I have spent 19 years focused on business to business marketing, and I hear this time and time again: People who market or sell to companies think that their approach needs to be fundamentally different than that of companies that sell to consumers. The secret: it really isn't. The tactics might differ somewhat, but there is really no difference in approach. Don't let the flashy ads selling sneakers or perfume distract you.
The biggest myth of B2B marketing is why people think there is a difference: B2B companies think they sell to companies. They don't. They sell to individuals within companies. Even the most complex sale of millions of dollars is usually decided by three or four people: 1) the head of the department that uses your product (possibly with input from a few chosen end users), 2) his boss (such as the COO, CIO, or CMO, depending on your product area), and 3) the person who processes the payments, usually the Head of Procurement. That's it. Companies as a whole don't buy products. Individuals do.
What that means is that you have to do (or at least you should do) the exact same thinking about your target segments as consumer companies: who is my target? What is his or her gender, age, lifestyle habits? If your target user is a male in his 30s who works 90-hour weeks, you will want to target him very differently than a woman in her 50s who works part-time. You may think that your product is used by people of all types, but do the research: you will be surprised how often even the most general business products appeal to an easily defined segment, or at least a few demographically significant segments.
The second biggest myth pertains to how and why that target audience makes purchasing decisions. Nike, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Apple, just to name an obvious few, all spend millions of dollars on making an emotional pitch to their consumers. They are selling a lifestyle: use our products and you will be cooler, smarter, sexier, and look and feel great.
But B2B products aren't sold that way. Because the second biggest myth of B2B marketing is that purchases of B2B products or services are done logically, by looking at facts and figures. If this were actually true, B2B companies would not need good sales people. They could simply send along product fact sheets, and the phone would ring, right? But that doesn't actually work. What works, same as with consumer products, is emotion. Tap into a target audience's fear or desire, and you have a customer. Tell them (and prove it) that your product will give them job security and make them look good to their boss? You have a customer. Tell them (and prove it) that you will reduce the amount of time they have to spend at the office because you'll automate the busy work that currently takes up half their day, and means they can go home to their kids earlier? You have a customer.
The main difference between a consumer and a business buyer is that a business buyer, having been convinced by your sales pitch emotionally, now needs to take the logical argument into the organization to convince the other people who make this decision. But even that has its parallel in the consumer world: if a husband wants to buy a new car, doesn't he take the facts home to convince his wife how much money they'll save in gas and repair costs in the long run? If that wife has her heart set on going to Aruba over the holidays, she will surely find all the information she can on how it will be cheaper to go there than many other places, won't she?
If you grab your business buyer emotionally, and add value by helping him sell the deal internally using logical arguments, you have a customer. And another way in which business and consumer marketing is the same: it costs a lot less to keep a customer than to get a new one. Deliver great products and/or services, and you keep a customer for a very long time, whether they're buying at the office or on the weekend.