Most businesses fall into one of two categories, following either a business-to-business (B2B), or business-to-consumer (B2C) model. But with all the digital advances that have been made in recent years, things are changing and different models are starting to emerge.
Business-to-consumer-to-business (B2C2B) is one very intriguing new way of marketing a product, which is growing in popularity. This is how it works – a business will begin by “selling” to employees who work within a company they want to target. These internal influencers help promote the product from the inside, with the aim being to eventually sign up the company as a paying customer.
Usually, the product being ‘sold’ to the employees won’t have a cost attached to it. It will be provided through a ‘freemium’ model of working, which basically means it is provided for free with a premium or business service available at a charge.
Some of the best examples of this type of model in action include LinkedIn, Slack, Dropbox, Yammer, Expensify and Evernote. LinkedIn is arguably the most well-known and successful company operating in this space and you can read more about the team’s experiences here.
With LinkedIn, it is free to join and start interacting on the site and this gives you access to a broad user base and an enormous amount of data on all things business. They then offer three different premium models: HR (recruiting talent), Sales Navigator (which is all about social selling and sales tools) and marketing (highly targeted paid ads).
This bottom up approach works particularly well in the SaaS (software as a service) space. Uber is another example of a company that has made strong progress, using this type of model, alongside packaged deals for companies.
So, the question you need to ask yourself is – could it be a worthwhile strategy for you too?
Obviously, this kind of approach doesn’t work in all cases but as these examples show, it is worth thinking about. Particularly if you are involved deeply in account based marketing. Rallying up support from inside a corporate can be very powerful and if you get your offering right, then via these influencers you could land the company as a paying customer for your premium version.
The key to success with B2C2B is for your product, marketing and sales to all be working together to bring the model to fruition. The advantages could be huge – you could greatly reduce the cost of acquisition, get hold of lots of user data you can use to enhance the product further and secure greater leverage with decision makers (if 30% of employees in a company use your product and rave about it, it will be hard for them to ignore!).
There are some disadvantages though and these need consideration too. The main one being the cost you will incur to maintain the free version. This has the potential to eat up any savings you make on the acquisition side. There also needs to be a clear difference between the free version and the premium version(s). These differences need to be significant and of real value, otherwise why would a company bother paying, when everyone could just use the free version instead?
One example of a transition successfully being made from B2B marketing to B2C2B is HubSpot and a product it launched called Sidekick (which has since changed its name to Hubspot Sales). It was an in-house start-up that quickly grew and has since been incorporated into the main CRM and sales product. They detail here how once they understood that they were following a B2C2B model, they adapted their marketing to match and things started to dramatically improve.
A basic B2C2B strategy
Image Source: Anum Hussain
As this graphic shows, the idea is that you first work on acquiring a broad user base, then go for a group of specific users, then teams and finally the entire company. For it to work, you need to have a really good product that fills a need, is easy to use and equally easy to spread. Having something viral built in, like messaging app Slack, can really help the process along. Marketing’s role is to concentrate on getting users signed up, for sales it is landing the premium business opportunities.
Using content marketing to attract business end users
This whole way of marketing and selling is still relatively new, which means there isn’t much to show just yet in terms of company experiences in using it. However, there are some key points that can be taken from the Sidekick launch, which will be helpful for anyone thinking of moving into this area:
Be open to experiment
As it’s an emerging field, everything is new and there are no hard and fast rules about anything. The basics will still apply, though, so you’ll need to develop buyer personas and plot out your customer journey (in this case the user journey).
Ask yourself, what makes someone start using your product? Why do they keep using it? What problem do you solve and how can you best explain this? Where can you meet your potential users? All these issues are important questions to address when putting together your content strategy.
Try to keep an open mind and put different ideas to the test. Assume an outcome but don’t expect it. Experiment and track everything you can, then analyze and interpret the results. Make new assumptions, tweak the system and repeat the process. It may put you out of your comfort zone at first, but that’s ok. Most businesses using the B2C2B model are entrepreneurial, so experimenting will already be second nature.
Work with your KPIs
You’ve got to know your numbers. Not just any figures, those that are truly important to the business. If you have a growing user base, great! But what’s causing it? If it’s because marketing is doing such a great job at bringing in new users that the drop off rate is being overshadowed, then you need to know about it. Check which of the KPIs you can influence, with what kind of content and at what stage. Go back to the previous point and again experiment. Ensure you know which KPIs are the most important ones to monitor.
Data, data, data
Data can be incredibly valuable for a business and it can be worth missing out on some monetary aspect in return for it. Many companies, most notably Google, understand this and are masters at it. In Google’s case, the most important product they have available is their search function. They spend an enormous amount of money and resources getting it right, as they know that if they drop the ball then their competitors will be hot on their heels. Yet it’s absolutely free to use. The data they gather is invaluable and it is this that allows them to sell their other products (advertising), which makes the whole thing possible.
Providing a smooth onboarding process for new users is important for any product but particularly so in a freemium model, as you need to retain your users. Only then will there be a chance of converting them and their team or company, to become a premium user. A well thought out drip campaign, which uses your best content to help them with anything they might need in the first few weeks, is going to be a key element. It’s probably just as important to think about this process, as it is to think through the product itself. Once the honeymoon period is over, make sure you send users posts to retain that contact and keep them in the loop about any new developments.
Make the experience personal, in every way you can. So, within the product itself but also in any accompanying materials and other marketing collateral. Thanks to technology that is now available at your fingertips, this has become far easier to do and most people will expect it.
And there you have it. While there is still much to learn about the B2C2B business model, it is an exciting one to watch. What is likely is that it will soon break out of the current IT SaaS bubble and start being applied to other types of products as well. So, watch this space.