Human to human: The end of B2B/C marketing

When I first began my career, I’d hear people say things like “business is business,” which they would use as an excuse for treating people badly. Today, more people are realizing that business is actually just people, which completely shifts the paradigm. Your approach should shift with it.

Marketing has traditionally been segmented into two categories -- business to business and business to consumer – also known as B2B and B2C.

Even these names imply an impersonal, transactional approach to customer relationships – and that’s exactly what we saw. Fortunately, business thinking is evolving and there’s a better approach – human to human (H2H).

H2H starts to say:

“I'm not a business and you are not a business or a customer. We’re both human and we're going to have a conversation about something which will hopefully benefit both of us.”

Think of H2H as simply talking to someone, communicating the same way you would if they were standing in front of you. In a conversation, you share information that needs sharing and you can expect some immediate feedback. And while technology often feels less personal – think spam emails and robo-calls – it’s now giving us the opportunity to turn that around and be more human.

Human conversation

Imagine I go into a restaurant and receive poor service.  I might fill out a comment card and, based on my experience, I expect that comment card just to go into a void. I never actually expect the company to talk back to me. 

every single email those customers receive is an attempt to sell to them

Today, we have online review pages, and many restaurants have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. If I leave a message there for a company, I’m much more likely to get a direct response. Since the restaurant can see who I am on social media, they can provide a personal, immediate response. And that response shouldn’t be pro forma marketing-speak. It’s more like a conversation with a friend who you let down. Offer to make it up somehow. Sorry you had a bad experience. What can I do to make it up to you?  Can we offer you a discount on your next visit, or a refund for part of your meal? That’s treating the customer as a human.

Too many companies still haven’t figured this out, and it’s worse among companies marketing to businesses. They have all the same channels as consumer marketers – email, social media, phone, along with ample data about their customers, but much of the language they use is still purely transactional. 

There’s little or no attempt to understand the person they're talking to, or where they fit it into the purchasing process. They treat every person as if they were the decision maker, so most of what they're sending falls on deaf ears. They are in the company’s customer database, but they're the wrong people. They've moved to a new job or even to a new company. And on top of all that, every single email those customers receive is an attempt to sell to them. 

This results, all too often then, with the wrong message, being sent to the wrong person, through the wrong channel, in the wrong tone and at the wrong time.  Hardly a great H2H experience!

Instead of sending constant sales pitches, how about trying to establish a relationship with your potential customer? Start by understanding the person's role at the company. Once you know what he or she does, you might decide to send relevant content about industry trends and best practices in their area of expertise.

Remember:  they’re a human. And you wouldn’t just walk up to an unfamiliar human on the street and say: You’ve got to download this thing, here’s what it costs. You need to build trust with that person first.

Human understanding

Today, familiarity and trust can be created more quickly using data and information that is readily available. At FullContact, we research prospective customers using internal tools that help us understand them as individuals – as humans.

we need to think differently about each interaction we have

Let’s say we find that a prospect is a fan of the Green Bay Packers and that they also graduated from UC Berkeley – as did Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. As a way to introduce ourselves, we might send her a care package through the mail, which includes some fun Aaron Rodgers paraphernalia. We are a company with great insights on humans.

We like to get to know our potential customers as humans as well. We think this gift demonstrates both of those things.

As you might imagine, we get some interesting responses. Some people are a little surprised that we can actually get that much data about them. Other people think it’s fantastic that we took the time to understand who they are, and they want to discuss how that approach might help their company.

Forward thinking companies are getting much better at relating to their own customer as a person as opposed to a number. And as people become more aware of how companies can use their data to deliver better service, they will come to expect more out of their relationships with those companies.

But collectively, we're still at a very early stage on the journey to meaningful H2H customer communications.

To get there, we need to think differently about each interaction we have with a customer. Every web comment, every email, every Tweet about a product is an opportunity to engage with a customer on a one‑to-one level. It’s time to retire B2B and B2C and embrace H2H.

Your customers will be glad you did.

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