03 Feb Should B2C be more like B2B?
Every day there is another article, blog post or speaker talking about how we in B2B marketing need to be more like our B2C counterparts when it comes to online selling. I agree with this idea to a point, but I also see more B2C companies start to adopt more B2B strategies, especially in e-commerce.
Yes – B2B needs to adopt the B2C experience
When it comes to the user experience, customer service and information transparency, I am in full agreement that B2B can learn from our B2C counterparts. Traditionally, B2B companies have operated at the account level vs. at the more personal contact level. The relationship between seller and buyer was managed by the sales rep, and the transaction details were done from the company perspective.
Many make the argument that the buyer in a business is different than one consuming for personal use—one is buying using logic and the other emotion. I find that definition very narrow and believe that today’s business buyer uses logic and emotion (often fear of the kind of impact a purchase may have on the business) when making buying decisions, People are people, and some simply get the opportunity to purchase materials and services as part of their job to keep their business running efficiently.
B2B customers today are consumers, which used to be a no-no label within an organization such as a wholesale distributor. It is up to those in charge of the customer experience to drive every transaction to deliver the complex, wholesale relationship in a retail-like transaction.
But what can B2C learn from B2B?
In B2C, or more consumer environments, many companies have built their e-commerce sites to be as easy-to-purchase as possible, often employing features like generic checkouts. This allows for the quick transaction and research has shown that many customers will abandon their shopping path when presented with a gate forcing them to create an account.
However, when you compare the above experience with that of a B2B site, you will find that they have traditionally long term, repeat customers that often have specialized pricing and contracts. Forrester research has shown that loyalty to your business is stronger when a customer has moved from a traditional sales model to include additional channels such as online.
In B2B, relationships are built and maintained over a period of time and you have the opportunity to learn the buyer’s tendencies over time. Combine the personalized relationship with the deep order history that you have in your ERP system, and you have a scenario that is ripe for a marketer to build a campaign, or a series of campaigns to meet the needs of the buyer at each stage of their buying cycle.
Examples of B2C doing B2B type activities
We are seeing more traditionally B2C companies taking on characteristics of B2B by employing tactics to get their customers to login to get additional benefits, such as loyalty and membership programs.
Best Buy has been working hard to re-focus their business on omni-channel since Amazon and others impacted their sales with e-commerce. By focusing on leveraging their stores and their employees, they are betting on providing value beyond the transaction. They are betting that if they can get their customers to trust their employees as advisors, the customer will make the purchase with them. However, they realize that this must be done in an omni-channel experience, allowing the customer to interact with the Best Buy brand when and where they choose.
I find it interesting that so many speak to Amazon when it comes to the experience of an e-commerce site. The actual layout and design is hardly efficient and it isn’t really set-up to browse or shop. Where they have succeeded is making the transaction as simple as possible, from one-click purchasing (and same-day delivery in certain markets) to building out their Prime subscription program beyond just free shipping. Here they have created a B2B like arrangement where certain customers receive additional benefits in exchange for a long-term, repeat business relationship.
A recent article by the Harvard Business Review identified why Nordstrom has been so successful with their digital strategy. There are many reasons, but I would like to highlight the point-of-sale system that included personal book software so that salespeople could track individual customer requests and needs online. They are combining the online experience with the customized and personalized relationship that they have with their salespeople. Relationships forged by sales are still critical in their e-commerce business.
So should B2C be more like B2B and should B2B be more like B2C? The answer is yes. As the consumer experience further blends between personal and business activities, it is critical that as marketers we hone in on the best practices of both and apply them to our strategy of delivering real value to our customers at the point and location where they are demanding it.