More and more, our lives as consumers are informing and setting our expectations as to how the experience in B2B should work.
However, the nature of the relationships and transactions is still fundamentally different between the two – and understanding those differences can help you reach your business goals.
Here are eight ways in which B2B is different from B2C:
Marketing for B2B companies is more targeted. B2B companies are not typically marketing to millions of people; some choose only a few accounts to pursue. Lead generation may also come through partnering with other companies.
- More about marketing
Marketing for B2B companies is more likely to focus on product features/functionality and how these can provide a return on investment for their customers by solving a business problem.
B2C tends to be more emotional and marketing is more oriented around the benefits of a product. Simplicity of messaging is critical here, in that you may only have a few seconds of the consumer’s attention, so being clear and direct is critical in any consumer marketing.
More and more, business customers are expecting the same quality of experience that they get in their personal lives – while at the same time working within a tight budget. For marketing campaigns, companies need to decide which business problems they are trying to solve: saving time or money, providing high-quality products or offering superior levels of service.
In B2B transactions, sales cycles tend to be much longer – it may be months or even years before a sale takes place.
Usually, the purchasing decision is not made by a single buyer. Often, a buying group or committee is involved. Sometimes, a parent company makes a decision (perhaps after consulting with one or more subsidiaries) that then affects all entities under it.
- More about the sales process
B2B decision-making tends to be more fact based. While a consumer may buy a magazine at a checkout counter on impulse, B2B buyers typically conduct significant research on:
- what they need in products and services
- the options offered by different vendors
- service level agreements
- discounts and payment terms and conditions
- reputation of the company
- and much more
Consumers typically pay a pre-established price, and they pay for the product or service immediately. Businesses may negotiate different prices and customization options, and they receive an invoice after a purchase is made.
B2C transactions tend to be quick and efficient, with minimal interaction between buyer and seller. In B2B, a long-term relationship is more often established. However, B2B sales have an air of “what have you done for me lately?” and companies can’t afford to become complacent.
- More about customer behavior
Discerning buying patterns is more difficult in B2B. For example, a company may purchase in large quantities to satisfy an expanding business, and that may fulfill the need for several years. Then, however, rather than simply expanding the volume with its current provider, the company starts shopping around, reconsidering other vendors to see what has changed in the marketplace since the last time the company was in the market for this type of product.
A B2B manufacturer may sell its products to another business to incorporate into its products, or to distributors who then sell to other downstream businesses. A B2C company will typically rely on a retailer or another channel to ensure its products are readily available for consumers to purchase.
- More about supply/value chain
In each situation, multiple entities are usually involved, and each can affect the experience the customer has. A poor retail experience can have a halo effect on the brand, even though the manufacturer has executed the parts of the process it controls perfectly.
B2B companies are more likely to be judged on the customer service that end users experience – even though that is provided through distributors, VARs or channel partners. This is one reason a customer listening program is necessary – to better understand the strengths and weaknesses through the supply and value chain to the customer.
The more links in this chain, the more opportunity exists for something to go wrong – and the greater the need to isolate those pain points quickly and eradicate them permanently.
B2B Customer Relationship Management
Managing customer relationships is usually formalized in B2B companies. An Account Manager (AM/KAM/SAM) may “own” the relationship with individual customers. AMs keep tabs on their portfolio of accounts over a standard period (usually every 30, 60 or 90 days). They develop account plans and arrange things like quarterly business reviews or top-to-top meetings.
- More about CRM
Walker helps AMs by bringing together data points to give account teams a holistic view of the customer experience. This helps to make the decision-making process regarding their accounts more effective. Two ways Walker assists AMs are:
- Conducting journey mapping and designing customer experience architectures. Out of these activities, we bring transform data points into insights and actions, which together help companies focus on the customer and their experiences.
- Embedding data insights from individual customers into the account planning process.
B2B CRM is also much more likely to employ software to keep track of individual relationships, and it’s likely to be used by both marketing and sales. For example, a soft drink distributor will keep close track of relationships with restaurants and grocery stores, whereas with consumers they may work to foster brand awareness and loyalty, but typically more at a segment level, not at the individual consumer level.
Service and support
Service and support in B2B relationships is often (or at least strives to be) much more personalized. Customers may have dedicated teams that provide support and have varying degrees of service levels and guarantees that must be met to fulfill their contractual obligations.
- More about service and support
In some cases, B2B customers may not even know they are receiving support. One technology company’s products contain a “call home” feature that lets the manufacturer know if they have trouble. The manufacturer can remotely maintain the equipment and keep it running – without any effort from the customer.
In B2B situations, often the customer expects to hear back after giving feedback – and expects to see change happen. B2C feedback is more likely to be anonymous, or may be provided through social media channels.
Many consumers take to social media to vent, complain or otherwise spread the word of a negative experience or interaction with a company.
However, in the B2B space, this typically doesn’t get enough traction to make a difference. Therefore, complaints are typically dealt with via more traditional channels such as personal relationships, support centers or in communities.
- More about social media
One way social media is used in B2B is to see what your customers’ customers are saying about your customer – and how you can help. For instance, a company that provides billing and payment software might see that a communications provider’s customers aren’t happy with the bills they receive each month. The company can take this feedback to improve the billing experience it can offer to the end consumer and proactively present the communications provider with an upgraded product to address their business challenge.
Many metrics exist to assess the levels of loyalty that can be exhibited by customers toward a company. One of the most common metrics in use today is the Net Promoter Score, or NPS. NPS shines in its simplicity, in that the results from one question are used as a key metric. The typical question is, “How likely would you be to recommend <COMPANY> to a friend or colleague, with a 0 rating being unlikely, and a 10 rating considered most likely?”
- More about CX metrics
This tends to work more effectively in B2C due to the notion that it can be much easier to recommend a product or service as a consumer than it is as a part of a business. Some companies prohibit their employees from making recommendations. In addition, a business decision-maker may view a relationship with a good provider as a competitive advantage and would not want to jeopardize that advantage by recommending to another company. Lastly, as consumers, it can be much easier to understand the benefits to another consumer of using a product. In a B2B situation, many other factors may contribute to the effectiveness of a product or service to another company. Therefore, NPS may not always be the best predictor of future success in a B2B environment.
Other metrics may have a better ability to predict financial success in B2B. Measures of loyalty that incorporate a behavioral and attitudinal component have aligned well, but even those that measure the overall experience, overall satisfaction or willingness to start over with the same company can be more indicative of future successes than results from NPS.