May 14

B2B vs. B2C: What Does It Really Mean?

Content Marketing


I’ve been having an identity crisis of sorts lately.

I’ve spent my career working in B2B. This blog and the LinkedIn group to which it’s connected are all about B2B lead generation.

The problem is, I don’t know if B2B is an accurate acronym anymore. David Meerman Scott, in this interview, insists that B2B and B2C are essentially the same: “Ultimately it’s people doing business with people…I think a lot of business-to-business companies forget that and they think they’re selling to Xerox and IBM and Cisco. No, they’re selling to the people at Xerox and IBM and Cisco.”

In contrast, Kristin Zhivago, who will be one of our keynote speakers at MarketingSherpa’s B2B Summits this fall, points out that B2B and B2C are as similar as a hysterical Justin Bieber fan and a Fortune 50 CEO. Read more in her recent Revenue Journal blog.

Here’s the paradox: I think Scott and Zhivago are both right.

B2B and B2C both have a common ground: relationships. But I don’t mean the “let’s play a round of golf” or “BFF” kind of relationship. I mean relationships that create professional trust, where “you’re in sync with your customer,” as Zhivago puts it. After all, there’s just no room in anyone’s budget for a bad purchasing decision; jobs may hinge on solutions selected. That’s why marketing has to be more targeted than ever. We must identify precisely who our customers are. We must know how to speak to them and give them the information they want and need in a way that makes them pay attention and take the right action.

Consider this just-published MarketingSherpa case study.

In short, Central Desktop, a B2B software company, launched a cloud-based project management platform. They determined their target market was executives in top advertising agencies and their affiliates. They developed a campaign encompassing email, direct mail, landing pages, and social media that were “in sync” with the mindset of this target market and engaged them in a conversation carried across multiple channels. (If you want to learn more about how to do the same, read this article.) It ultimately ended with a phone call from a sales professional to the warm leads. (This is where I would advise having a professional teleprospector make the initial phone call to qualify an opportunity. This will increase the productivity of sales professionals whose time is more valuable. Dave Green explains more about this here.) Nonetheless, the campaign resulted in an increase in pipeline verging on 30 percent.

But here’s the point: their effort wasn’t B2B or B2C. It was B2CMO and B2VP.

Certainly, broad terms like B2B and B2C have their place – like big networking groups such as the B2B Lead Roundtable. But they’re not going to define my company’s marketplace, and they shouldn’t define yours either. Do you agree? I welcome your thoughts.

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. Hi Brian, I’ve worked in classical pure B2B and in B2C and now in a role that spans both. I have always held to the principle that B2B and B2C are fundamentally different. Recently I’ve come to realise that isn’t necessarily the case. I think a lot of it comes down to the industry or company one works in and what you are selling. Classical B2B is about selling to people who are often not the immediate consumer of the product or service, more the sepcifier on behalf of someone else in their company or on behalf of their customer. This then means that their needs in relation to your product or service are different from a consumer who is specifier and end user. And this is what it comes down to, not your sales process, not your channel structure but the motivations, needs and desires of your customer. I now work in the mobile phone business and we have to flex to a number of different sales situations. Our consumer customers (i.e. using the phone primarily for communicating with friends and family, using apps, listening to music, etc.) are very different from our large corporate business customers (providing mobile communications to their empoloyees almost exclusively for business calls). However, there is a group in the middle comprising self-employed people or small businesses who use their phones across both their business and personal lives. They want a watered-down version of what a large corporate wants in terms of billing as they have the same accounting and tax regime to work within but thay also download ringtones, phone their friends and family, play games and look a lot like a true consumer. My summary is that it’s the customer who decides what is an appropriate sales model, whether we reach them through social media or put on the sharp suits and arrive in their parking lot or pretty much anything between these at any time in the sales cycle. So yes, there are differences but you have to understand your customer and blend the use of what we think of as B2C and B2B approaches as appropriate.

  2. Hi Brian! I believe that B2B is different from B2C. The former is business between your company and Xerox or IBM as a whole, as per your example. The decision comes from the people but based mostly on the budget and the needs of more than one department in the corporation. A sales person should use a totally different marketing strategy and sales tools to win a deal. B2C would probably be more of direct retail sales, including online, where consumers are mostly personal users. Tools such as Audience Builder, would be a more appropriate option to use to learn the dynamic behavior of a specific prospect using segmented data gathered from various sites. There’s a thin line that actually exists between them now, and the information you wrote here provides a lot of inputs to consider when planning an effective approach.

  3. Great post. I’ve been thinking the same thing about B2B and B2C lately, especially as many businesses’ clients are actually other businesses, rather than your average member of the public. That notion gets trickier when it comes to marketing, as while some companies are booming on social networking sites others are not, perhaps because they want to be seen more professional to their business clients and will try to appear less ‘human’, which is a trait the public do not relish. They wish to see a human business, filled with real people that they can trust and work with. It is all very complicated these days, half of it seems to be down to people always wanting to define things into such categories of B2B and B2C while other issues seem to be on how exactly to bring across your company to your clients/public/fellow businesses, let’s all just do ‘business’ shall we?

  4. The way I see it is that the terms B2B, B2C, B2CMO, and the variations of them are similar to how we describe the way the network operates, basically ascribing a different protocol that operates invisibly and underneath the tangible, hands-on world of communicating with a customer because at the end of the day, our strategy is largely dictated by how we use our CRM platform. It kind of depends on how you have structured yourself, and that determines the course of action and approach by the sales team. In social media, it’s still the wild wild west, so maybe one needs the terminology to help focus their approach.

    1. Rich you bring up a perspective that makes sense. The endpoints on this network that I’m referring too are about developing relationships that connect to customers objectives.

  5. I think what we’re seeing is a shift in the thinking around B2B strategy. We’re seeing more companies leveraging B2C tactics to attract the actual people – not a lifeless account name. Perhaps a better way of looking at it is B2B is really a collection of B2C relationships – which means the B2B strategy needs take the B2C approach into account.

    1. @dannmarty Yes! It is about relationships. Recent research done by MarketingSherpa (part of MECLABS) shows that there’s somewhere between 5 to 25 people involved in a “typical” b2b sale. So it’s about developing relationships with the right people inside the right companies.

  6. There is definitely a difference between B2C and B2B just like there is a definite difference between men and women. And yet there are also similarities as Mr. Carroll pointed out quite well. Your message helps me focus on the similarities and to THINK about that.

    Regarding the differences, in the B2C sale the purchase is more personal. This affords more emotion to be used in the sales process. The B2C often has less layers of decision makers in the buying process also.
    Good blog thanks

    Steve Counts

  7. I think the similarities between B2B and B2C are even especially strong in certain kinds of B2B and B2C scenarios:

    1. For considered purchases (in B2C, for example, buying a house or a car)

    2. For decisions involving more than one person (again, the house or car example, when there are couples or families).

    In both cases (B2B and B2C), the potential buyers need different information at different points in time. So, for example, when you buy a car, you may want to read reviews that cover reliability before you start test driving particular models. In other words, there’s a sequence of thought that occurs over time that many B2B and some B2C
    marketers must understand and accommodate.

    And in both cases there’s a dynamic in the decision process. One person usually has more authority than the others. The locus of that authority may change from one type of decision to another. And the individuals influence one another.

  8. B2B and B2C labels are oversimplified distinctions – and not very good at that.

    I think the labels were developed to help define the different sales processes of the two groups.

    The B2B sales process often involves a sales team that reaches out to the target audience. But as you know, there are many models for that – outside direct sales, inside telephone sales, reseller sales, website sales, etc.. And the strategies for each of these models vary a great deal as well.

    The B2C sales process has traditionally involved a customer making a purchase at a store.

    But there are too many B2C companies that don’t fit that model. Many are structured more like a B2B company with an outbound sales team reaching out to a target audience.

    That said, I do think there are clear and important distinctions to be made in defining (and understanding) business audiences vs. consumer audiences.

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