Depending on when you attended—or not—your first college marketing course, you may associate the ever-present marketing mix with the concept’s founder, Neil Borden, who likened marketing elements to a recipe. Or you think of Jerome McCarthy, who truncated Borden’s 12 marketing elements from the 1950s into The Four Ps–product, price, place and promotion—in 1960.
Or maybe your reference is Philip Kotler, who described the marketing mix as the “art and science of choosing target markets and getting, keeping and growing customers through creating, delivering, and communicating superior customer value.” You might even associate the marketing mix with Seth Godin, who amended the marketing mix in 1999’s “Cluetrain Manifesto” when he suggested markets consist of humans, not demographics, and humans have two-way conversations that sound…human.
What didn’t change through time, or in this brief history lesson, is that marketers and companies succeed when selected audiences find solutions that provide value to them. The core of the 4Ps and the marketing mix remain steadfast. Tactics are the only things that have really changed as media options, devices and consumption choices evolve.
But all these marketing gurus were addressing B2C scenarios. How similar and relevant is the marketing mix for B2B? After all, selling business to business requires a mindset that differs from just offering products directly to consumers.
Ok, Remind Me Why the Marketing Mix is Important?
For simplicity’s sake, let’s say the marketing mix is a list of elements that help companies make sound decisions when it comes to strategies and advertising efforts. By looking at the various categories of the traditional marketing mix—product, price, place and promotion—businesses can make sharper, more profitable decisions in numerous areas.
The B2B Marketing Mix
For B2B, now consider three more—people, process and physical evidence. Each one is key to evaluating how well a business handles specific aspects of operations and marketing. By concentrating on one, key components of another could be missed. But by having a well-rounded approach to all seven, a comprehensive overview of successfully reaching a target market in the long term is achievable.
Let’s look at each closely through the B2B lens.
It’s simply what you sell to customers. In a B2B environment, it’s a product or service that the purchasing company or business perceives as valuable. To achieve success in this element of the marketing mix, it is important to have a product with merit and substance, either tangible or intangible, that offers customers or potential customers a solution to a specific problem.
When evaluating the product aspect of the marketing mix, consider problems related to the life cycle of the item. No exceptions exist to the product life cycle. Every product follows the cycle of introduction, growth, maturity and decline. Some products move through the cycle within a few years, while other products may take decades. Today, the swift implementation and adoption of technology are shortening product life cycles considerably. Now more than ever, it’s important to understand where a product is and how to successfully market and sell it.
Also, identify the bugs or issues with a product, or service. What would a decisionmaker need to know about the item or service before making a B2B purchase? What features and benefits are attached to the product? If a product is fast or easy to install, what does that mean to the buyer or user? A time saver? B2B companies (understandably) get fixated on a product’s features, but benefits are the significant drivers within the product element.
If the product’s benefits aren’t clearly communicated, too many issues exist with the product or where it is in its life cycle, or the buying process is too complicated, sales will probably suffer.
Pricing plays an important role in determining a service or product’s perceived value, in building a brand and in ensuring long-term success for a business or company. Pricing is a business decision, not a marketing decision, but the price that’s set sends a message with which marketing must deal. Also, the meaning of a price is dependent on the context provided by messaging around it, which falls to marketing. Don’t conflate low price and value, as good value is not the same as low price. For example, a business product may cost a lot, but to those whose business depends on that product, the cost may carry little meaning because the product is of great value in the larger picture.
Pricing triggers first impressions and in some B2B product categories, buyers will form a perception of its quality and relevance as soon as they see the price. The first impression triggered by the price point will either make the rest of the offering irrelevant or it will be a biased assessment.
While price is certainly a consideration when it comes to individual consumers, price is always a key determinant in B2B behavior. In the end, the cost set for customers must dovetail with the perceived value. Generally, products priced competitively sell more, and products priced less competitively within a category or compared to competitors sell less.
By evaluating pricing, it’s easier to ensure this aspect of the marketing mix makes sense for what’s being sold.
When we discuss promotion in the B2B marketing mix, we’re referring to all activities that involve communicating with customers about a product or service and its benefits and features. A B2B company might do this with brochures, digital ads, email marketing, cold outreach, or talking with prospects at trade shows. The promotion used must communicate the value created for customers by the product, price, and place strategies.
Because it creates a channel for conversation with customers and prospects, a promotion plan is important to have in place to market products and services. While some B2B companies have full sales teams, not all of them do. If a company is small or falls into the latter category, it’s particularly important to decide the best way to get the word out about products.
Understanding the dynamics of target audiences is key to deciding which modes of promotion are likely to help connect with them, but this concept also fits under the place element in the marketing mix. The idea of place within the B2B marketing strategy doesn’t usually mean a physical location. Instead, it’s most often in reference to where business buyers look for the product or service, or how they get it.
If you’re trying to reach B2B buyers, then there’s a pretty good chance you wouldn’t use TikTok as a digital marketing strategy. Instead, you might consider LinkedIn or running Google ads as a smarter alternative. In some industries, you might even skip online marketing altogether, in lieu of personal selling.
It’s helpful to know how each subset of the market prefers to buy—on the internet, from a catalog, on the phone from a representative, using credit card or a service account. What intermediaries, such as distributors, will handle a product and will they promote the product independently? How much marketing coordination is needed—or desired?
All these components are part of the place element of the marketing mix for B2B companies.
The people portion of the B2B marketing mix doesn’t mean to whom you sell. It is your sales team. How you train your sales staff and the processes they use to get in touch with your target audiences is crucial to how successful you’ll be.
This is a key element in the B2B marketing mix and one you’ll have to reevaluate time and again to ensure things go as smoothly as possible. If your other marketing mix Ps are spot on, but your sales team is under-resourced, unskilled or poorly trained, the rest of it is pointless.
Process is essentially how your organization operates from the beginning of the buyer journey to the post-purchase phase. Reviewing and evaluating this category is vital, as it really gives you a clear picture of who you are as a company and where you might need to adjust to improve sales. Hot spots where B2B companies notice issues are often in customer service, with order fulfillment delays, and other specific issues associated with how the client can make a purchase and receive delivery in a timely manner. Transparency in delivery or account management, anyone?
7. Physical Evidence
The concept of physical evidence is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the B2B marketing mix, but it is one of the more crucial ones — especially as it relates to your marketing efforts.
Physical evidence is social proof that a product or service is the best choice for the customer’s needs. In a B2B environment, clientele want facts and data to support their purchases. Provide them with testimonials, case studies, or whatever else offers concrete evidence of why they should buy.
Conclusion: The Small Ways the B2B Marketing Mix Differs Make a Big Difference
The B2B marketing mix is an important part of any company’s overall strategy. By understanding how the seven parts/seven Ps contribute to sales and the customer buying process, it’s easier to see what’s working and what’s a challenge, to reduce issues in the long run. Also, remember that none of the elements of the marketing mix work in isolation. If you’re fixated on just one of the Ps or think any two of the seven are less important, the others could be wreaking havoc with your company’s success.