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B2B vs B2C: Different Approaches In Online Sales and Marketing

Benjamin Hunting
September 10, 2019

4 minute read

Comparing B2B vs B2C online sales and marketing can at first seem merely like a difference in scale. Tempting as it is to view a consumer-based campaign as a scaled-up business-to-business strategy — or vice-versa — the reality is that it’s not the number of customers that informs key elements of a plan, but rather who is being sold to, what their expectations are, and the service levels they expect.

What are the most important differences between B2B and B2C? Let’s take a look into the nuances that define each of these separate approaches, and examine both how they diverge and what common ground they may share.

Who is the customer and how do they behave?

Defining both B2B and B2C is fairly self-explanatory, but the mechanisms behind how each operates adds further understanding to their respective roles in online commerce.

Business-to-business (B2B) operations are aimed at attracting an institutional customer, which means the buying process typically involves multiple decision-makers, a list of product or service needs that must each be met prior to purchase, and negotiations about pricing that can hinge on things like the size of the order, delivery requirements, and the location of the client.

Business-to-consumer (B2C) processes are aimed in a very different direction. With the end goal of securing a purchase from a buyer capable of making a purchase decision on a fairly uniformly-priced item at any moment, friction-free interaction becomes the order of the day. The ability to “one-click” an item into a shopping cart or checkout combined with funnels that send traffic to popular products and services, as well as quick online payment processing, are all emphasized. Much more effort is spent on presenting for-sale items and services in an appealing manner, as well as in attracting traffic to an online storefront.

Customer retention, buying habits, and cost

There are important divisions between B2B vs B2C ecommerce that go deeper than how products are presented and pricing is negotiated.

Business-to-business customers are can be expensive to acquire, for numerous reasons. If a company is serving a specialized niche, for example, there may not be many potential clients out there to begin with, which can make securing one a difficult and time-consuming task. Whatever the case may be, corporations try to avoid the cost and hassle of having a revolving door for suppliers.

B2B operations may also require a certain level of sales within a given timeframe — quarterly, yearly — which makes it necessary to target high-revenue customers capable of making large orders. This is especially true if the buying cycle is an extended one, either due to the cost or type of product or service being offered.

As a result, it’s vitally important for a B2B organization to retain customers once they have made an initial purchase. To this end, strategies that emphasize service, follow-up from sales staff, and support for the product or service that has been sold are important components of any online platform.

B2C sales may be less focused on customer retention as B2B. While it is still an important aspect of ecommerce in this segment, there are multitudes more customers to reach, and in many cases a substantially higher number of competitors seeking them out. Average transaction prices are also an order of magnitude smaller, which makes individual buyers less valuable than the overall number of customers.

As a result, many of the elements mentioned above — advertising, funneling, and enhanced customer experience in terms of the actual B2C online buying process — are considered crucial. Also important? That the consumer can understand the product in question, especially its benefits, within the short amount of time they may have to spend on an ecommerce site before deciding to seek out a similar item on the site of a competitor.

Choosing the right tools

Clearly, the tools required to support an in-depth, customer-focused support strategy as found in B2B vs B2C and its churn-friendly customer acquisition approach and seamless point-of-sale transaction processing are going to be fairly different. Moving beyond their functionality, how these online tools are implemented in an organization are also dissimilar.

Consider an online storefront marketing a product like books, groceries, or vehicle rentals directly to consumers. Installing a software solution that allows for scheduling, inventory display and checkout, and payment processing is largely a straightforward back-end play, with few aspects that require direct intervention from company employees during the course of normal operations.

On the B2B side, however, ecommerce software is typically required to offer employees the ability to follow through on their sales and customers on a regular and on-going basis. Not only that, but it can usually handle variable pricing and discounting, customizable products and services at the individual client level, and then track all of this information in a way that can be analyzed and presented in a meaningful way. The implementation and training required to use this type of solution tends to be more complex, as is the level of integration required with existing business systems.

Focus on the facts

When comparing B2B vs B2C online sales and marketing, it’s important to consider these three questions:

  • What products and services are being sold?
  • Who are those products and services being marketed to?
  • What tools are required to service those particular needs?

Examining each of the above will provide the insight required to understand the key differences between these two types of ecommerce.

Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting has covered science, medicine, and technology for a wide range of publications, and has also been published in the Journal of Medical Economics. He coded his first computer program at the age of 8 on a Commodore VIC-20 and still has the audio cassette he saved it on hanging around somewhere in his office.
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