B2B marketers have an interesting challenge.
B2C marketers are usually in the position to sell to just one buyer, and one buyer only. B2B marketers, however, have to consider not just one buyer, but several buyers from the same business, and chances are that they are colleagues.
If you think back to the 4 P’s of Marketing – Product, Price, Place, and Promotion – each one has a specific effect on how you would approach positioning your product or service. Add on the layer of selling to businesses and then differentiating between the differences of products and services creates a sense of overwhelm.
Are they really that different? Let’s take a look!
Products vs Services
In previous blog posts, we talked about products and services their differences. We’ll also get into the tangibility of each and how best to approach it.
Gathering definitions of both, Shannon Larson on Quora gave an excellent overview:
“A product is a good. Traditionally, this has meant a physical good, but it can also apply to informational goods, so that a “product” can be software or subscriptions. “Fair use” laws can apply to a product. When selling a product, you are usually selling its features, mainly how they meet a customer’s needs. Products can sometimes be rented.
A service is an act, and its receipt of sale is a contract. When selling a service, you are often selling expertise or transfer of labor. For example, in selling software-as-a-service (SAAS), you are selling a reduction in IT support and uptime SLAs, as well as selling features that address a customer’s pain points. Services are less transferrable than products and, unless a one-time service, often involve recurring costs.”
Wikipedia, however, offers a slightly different perspective. Products are actually split up into two categories – goods and services.
It would appear, however, that “products” and “goods” have become interchangeable since we rarely say “goods” anymore. For the purpose of this post, when we say “products”, we’re referring to just “goods” rather than both “good and services”. This will help eliminate any confusion on the two.
Next is the concept of tangibility.
Tangible products are those we can experience using our five senses: we can see it, we can touch it, we can probably taste it (although it might not be recommended), it probably has a smell, and it might make a sound. Another way to think about it is if it has mass and can (theoretically) be held.
Intangible products (and services) are those we are not able to physically hold, but still experience in some way. Intangible products do not have mass. This includes anything to do with information, consulting, or even computer software or video games.
The reason why it’s so important to understand exactly what your organization sells is because it will give you clues as to how to go to market and what you’ll need to educate and convince your buyers that your product or service is the right one for them.
Okay. B2B products are very interesting in terms of tangibility. Some B2B products are tangible – you can hold it, touch it, feel it, it has mass, etc. It’s also yours at the end of the day – you don’t have to “return it” after a certain amount of time. It’s not contractual. It’s actually yours. This is an important distinction.
Acuity Brands, for example, sells its lighting products both to businesses and consumers, but the product is a physical one – it’s lighting – and it’s the consumer’s at the end of the day.
Other B2B products are intangible – although be careful not to confuse this with any software-as-a-service or SAAS models. Remember – it’s really only a product if it’s yours at the end of the day.
So! If you’ve ever purchased a template for your website or a plugin or program for your business, you purchased an intangible B2B product!
You can’t hold it, or smell it, or taste it. It might make some sounds, but it in general, it doesn’t have mass, but you get to keep it at the end of the day.
Adobe is actually a great example of an organization offering a B2B product and then turning it into a B2B service. Its Creative Suite program were something you got to keep and upgrade over time (remember Photoshop 7.0?), but then it turned into more of a SAAS model and offered its programs on a monthly or annual subscription basis.
Handling Promotion for B2B Products
So in terms of marketing a B2B product, it will ultimately depend on how tangible or intangible the product actually is. Even still, here’s a list of recommended promotional tactics:
- Always start with the customer journey.
- Induce “perceived ownership”.
Customer Journey First
For any product or service, the key is to focus on the customer journey first.
Induce Perceived Ownership
One of the most common ways B2B products are able to differentiate themselves is through offering free trials, demos, and ways to experience both intangible and tangible products. “Consumer researchers Joann Peck and Suzanne B. Shu established that for a prospective buyer, merely touching an object results in an increase of perceived ownership of the object.”
The experiential factor is so important for a product that someone gets to keep. If you can ease someone into experiencing first-hand the product, then you’re more likely able to sell it. Researchers call this “perceived ownership” – and it’s proven to work.
Determining your channels through which you reach your target audience will depend on all of the 4 P’s of marketing, so it’s hard to explicitly say exactly what to focus on.
But as far as your B2B product marketing strategy, if you can get it in their hands – even intangibly – you’re more likely to see success.
If you offer a service to other businesses, chances are the service is intangible. There will always be exceptions – for example, landscaping and construction come to mind.
B2B services take so many shapes and sizes – everything from consulting to paper-pushing to custom development to providing temporary talent.
Looking back at our previous definitions, a service is an act. It’s something someone else is providing for you – and sometimes it looks a lot like a product.
LegalZoom is an organization that sells legal services – everything from doing your taxes to filing for a trademark. What’s interesting about LegalZoom is that it markets to both business and individuals – and they approach each fairly differently.
On the consumer side, there’s tons of service offers to handle more personal tasks – think like writing your living will or filing for divorce.
On the business side, there’s also services to help an organization file for a trademark, start an LLC, and filing for permits.
But when you really think about it, it’s kind of hard to give a “free trial” or “demo” of something like this. It’s a service, and it’s hard to show someone what it’s like without actually doing it for them. Instead, the better way to approach this – which LegalZoom thankfully does – is to build a relationship first.
Handling Promotion for B2B Services
Either way, the buyer can’t physically hold what you’ve done for them. It’s also much harder to offer “demos” or “trials” unless you get really creative.
- Focus on relationship-building.
- Offer “give-to-gets” – or small steps towards the core offer.
- Productize your service.
- Build it together.
Focus on Relationship-Building
Wait – relationship-building? That seems so 20th century?
It’s at the top of this list because it tackles so many of the objections a prospect has when considering a service. Here’s the thing about services – you can’t physically hold them, and because you can’t hold them, you have to trust someone else’s promise.
In order to mitigate risk and fear, you seek to test the credibility of the seller. You ask people you trust what their thoughts and recommendations are. You do your research – and all of these things are out of the seller’s control.
The only thing that is in the seller’s control, dear reader, is their ultimate appearance to the buyer and the relationship. That’s why with marketing B2B services, you’re going to have to focus on relationship-building – and that means establishing trust, communication, education, and all of the other values a buyer has.
Offer a Give-to-Get
In BIG Sales Training, Moe Bunnell teaches us all about “give-to-gets” – small steps that are directly related to your core offer (your main service) that are FREE for the prospect and EASY / CHEAP for you to do.
The whole idea is to get someone to “demo” what it’s like to work with you personally since you can’t technically demo your service. Think of give-to-gets as free trials, but instead your trialing the experience and not the service itself. The trick, however, is that it must be related to your actual core offer.
Let’s say a law office much like LegalZoom wants to land a major client for a fairly big deal size, but coming out the gate with the core offer is way too much too soon. Instead, the law office offers a “give-to-get” – a smaller step that’s free, is related to their core offer, and easy for them to do.
The law office offers a free one-hour consultation as the give-to-get. It introduces you and the client, allows you to build a relationship, and gives the client a preview of what it’s like to work with you.
Try framing your marketing efforts that positions your give-to-get rather than your core offer. This is an excellent tactic for more expensive B2B services.
Productize Your Service
Channels aside, you’re going to have to do your best to “productize” your service.
It’s important with services to make it appear as repeatable and dependable as possible – even if you offer highly customized solutions.
Sell and market on the promise and psychological effects of what happens after the service has been completed and what it means to not have it done.
Build It Together
Remember the psychology of “perceived ownership”?
Building the service’s solution together is a way many consulting firms have been able to solidify relationships, and customize the entire solution to the client – leaving them feeling secure and confident in the solution.
When a buyer feels like they can see themselves in the solution, it makes them much more likely to advocate for it, find budget for it, and outright buy it all together.
Ultimately – both the buyer and seller need to have “skin in the game”.
A great example of this is looking at any SAAS model that allows you to customize your solution. Some PR firms also have the ability to allow people to tailor the types of press release packages to their exact needs.
Facebook Advertising, for example, has a very simple service: surface ads through the Facebook channel to your target audience. But the ads aren’t a “one size fits all” – they have a set of ad types you can pick from, but actually building out an ad campaign in Facebook’s platform is so highly customized.
Together, you and Facebook were able to build an ad set that will be the absolute best for your organization.
The Blurry Line of Technology
But what about all of those software-as-a-service technologies? Is it technically a product or a service?
Aha! We’ve entered the blurry line of technology – the event horizon, if you will, of a black hole. We could dissect this further, but the argument can be made on both sides.
For example, if you’re in this landscape of marketing technology tools, it can be a bit challenging to pull apart the conundrum of a “SAAS product” or “software-as-a-service product”. Which one is it?
If we use the traditional definition of “product”, then SAAS models are technically both products and then services – kind of like how squares are also rectangles. But with today’s definition of “product” being more synonymous with “goods”, then we can say that goods and services are not the same thing, and therefore products are not services.
That’s why it’s important to decipher if we “own” a service like you can “own” a good. You don’t give goods back once you purchase them – even if you’re renting a car or a dolly. You’re actually buying the service of what the good provides, but you don’t keep the actual good.
So when you purchase, say, SalesLoft or Salesforce for a year, you’re actually buying a service rather than a good. Based on that definition, SAAS isn’t really a product, but we do a helluva job productizing our services.
The Effect of Price
Price has an interesting effect on the entire buyer journey for B2B marketers.
We’ll get to talking about Product (or Service) and their effects on Promotion later in the post, but we start with Price because of of how it applies a level of challenge across all businesses – no matter if B2B or B2C; product or service.
As the saying goes, the higher the price, the longer the sales cycle.
The more expensive your product/service is in direct comparison to its ultimate opportunity cost will make marketing and selling much more challenging.
Quick story for perspective. Granted, this is a B2C example, but you’ll get the picture. A major cruise line came to realize through market research that competing with other cruise lines wasn’t the best way to differentiate themselves. Instead, they chose to view it as cruising in general is competing with other forms of vacation.
They weren’t competing with cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruise Lines anymore. They were competing with its opportunity cost – and that meant other types of vacations, not just cruises.
The same can be said for B2B products, but I argue even more so. With budgets dictating most purchasing behavior in organizations, it makes sense that the price of your product/service has a lot to do with how you promote it and position it in the market – regardless of B2B or B2C.