What’s different about the B2B customer experience

August 16, 2010

Since most of PDC’s client base – and hence the subscription list for our Discoveries newsletter – is made up of B2B companies I thought it might be useful to catalogue the things that differentiate the customer experience challenges for those who sell to other businesses vs. those who sell to consumers. Here are some of the major differences that I’ve come up with so far: 

  • If you are in the B2B world, there are almost always multiple people across multiple functions who play major roles in evaluating, selecting, managing, paying for and using the products and services their company buys from you, particularly if you are selling big ticket items. So unlike the B2C company, if you are a B2B supplier there will be a host of individual “customers” in engineering, purchasing, quality, manufacturing, etc. with different needs and expectations whose individual experiences you need to  address to make any given sale. 
  • But on the other hand if you are a B2B company you probably have a substantially smaller number of potential buyers/customers in a given market segment to target than the typical B2C company – i.e. you often can actually get to know your customers personally and not just by consumer segment descriptors. For example Zebra Technologies (who we wrote about in our last post) targeted their portable bar coding and printing devices at ski resort operators to help them improve the movement and flow of skiers and got to intimately know their key customers like Vail’s IT director. Meanwhile, Apple Computer (who targets selling i-phones to the tens of thousands of skiers that visit Vail each year) only gets to know the vast majority of their customers as “personas” and “archetypes” and not as individuals. The smart B2B can (and should) tailor its product or service specifically to deliver the experiences wanted by that person they know directly.
  • The B2C company essentially only has their direct customer’s experience to impact but the B2B company can go after their customer’s customer’s experience or even their customer’s customer’s customer’s experience if they are far back in the value chain (we talked about this in more detail in a previous post). The B2B company’s product or service is typically experienced only indirectly by the final end-user consumer as its offering is incorporated/embedded in their direct customer’s product or service but it can make a big difference there (again think of Zebra Technologies skier info managing technology improving the skier’s direct experience by helping Vail improve the management of the flow of skiers through check-in and lift access). What this means is that the B2B company has potentially more levers to move to differentiate itself than the B2C companies it sells to.
  • The buy decision-making processes in most companies are typically fully structured and quantitative criteria-based – i.e. they are designed to be fundamentally rational and fact-driven rather than subjective and emotionally-driven. This means that the explicitly emotional experience laden sales pitch that drives consumer buying is not a fit in the B2B world. 
  • Finally, the financial component of the B2B customer experiences is inherently different from that of B2C because the business buyer expects to see a positive financial experience with a flow of $’s coming back into the company to go along with the flow of $’s going out to make the buy – i.e. the business buyer is always looking for a financial ROI experience from every cent they spend. The consumer on the other hand (with a few exceptions like services from financial investment companies or selling something on e-bay) is usually looking for a non-monetary experience as the ROI payoff from what they buy  

Now with all of the above said, in the end the B2B company is still doing exactly what the B2C company is doing, i.e. selling to people – human beings. And it is the human experience with all its depth and emotional components that we have been talking about in our posts and will continue to explore.  



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