamless’ B2B launch depended upon connecting with corporate buyers on both levels. The company first tapped into the emotional mindset in an unexpected way: it ran a series of thought leadership pieces based on surveys with U.S. employees, hitting on an unexpected level of depth in showing foodwas the second-most desired benefit in the workplace. The emotional message was clear: What buyer wouldn’t want to be the workplace hero who provided such a benefit?
It followed this connection with a suite of communications about how Seamless Corporate rationally drove the bottom line. A dedicated microsite showed the benefits: less time searching for a restaurant, easy budget management, and a streamlined invoice process. The story hit a perfect balance, as Seamless Corporate has rapidly grown to process more than $200M in corporate food sales per year across 40 cities.
2. Build a user experience that’s easy to use on both ends. B2B sales are often intermediated ones, representing a real shift for “consumer tech” brands heretofore focused on a single customer experience. Yet in this world, there are often two to worry about: the corporate buyer and the end user. An interface built to accommodate each group’s needs is critical.
It’s a lesson that Airbnb, perhaps the ultimate “consumer” brand, has already figured out. The company’s new Corporate Travel division has grown rapidly thanks to unique customer experiences designed for both business travelers andtheir travel managers.
The former enjoys business-specific features: no late host cancellations, around-the-clock customer support, and streamlined expense reporting. Yet the travel manager, an individual with a completely different set of needs, enjoys a different experience—also planned out perfectly to the last moment. Airbnb provides each manager with an online ecosystem recording each traveler booked, daily and average spend, overall budget, and a map that offers complete visibility of the company’s “road warriors.”
Ride-sharing service Gett has also constructed a stellar user interface as a way of capturing the B2B market. With built-in expense reporting and account management for corporate riders—as well as a back-end that allows administrators to set and track monthly budgetary goals—it’s put forth a legitimate threat to Uber, despite its relatively new launch.
3. Build tools to help a relationship-based sale. Even in a tech product landscape, the B2B sale is inherently different in three ways: a bigger financial commitment, a longer sales cycle, and a relationship-based (not transactional) sale. Because of this longer, more considered process, consumer tech brands must equip their sales teams with more tools and resources for support.
As FitBit adds to its direct-to-consumer success with FitBit Corporate, it’s doing just that. The company has built a series of online resources to better sell in its family of wearable fitness products to employers. Each element, from the three-tiered partnership model (from “Starter” to “Select” to “Partnered”) to the “Wellness Toolkit” and monthly challenges, helps facilitate and deepen a relationship between the company and the buyer, and keeps the buyer coming back time and time again.
Yes, it may be a less-publicized road, but the transition from consumer brand to corporate partner is a captivating one. It’s a shift in which brand and marketing can play a major role, and as more “consumer tech” firms implement the strategies used above, it will be a fascinating space for brands to grow.