When it comes to business, comparing business-to-business (B2B) to business-to-consumer (B2C) is like comparing apples to oranges. That’s because they’re selling different kinds of products to different types of buyers, so the same method of selling just doesn’t work. This especially holds true when it comes to eCommerce. While B2Bs have been dipping their toes into the digital commerce pool, they still have not jumped in to the extent that B2C companies have. This may be due, in part, to a lack of eCommerce knowledge, a hesitation to vary from their traditional selling model or just an overall fear of change. Regardless of their reasons, eCommerce is proving to be a viable and profitable sales channel for B2Bs. But, unlike B2C eCommerce, the B2B channel needs to be developed and managed differently. To help understand why, let’s take a look at some of the main differences between B2B and B2C:
B2B companies sell to other businesses while B2Cs sell directly to consumers. Consumers are individuals who make a single purchase that is generally done quickly and triggered by emotion. In the B2B world, however, purchasing decisions are not made by a single person, which means more thought, effort and time is put into making each transaction.
This different type of customer means B2B companies:
- Tend to have fewer, but more significant customers who purchase over a longer period of time
- Require a deeper understanding into their customers’ shopping and purchasing behaviors
- Experience fewer sales transactions, but generate more sales
- Build more trust with their customers and, as a result, have a more loyal customer base
As we said, B2B purchases are not made in haste, and another reason for that is due to the nature and volume of the products. A typical B2B purchase can be very expensive if it involves buying machinery, business systems or large quantities of product. On the other hand, when a consumer makes a purchase, it’s usually smaller in scale and price.
With smaller, one-time purchases, B2C customers are able to transact with just a click of a button using a credit card or PayPal. But paying for B2B products is a bit more complex. These customers are placing continuous orders with companies so they want flexible payment terms and specific pricing based on their purchase volume and history.
Good customer support is key to any company’s success, but in the B2B environment, it is absolutely crucial. If a consumer has a question or problem, a B2C company representative can usually provide a resolution easily. But with a business customer, their support needs can be more involved. Due to the complexity of their purchases and the size of their accounts, they may have to interact with a customer service rep, sales rep or even billing to get answers.
In addition to having different department problem-solvers available, an online portal is another valuable B2B channel that offers support. Once logged in, customers can usually find answers to many of their general questions – like order status or purchasing history – when they have access to their account information. A portal helps customers get the immediate answers they need, and allows your staff to focus their efforts on the more complex requests.
The one constant: the user experience
Despite the noted differences, there is an element that both B2B and B2C companies have in common: all their customers want a great user experience. Regardless if you’re selling running shoes or raw materials, people want personalized interactions with relevant and consistent information across all your selling channels. B2Cs spearheaded the user experience years ago, and now customers expect B2Bs to provide the same types of features and interactions. A user experience is created with the different types of interactions, information and technology you offer:
The more you learn about your customers, the more you can provide a personalized experience for them. Understand their product needs and purchasing history so you can offer useful recommendations and solutions to their problems. Every interaction with them – whether it’s a visit to your site, an e-mail or a phone call – should be meaningful, timely and rewarding.
Websites do more than provide a place for your customers to transact. They also act as a resource for researching and comparing products. That’s why good content is so important. And by content, we mean more than just product specs, images and detailed descriptions. Become a revered source for industry information by providing useful videos, value-added white papers and helpful links for your buyers.
Customers want the ability to find and purchase your products anywhere, anytime, which means a mobile-friendly site is a must-have. Websites with a responsive design not only provide a smooth experience across devices, but offer consistent content across all sales channels. On-line chat is another extension of the omnichannel experience because it gives people a chance to ask questions any time of day.
Remember, just because your “apple” business sells products or services online like your B2C “orange” counterparts, that doesn’t mean you should operate the same. The B2B industry warrants a different strategy which includes alternate technology and support for customers. Do your research, know your customer and find an eCommerce partner to help you make your online business a “fruitful” endeavor.