B2B vs B2C and What it Means for Your MSP
There is no shortage of articles explaining the differences between B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) business models. A simple online search will make this clear. Most of these articles highlight the same basic contrasts:
- The B2B sales cycle lasts longer/is costlier than that of B2C
- B2B relies on long-term client relationships; B2C tends to involve single ‘one-and-done’ transactions
- Compared to B2C businesses, B2B businesses target a smaller, niche prospective client base
- B2B sales and marketing should appeal to reason; B2C sales and marketing should play to emotion
- B2B involves engaging with multiple stakeholders and decision-makers within an organization; B2C involves selling to individuals
Instead of belaboring these points, we want to home in on one in particular, which is especially relevant to managed service providers (MSPs), namely, the idea that B2B sales and marketing tactics should appeal to clients’ reason instead of their emotions. There is some truth to this claim, but as we’ll see, it’s an oversimplification, which, taken the wrong way, could undermine or even derail your MSP’s efforts to attract, win, and hold onto clients.
Before we look at the idea that B2B sales and marketing should appeal to reason, let’s quickly review the basic definitions of B2B and B2C, and establish which type of model describes the commercial activities of MSPs.
B2B vs B2C: A Brief Overview
B2B is an acronym that wears its meaning on its sleeve: business-to-business is a type of sales process that involves businesses selling products/services to other businesses. B2C is equally straightforward: a business-to-consumer retail model is what it sounds like — businesses selling products/services directly to individual consumers.
An MSP is an example of a B2B business, as it offers outsourced IT support to businesses, not individual consumers. Thus, MSPs should implement sales and marketing strategies that align with the core principles of the B2B model. But what are these principles, and just how sound are they?
There isn’t space here to discuss the various aspects of B2B marketing. So, instead, we’ll be looking closely at one in particular: the idea that B2B sales and marketing should appeal to existing and prospective clients’ reason, in contrast to B2C sales and marketing efforts, which ought to play to emotion.
This is a common trope when it comes to discussions of B2B vs B2C best practices, but it’s not the golden nugget of truth it’s often held up to be. The following discussion aims to introduce some nuance into the idea that B2B marketing is all about reason, not emotion. The goal is to give your MSP a more balanced understanding of the topic at hand, so that you can sell and market your services more effectively than ‘the next MSP.’
The Standard View: B2B is ‘All Business’
The idea that B2B marketing should be ‘strictly business’ makes intuitive sense. After all, we are talking about business-to-business transactions here! But all kidding aside, the idea that B2B marketing should appeal to clients’ reason — i.e., their ability to think rationally and objectively — does mesh with certain realities. Let’s look at two such realities . . .
When you’re a business selling to another business, the stakes are usually higher than they would be if you were selling a product or service to an individual consumer. As an MSP, your primary objective is to demonstrate that your IT services will constitute a sound investment for your prospective client’s business. The organizations that you’re marketing and selling to want to know that hiring you will be a good business decision with a healthy ROI (return on investment).
This means you have to prop up your pitch with plenty of numbers and cold hard facts. Your pool of leads won’t choose your MSP because you have a nice smile or a firm handshake — though those things can help — but because you’re going to save them time, money, and resources.
So, when selling and marketing your MSP’s services and support model, you want to focus on establishing the strategic advantages that your potential clients can achieve by hiring you.
Longer and More Complex Sales Process
Another reason why B2B sales and marketing need to appeal to reason has to do with a key feature of the B2B sales process: as a business selling/marketing to other businesses, your path to converting a lead into a customer is longer, and requires engagement with multiple stakeholders and decision-makers within an organization.
Think about your MSP. Generally speaking, you’re not going to win a new client by convincing one person that your MSP is great; you’re going to have to win the respect and trust of various key decision-makers — executives, in-house IT staff, and so forth.
What does this have to do with the reason/emotion distinction?
A lot! Unlike B2C transactions, which can capitalize on individual consumers’ in-the-moment impulses and emotions, a successful B2B transaction usually requires that you secure a “yes” from multiple people, over an extended period of time. And such a thing is only possible if you convince your prospective clients that working with your MSP is actually a sensible idea — i.e., that it makes good business sense.
An Alternative Perspective: Emotions Matter Too!
Now that we’ve seen some reasons to think that your MSP, as a B2B operation, needs to appeal to potential clients’ “rational side” to win business, we can begin pushing back on this view with some considerations in favor of a more “emotional” approach.
Consideration #1: B2B and B2C are Both P2P!
With all of the business jargon, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of acronyms and forget one simple truth: whether you’re an MSP selling IT services to small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) or a scalper hawking tickets on the sidewalk, at the end of the day, it’s people selling to people. And people aren’t purely rational — no matter how hard we try! Our decisions are based largely on emotion.
So, if you’re an MSP, yes, you need to demonstrate your value to potential clients using facts and figures, but you can’t neglect the vital task of making the people you speak with feel comfortable, listened to, cared for, etc. The fact is, people will trust you more if you’re personable, friendly, and warm, and when a prospective client is on the fence about hiring your MSP, they are likely to fall back on instinct. You want that instinct to be that you’re a good person who genuinely cares about cultivating relationships with your clients.
Consideration #2: The Stakes are High!
Wait, didn’t we mention “higher stakes” as a reason your MSP needs to appeal to your potential clients’ rationality?
Yep! But the fact that stakes are typically higher in B2B transactions (compared to B2C transactions) is also a reason why you can’t neglect the emotional side of the equation. Choosing to work with an MSP is a big business decision that has the potential to go extremely well or extremely poorly for your prospective clients. The emotional intensity of such a decision is much, much greater than, say, that which accompanies purchasing a stick of gum.
For that reason, your MSP’s role — a role that you and your staff all have to take on — is to recognize your prospective clients’ anxieties, fears, and uncertainties, and then, do your best to alleviate those feelings. To do that, you have to connect on a human level. If you can truly listen to the business owners you engage with, instead of viewing them merely as a potential paycheck, it will help your MSP stand out in a crowded and competitive industry. In the same spirit, learn to accept a “no” without any resentment, because oftentimes a “no” is really a “not yet.” Never leave potential clients with a bad taste in their mouths after a pitch, because you want them to remember you fondly if their circumstances change and they decide that working with an MSP — or a different MSP — is a good idea after all.
Consideration #3: Not Everyone is Fluent in Techspeak
MSPs provide IT services to all manner of businesses, many of which aren’t a part of the IT world. Naturally, then, the decision-makers you or your sales team speak with won’t always be well-versed in the jargon that rolls so naturally of your tongue. It’s true that you want to establish technical expertise and an in-depth knowledge of your MSP’s offerings, as well as how those offerings tie into your prospective clients’ business objectives. But, at the same time, leaning too hard into “techspeak” can have the adverse effect of overwhelming, confusing, or even angering your leads. Be wary of falling into
the trap of trying to impress with fancy terminology, when a simple explanation would be more effective and powerful.
This consideration ties into the previous one. Many of the decision-makers you speak with are going to be feeling anxious about outsourcing their IT. Dumping a truckload of jargon on their heads is hardly going to help. You want to be professional and make it obvious that you know your stuff when it comes to IT, but your conversation with potential clients needs to be just that — a conversation! Don’t talk at leads; talk to them, and in terms they can easily understand.
This also applies to your marketing collateral. Make sure it’s not too heavy on jargon, and develop an overarching brand identity or story with universal, human appeal. If your only selling points are technical, you’re going to be in trouble. The MSP space is simply too crowded and competitive for your company to stand out without branding that resonates with fellow tech people and the technophobic alike.
As a B2B enterprise, your MSP will win new clients by taking them through a long-term sales cycle, in which you answer their questions, provide them with plenty of information, and demonstrate your value in clear, quantitative terms. In short, you have to earn prospective clients’ trust by speaking to their rational side, because no one’s going to hire an MSP just because it ‘feels right’ or ‘seems like a good idea in the moment.’
That said, you have to do all of that with a human touch, making sure to cultivate a personal connection. If you try to ‘argue’ your way to new clients by presenting your MSP’s value in purely technical terms, you can easily lose precious leads by failing to tap into the most powerful motivator of all: emotion.
If you’re an MSP that struggles with sales and marketing, we encourage you to reach out to us. Here at The 20, we help MSPs conquer sales, marketing, and a host of other challenges that commonly hold MSPs back. Learn more about what we do, and how our revolutionary business model can take your business to the next level.