"B2B" means "business to business." The term encompasses all companies that create products and services geared toward other businesses. This can include SaaS products, B2B marketing firms and overall business supply companies.
If you own a small business, you likely will have to work with a B2B company at some point in your journey. It's important to understand what B2B is, why it matters to your business and how you can leverage it to better your own business.
What is a B2B company?
B2B companies are supportive enterprises that offer the things other businesses need to operate and grow. Payroll processors and industrial suppliers are a couple examples. This is in contrast to business-to-consumer (B2C) models, which sell directly to individual customers, and consumer-to-business (C2B) models, in which users offer services for a business (such as customer reviews or influencer marketing). B2B companies have an entirely different target audience: They offer the raw materials, finished parts, services or consultations that other businesses need to operate, grow and profit.
Examples of B2B companies
There are B2B companies in every industry, from manufacturing to retail. Wherever business is done, you can be sure a host of B2B suppliers and advisory firms are active. Every B2C company requires certain products, services and professional counsel, so every B2C company generates B2B activity.
One example of a traditional B2B market is in automobile manufacturing. Everyone knows some of the biggest consumer-facing brands, but in every model of car or truck they produce are dozens of other companies' products. These include the tires, hoses, batteries and electronics that are essential for the final consumer product – the vehicle – to operate properly. The manufacturer purchases these products from its various suppliers and incorporates them into the final product. When you buy a car from one company, you're purchasing parts created by dozens or even hundreds of other businesses from all around the world. Business-to-business sales are a vital part of every industry's supply chain.
Examples of real-world B2B activity are plentiful and more visible than you might guess. For instance, the cloud-based document storage company Dropbox serves businesses as well as individuals. General Electric makes plenty of consumer goods, but it also provides parts to other enterprises. Perhaps you've worked at a company where the paychecks were stamped by ADP, a company that provides payroll and financial services for businesses. Xerox is a household name that makes billions providing paper and print services to businesses.
How to develop a marketing plan for a B2B company
Marketing and branding B2B products or services requires a unique approach. Unlike with B2C companies, the target audience isn't a consumer at all, but another company. This means B2B marketers must build a direct marketing experience to drive organic traffic from company decision-makers.
Driving sales means understanding another company's business processes, nurturing trust between both your organizations, and developing a business-specific strategy with your sales team to turn potential customers into buyers. B2B marketing campaigns require careful planning, said Brent Walker, senior vice president of marketing and analytics at PatientBond.
"B2B typically relies on its sales function and account management team to establish and strengthen customer-client relationships," he said. "Marketing may include advertising in trade journals, having a presence at conventions and trade conferences, digital marketing – an online presence, SEO, email outreach – and other traditional awareness efforts."
While the methods might be similar to those of B2C companies, the messaging and branding is often different. Rather than speaking to a consumer's desire to get something new, fun or convenient, B2B companies face the challenge of convincing company decision-makers that their products or services will yield a return on investment. That means less emphasis on social networks, brand awareness and the overall customer journey. Instead, the focus should be building relationships with other businesses and highlighting overall ROI.
For some B2B companies, such as digital marketing firms that specialize in content creation and social media management, this can be a tough sell. This type of work doesn't produce immediate results, so making the sale requires educating potential customers. That's where a knowledgeable sales team comes in.
The key to B2B marketing is demonstrating value to a business's bottom line. If your solution streamlines processes, focus on the efficiencies your potential customers could gain. If your services increase traffic to a website or boost conversion rates, highlight the potential for added revenue. In business, it all comes back to profitability: If you can make the case that your products or services will enhance the bottom line, landing the sale becomes much easier.
To improve your B2B marketing campaigns, here are some things you should keep in mind when interacting with other businesses:
- A well-trained and knowledgeable sales team will allow you to build effective relationships.
- You're speaking directly to high-level company decision-makers, not average consumers, so you should set the tone of your messaging accordingly.
- The emphasis in B2B marketing communication should be building relationships, not extending your brand voice by leveraging social networks.
- Other businesses want to know the ROI they can expect from your product.
Digital B2B companies
The rise of B2B e-commerce solutions has redefined the relationship between businesses and suppliers. A product of the digital revolution, these businesses sell products directly to other companies using e-commerce platforms, while also sharing data and updates for products or services. There are many types of B2B e-commerce companies, but three of the most common are web development, supply and procurement exchanges, and infomediaries.
Every business needs a website, but few business owners have the time or skill set to build an optimized site from scratch. Web development companies (and, more generally, digital marketers) are B2B services that handle the creation and maintenance of company websites, plus digital advertising services like content creation and search engine optimization. These services are indispensable in the ever-expanding digital environment that dominates the modern business landscape. Though web development companies didn't exist until a few decades ago, they've become essential partners for any business ready to get off the ground.
Supply and procurement exchanges
Otherwise known as e-procurement sites, these companies serve a variety of industries and often focus on a niche market. A company purchasing agent can shop for supplies from vendors, request proposals and even make bids for purchases at specific prices. These B2B websites enable the exchange of product supplies and procurement.
Specialized or vertical industry portals provide a subweb of information for a specific industry or vertical, such as healthcare, construction or education. These sites provide product listings, discussion groups and other features. Vertical portal sites have a broader purpose than procurement sites, though they may also support purchasing.
Brokering sites fulfill companies' supply and procurement needs in another way. These sites act as intermediaries between service providers and potential business customers. For example, a construction company may need to lease equipment. A broker site can help the construction company find an equipment manufacturer that is willing to lease out the needed equipment. Brokering sites and services include companies like Axway B2B Integration.
There are also information sites, or infomediaries, that provide specialized information on specific industries for companies and their employees. These specialized search sites can include trade and industry standards organizations' sites.
Though B2B services are critical to the success of many industries, when considering your company's potential, do not limit yourself to one model. B2B, B2C and C2B models need not be mutually exclusive: Combining their particular strengths could generate great opportunities for your business.
"A business can package consumer insights and consumer-centric solutions to sell or provide as a value-add to its business customers and clients," Walker said. "In a consumer-driven marketplace, such a service can be extremely valuable to a business."
If you want to get into the B2B market but don't know where to start, visit our list of B2B business ideas.
Matt D'Angelo contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.