Marketing Automation for B2C vs B2B – What’s the Difference?

Marketing automation is an incredibly powerful way to engage customers but marketing automation has a reputation of being expensive, clunky, and challenging to manage and execute. But tides have changed. We’re witnessing a monumental shift because marketing automation has become easier to afford, scale, and implement. In this guide, we’ll explore how B2C and B2B brands use marketing automation in different ways to drive epic results.

Chapter 1

What marketing automation is

In the simplest terms, marketing automation refers to software that automatically sends emails or email campaigns to customers and prospects, behind the scenes, based on rules you define.  

Marketing automation uses “customer journeys” that start with a trigger – like signing up for a newsletter, making a purchase, or sharing an email. These journeys are designed to be more relevant to the recipient than just a mass email blast. They’re easier for marketers to execute since journeys are set up once. This style of email marketing is also valuable because it creates an ongoing conversation with your subscribers and customers, and builds brand loyalty. But the bottom line is really the bottom line – marketing automation generates ROI, revenue, and results.

A brief look at history

Today, it more commonplace for marketers to use marketing automation to send personalized, timely, and relevant messages because people become more engaged with your brand, and they tend to spend more money. But it wasn’t always like this. Historically, these tools have been hard to use and reserved for big companies. They used to be very expensive, hard to use and difficult to implement. Sure, there are still the behemoth marketing cloud software solutions for the Targets, Fords, and Intels of the world, but now automation is much more accessible for medium-sized businesses.

Marketing automation first came on the scene in the early 90s but really started coming into its own around 1999 when some big-name automation vendors started to become players. The growing success of these first vendors and the increasing popularity of cloud-based tools gave rise to a slew of new vendors in mid-2000s.

Today, we are all familiar with marketing-focused, cloud-based activities like A/B testing, landing pages, and webinars, and they’ve become a trusted part of a marketer’s technology stack.

The age of acquisition and behemoths

Another important chapter for marketing automation occurred between 2010 and 2014 when over $5.5 billion worth of acquisitions were made in the industry. This led to marketing automation platforms being controlled by a few big behemoths which resulted in the technology being accessible mostly only to big brands with the large budgets and teams to match.

Today the marketing technology landscape has exploded and keeps on growing. Check out this supergraphic from Scott Brinker from

With more and more companies entering the market, the technology has become more accessible for mid-size businesses. The technology has become easier to use, accessible, and affordable.  

How B2B & B2C companies have adopted marketing automation

There’s benefit after benefit to using marketing automation. In fact, B2C marketers who are using automation have seen conversion rates as high as 50% according to eMarketer Email Marketing Benchmarks report.


With numbers like this, you’d think everyone would be using marketing automation – but they aren’t, and here’s why.

If you look at adoption by company annual revenue, it’s highest at the top which is your Fortune 1000 companies. After that, it trails off— severely. But there are millions of other businesses out there who want to see the same growth and return. 

At the top, you have mega-vendor marketing clouds, and at the bottom, you have less sophisticated, mass email marketing tools with basic triggers or autoresponders. Definitely not robust enough for modern marketers who need to drive KPIs and grow their businesses.

Mega-vendor marketing cloud suites are known for being challenging to implement and maintain. They require time, money, and massive resources.


At a previous F1000 company, we spent $1M, one year, and had a team of 10 people to implement one of these systems,” said Kraig Swensrud, CMO at Campaign Monitor. “It was a total nightmare, and no one even knew how to send a simple email campaign.

Now that we understand how companies have adopted marketing automation, we’ll discuss how B2C and B2B businesses use marketing automation to achieve their business goals.

Chapter 2

B2B vs B2C marketing automation business processes

B2C and B2B companies all use marketing automation to send more personalized, timely, and relevant messages that result in higher engagement and revenue. No matter what tool or platform is used, marketing automation can be distilled to three core components: triggers, rules, and content.

3 core components to marketing automation

If these are the three core components, then what is the difference between the way B2C brands use marketing automation and the way B2B companies use it?

The focus and tactics of B2B vs B2C companies, and how they use marketing automation are considerable, yet they have similar conversion-focused goals.

Similarities include:

  • To build their brands by sending relevant messages to their subscriber lists and to stay top-of-mind
  • To get the metrics that tell the story of what’s working, and what’s not, for more successful future campaigns
  • Both want to increase efficiency
  • Both want to increase revenue

But there are clear differences:

  • B2C focuses on personalized, highly relevant messages whereas B2B campaigns are often more mass-oriented
  • B2C is all about the customer journey and where the individual is in his or her unique process, whereas B2B is more about education and value-sharing for a large group and focused on nurturing a lead through a sales funnel

Now that we know some of similarities and difference, let’s explore how B2C brands use marketing automation to drive real business results.

How B2C marketing automation works

Growing B2C businesses like Rip Curl, Birchbox, Jaybird, Virgin Experience Days, Nissan and more use marketing automation to power revenue generating campaigns that directly impact their bottom line.

These leading B2C companies use marketing automation to send automated emails to customers based on time or action-based triggers that create instantly engaging and compelling messages that drive revenue with every send.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

VIP offers

Sephora, a cosmetics company, uses marketing automation to automatically send a series of special offers to their best customers once they’ve reached VIP status, which is triggered by a spending threshold.

Using automation, they take their customers on a personalized journey that is tailored to each individual subscriber’s behavior. For instance, if a customer reaches VIP status they receive a different email than a customer who doesn’t reach the spend threshold.

Sephora then continues that journey based on how the customer engages with each message.

Birthday offers

Jewelry retailer Monica Vinader uses marketing automation to offer customers tailored, product suggestions and send special birthday greetings. The retailer triggers this email based on birthdate data that they collect in their checkout process.


Nissan auto dealerships use marketing automation to email new car buyers a service reminder six months after their car purchase. Then, the customer journey continues based on whether or not a service was booked, and follow up messaging can be sent out (with an additional reminder, or an offer for another service, such as a tire rotation.)

What makes B2C marketing automation so effective

The reason marketing automation is so effective for B2C marketers is this: marketing automation pairs personalization and automation to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time, which generates more revenue with every send.

Data shows that personalized emails are 26% more likely to be opened and that they can produce a 760% increase in email revenue. B2C marketers need to get their subscribers highly personalized, relevant content at exactly the right moment–and marketing automation helps do that.

It’s also important to keep in mind that growing  B2C brands aren’t looking to bust their budgets but want powerful marketing automation. They want automation that is simple to use and integrates with systems they already leverage including e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Magento, and WooCommerce. In a recent survey of over 500 marketers, they resoundingly answered that they want products that can be set-up and used by people with minimal technical skills.

Marketers at B2C brands can power incredible customer journeys and deliver massive revenue back to their businesses without having to create and send each and every email. All while delivering an excellent customer experience. That combination is priceless for busy B2C marketers who wear a lot of hats and juggle competing priorities on a daily basis.

Now let’s examine how B2B brands use marketing automation.

How B2B brands use marketing automation

B2B marketers use marketing automation in different ways. Often times, B2B marketers aren’t striving for a personalized experience that’s as tailor-made as we saw in the B2C examples–they’re usually trying to provide value to leads, partners, and to educate and onboard users.

Unlike B2Cs, there’s not necessarily a need for ultra-personalized content, the objective is to keep things more broadly applicable for a wide range of recipients. B2B companies also use marketing automation to send campaign-based emails that are aimed at driving free trials, sign-ups, onboarding, and ultimately, revenue.

B2B companies also often tend to send education and event-based automated emails that can be sent out to subscribers to encourage attendance and build awareness around events.

How and why marketing automation works for B2B companies

82% of marketers turn to best of breed tools when it comes to marketing automation according to our recent survey data. So, instead of working with a single vendor or cloud-based solution for all of their marketing needs, they’re finding the best resource for the specific need–whether it’s email marketing, landing pages, or social media–you name it.

Once they find the tool that meets their needs, they’re getting their automated processes set up so that they can regularly stay in touch with their contacts and keep them up to date with company news, events, and educational resources that help them get the most out of all they have to offer.

Chapter 3

Why B2C and B2B need different marketing automation tools

Do B2C and B2B use marketing automation differently? Yes, they do–but both get incredible benefits that help improve efficiency, revenue, and keep their businesses top-of-mind.

The power of marketing technology is in its ability to meet the specific needs of every organization so the reality that growing B2C and B2B organizations need different tools to achieve results is no surprise.

Today’s marketers need to be agile, testing their approach and changing direction quickly, to keep up with customer expectations. They want the flexibility to choose the tools they need — for customization, personalization, and automation.

Despite the lofty promises of big marketing suites, the future of automation for growing B2C brands is a well-curated marketing stack of hand-picked technologies that each does its job impeccably well.

As we move toward a world in which more and more is automated, marketers need automation technology that delivers on its promise. That day is here. With sophisticated, yet easy to use tools at our fingertips, every marketer now has the ability to create powerful customer journeys that can accomplish many outcomes from nurturing a lead, to reminding a consumer that they left an item in their shopping cart, to welcoming a new subscriber to an email list. The benefits to using marketing automation for both B2C and B2B companies of all kinds is undeniable.

There’s never been a better time to be a marketer.

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