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Let’s face it — what’s sexy is what sells. In the buttoned-up collar business world, though, sexy, exciting experimentation and innovation efforts are often subservient to more cautious, measured, business-as-usual strategies. Marketers, however, have known for years that sexy (in the innovative sense) sells, yet they remain monogamous with their own B2B or B2C strategies. These traditional terms confine any business that sells primarily to the end consumer (B2C) or to another business (B2B) to think only in these lines. I hate to say it – as we’ve all done it – but “vanilla,” unexcited marketers will often preface discussions about their role or expertise by referring to these two models: Business-to-business (B2B) or Business-to-consumer (B2C).

Sometimes, though, we need to change it up and embrace a more open paradigm: Business-to-Business-to-Consumer, or B2B2C. This marketing ménage a trois is a mutually beneficial arrangement in which all three parties have relationships with each other, and aim to keep all parties involved and in focus. This triad, if done correctly, will allow everyone’s sales to peak!

Why is this so critical to a marketing executive? In today’s hyper-connected business environment, the old B2B and B2C relationships cannot be maintained in traditional ways. Why? Well, just think what one viral video can do to a company?

With the advent of social networking, potential customers AND business prospects can be reached anytime, any place and can break up—or criticize—your product or service at the drop of a hat.

A B2B marketer needs to understand the end consumer in order to have more meaningful conversations with their business prospects. What provokes B2B prospects is often logic and data.  The sales cycle is longer and the foreplay is usually in intriguing lessons and stimulating education series. This can be shortened if you prove you are also intimate with their (and your) consumer.  Embracing a B2B2C marketing ménage a trois can help B2B marketers have more meaningful, one-to-one conversations with prospects that can, in turn, shorten the sales cycle. In fact, customer experience management research shows that organizations with a process to map and manage customer journeys – including implementation / use case journeys where customers engage with their own customers –enjoy a year-over-year growth in their customer win-back rate that is three times the rate of their peers.

At the same time, a B2C marketer needs to understand the businesses or professionals providing or prescribing the products or services they use to engage their customers. What provokes consumers are emotions: “satisfy my immediate need.” A B2C marketer needs to understand that a connection to a trusted supporting partner – e.g. having communications managed by a credible platform, or ensuring customer data is protected by a security provider with a strong record — will ease anxiety and have far greater influence on a consumer than marketing messaging alone.  But… if the consumer doesn’t feel satisfied with the services the B2B solution or team is providing, then your triad fails awkwardly.

I’m going to share with you some tips to help you understand and avoid the potential pitfalls that can arise out of three groups working together, thereby maximizing satisfaction for all parties involved.

FANTASIZE:

Every B2B marketer should be fantasizing about becoming a B2B2C marketer in light of the power socially savvy consumers possess. B2B marketers often forget that there is a person (or persons, as the case may be) behind that purchase decision.  In order to make your fantasy a reality, learn from and partner with someone on the B2C side. Revisiting the customer experience study, companies with journey management  (the majority of which are B2B companies) enjoy 30% higher annual growth rates for positive social media mentions than their peers – a seemingly more B2C advantage. Don’t stop at your immediate buyer; open your attention to your buyers’ customers as well.

For a more tangible example, suppose Subway, a fast food franchise, wants to open more stores in California.  Then, in order to have a meaningful launch strategy, the B2C marketing team should consult their marketing automation or costumer communications management providers (typically B2B vendors) about the best data they can find to distill who the consumers are that frequent Subway.  Subway gains an advantage in avoiding the sale of franchises in areas where the likelihood of success is poor due to misaligned demographics. And for the B2B service providers, their own marketing teams can gain valuable B2C customer success stories.

UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCES:

Always keep in mind that all parties don’t like the same things, and everyone doesn’t have to be actively engaged the whole time. B2B depends on relationship-building marketing efforts, but B2C is often more about emotional experiences.  If, for example, a B2B company’s product is something used by a health care professional – the B2C / customer-facing party — then the sales team of the B2B company needs to spend considerable time with doctors to ensure that the product is not only making doctors more competitive as service providers, but also that the doctors’ patients, the end-consumers, are having satisfying experiences as well. The biggest difference between traditional B2B / B2C companies, and a B2B2C company is that it’s not just about the success of your immediate buyers; it’s about ensuring success for your buyers’ customers as well. As a company selling to other businesses, you don’t have to engage your customers’ customers as actively as you engage your own, but you do need to keep them in mind.

OPTIMIZE:

When a campaign is driven by customer needs and tied together by performance data, then cost efficiencies are maximized and optimal ROI is achieved. Carefully nurture your internal relationships, work together and INVEST in keeping the B2B2C ménage à trois alive. Companies must invest their time and money in helping their businesses keep their customers happy. These businesses, though, always have valuable feedback to provide to their partner / vendor companies as well. All the while, consumers need to be given access or at the very least, insight into both a product/service company that they’re using, and the supporting businesses behind that product/service in order to feel like an equal partner in the relationship.

Practice makes perfect but … the more you engage, expand, and experiment the more everyone will get into a rhythm, merge budgets, save costs and increase sales.

Amy_PhotoAbout the Author: Amy Teter Romerois a marketing executive whose work represents the successful integration of digital strategy, analytics, planning, creative and technology to deliver customized, innovative marketing solutions.  Amy has an impressive career that includes leadership positions with Omnicom agencies, creative roles in the television industry and a few stints as a stand up comedian. You can follow her on Linkedin & Google+

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