Why B2B Is A Lot More B2C Than You Think

October 4, 2016 Geoffrey Walters

If you ask a group of B2B salespeople what differentiates their kind of business from B2C, the term you’re most likely to hear in response is ‘decision-maker.’ Decision makers loom large on the B2B horizon. Google ‘decision maker sales’ and you’ll find more than 5 million people offering to help you identify, locate and speak to decision makers.

This focus is understandable. Most people who control budget and can make purchase decisions are tough to reach. Salespeople can only sell to people who can buy, and that’s seldom the first person who picks up the phone.

And when salespeople do struggle past gatekeepers, overcome indifference and succeed in convincing one decision maker, the job has barely begun.  

In the age of consensus sales, an average 5.4 decision-makers have to give the green light to each purchase. Rather than speaking directly to a single person who buys for their own reasons, B2B salespeople must now address a group of decision makers with a complex web of motivations, concerns, objections.

It’s no wonder B2B reps place so much significance on impressing the decision-maker and see this aspect of their job as a huge contrast to B2C.

Different Strokes For Different Decision-Making Folks

‘One of our biggest challenges is the number of decision makers who need to weigh in on the purchase decision,’ Reid Tatoris, co-founder of Are You A Human, told Forbes. 'You really need to be able to tell your story several different ways to several different buyers in the prospect company.  

'Everybody has the ability to veto the deal, and they all have their own purchase factors to consider.'  

This is true, but with SaaS, long-term product success is key. The danger is that all this focus on the executives causes us to overlook the people who will make or break your product in the long-term: the prospect company’s staff. 

A Dangerous Obsession

This obsession leads B2B reps to believe that their efforts stand or fall depending on the decision of a company’s executives. 'If you ask sales professionals why a contract fell through or a deal unraveled,' writes Mick Hollison of Inc.com, 'they’ll often respond with these typical answers:  

  1. We couldn’t get executive approval.
  2. There was an issue with change management.
  3. There wasn’t proper governance.'

Yet perhaps this obsession with decision makers is obscuring the reality of how B2B decisions are made.

'These days, very few organizations work from the top down,' writes Hollison. 'Instead, the success of a company relies on the happiness and productivity of those just starting to climb the org chart.  

'In order for vendors to be truly successful, they not only need to meet the needs of decision makers, but ensure they are also effectively meeting the needs of the end users who will actually use their products and services.'  

In other words, they need to make sure there is customer satisfaction. And this isn’t the only way in which B2B is becoming more and more similar to B2C. Business customers are now used to the easy, straightforward consumption they experience when buying things privately online.  

Smart B2B companies are taking advantage of this by designing their service to mirror B2C ecommerce sites.  

Let’s firstly have a look at this trend.

Businesses Are Behaving More Like Individual Consumers

Ecommerce has been a game-changer in B2B. Not only has it set an example in terms of its B2C ease of use, but its major players have moved into the B2B market - and taken the lessons they learned in B2C with them.  

'The entry of ecommerce giants such as Alibaba and Amazon into B2B has accelerated the trend of B2B websites becoming more like B2C,' writes Marcia Kaplan on Practical Ecommerce. 'Online B2B sellers now recognize that the customer experience in a B2B environment is just as important as the customer experience for B2C.'  

B2B customers are now so used to the convenience of purchasing as an individual that they are demanding the same in business. They want comparison sites, product reviews, customer recommendations and the ability to assess and purchase products on the go.  

'[E]xpectations have grown and more B2B buyers require a simple ecommerce experience that mimics the consumer purchase model,' writes Kaplan. 'Detailed specifications and product descriptions are crucial.  

'Amazon Supply - the company’s B2B portal - offers free two-day shipping on orders above $50, detailed specifications, and an underutilized, but available, customer review section.'  

The resulting B2B ecommerce boom throws up some staggering figures. Research provider Frost & Sullivan predict that, by 2020, the B2B ecommerce market will be twice as large as the B2C market - $6.7 trillion versus $3.2 trillion, with the market in China alone contributing $2.1 trillion to that total.

Omni-Channel Trend

A 2014 report by Deloitte called The Omnichannel Opportunity: Unlocking The Power Of The Connected Customer found that a third of consumers uses multiple channels when completing a purchase. Decision makers are now taking that experience and using it when shopping for their own businesses - indeed, they’ve begun to see it as a necessity before a purchase can be made.  

'Business owners now expect that same omnichannel experience from other businesses,' writes Mikita Mikado of Business.com. 'In fact, a 2014 Forrester report shows B2B buyers expect to view product information, analyze activities, take delivery and return or exchange across all channels through one source.'  

That same Forrester report showed that 68% of those surveyed felt it was important to see purchasing activities across all channels. Meanwhile, 75% of international businesses said they would make a repeat purchase from businesses that offer exceptional omnichannel services.

Product Catalogs

B2C was well ahead of the game when it came to presenting their brand and products. They were doing it online a long time before many B2B companies caught on - but again, B2B seems to have learned its lesson.  

'Retailers have long mastered the art of window dressing, making their top products and brand visible and always accessible online,' writes Taylor Link on the Handshake blog.  'In this area, B2B has historically lagged behind B2C, relying on thick paper catalogs and call centers to handle incoming orders.  

'New ecommerce solutions now enable manufacturers and distributors to curate an immersive, information-rich online product catalog,' Link continues. 'With search functions and improved navigation patterns that help users appreciate the breadth of a brand’s offering, B2B buyers can now browse and place orders in the same way they shop online personally.'

Mobile Purchasing is Booming

B2B are also catching up with regard to mobile purchasing. The 2014 Forrester report showed that 39 out of 50 news sites get more traffic from mobile devices than desktop computers - doubtless all those bored commuters killing time as they journey to and from work.  

In the current climate, B2C-style mobile purchasing is absolutely essential for B2B if it wants to survive. 'It’s clear sales teams that don’t implement a mobile-enabled purchasing and agreement process will be left behind in the near future,' writes Mikado.  

Link agrees: 'In both B2B and B2C, mobile has asserted itself as a key platform to browse for and buy products.' B2B businesses who have neglected their mobile content should sit up and take note.

Fewer Clicks

Remember how long it used to take to buy things online? Now, we get annoyed if more than a couple of clicks are involved. Buying a product on a retail site such as Amazon couldn’t be easier, yet some B2B sites are still stuck in the early days of the Internet when it comes to online purchasing.  

'There’s no doubt that ease influences purchasing decisions,' writes Mikado. 'A whopping 70% of focused, functional spenders say convenience is important when purchasing, according to a Hammerson report published in January.  

'More than half said they would use ‘click and collect’ - a checkout system that allowed them to pick up the product in-store instantly after online purchase - if [it were] offered, and 47% expect delivery within the same day.'

Branding Consistency

Branding consistency is hugely important for the customer experience and was another area where B2C had stolen a march. Consistency across all platforms creates confidence and trust.  

'B2B marketers have realized the value of delivering a branded message across all channels, including ecommerce,' writes Link. 'Manufacturers and distributors are branding their ecommerce sites with their logos, colors, and imagery in order to provide an online experience consistent with what their sales reps offer in person and what customers can find on their main websites.'

B2B Sales With a B2C Mentality

If you can’t reach the decision-maker, you can’t make a sale - it’s the maxim we hear so often from B2B salespeople. And it is true: Without access to the executives, no one can OK the purchase.  

However, as we looked at earlier, the people lower down in the organization - the actual users - need to be convinced of the viability of your service.  

'Even though purchasing power rests with the executive, in the end, it is actually the end users who wield the power to unwind the deal,' says Hollison. Think about what happens when the executive agrees to the purchase - nine times out of ten, they wash their hands of it and have nothing to do with its implementation.  

'From that point, the executive is rarely involved,' writes Hollison. 'She likely passes off the implementation to a manager while she and the sales rep go out to dinner.'

End Users Make or Break the Deal

After making the decision to purchase, the executive will rarely have involvement with the implementation of the software. That is left to management - and managers already have a lot on their plate. If the software isn’t easy to introduce, it will simply be dropped.  

'[W]hile software purchases were once the exclusive domain of the CIO, today these decisions are increasingly made by business unit leaders and end users throughout the enterprise,' write Shawn Lankton and Brian Stafford of McKinsey & Company in Forbes.  

'Moreover, while users have long researched products online, cloud-based platforms now allow them to try software through demos and ‘freemium’ offers [and] then seamlessly purchase or upgrade once the value has been demonstrated.'

Get End Users Onside

Getting end users inside is easier said than done. Hollison suggests Apple as a model: 'SaaS companies should take a page out of the Cupertino tech giant’s book and treat post-B2B sales like a B2C relationship.'  

A good idea is to interview the end user. Make sure you know what the customer needs and what they are thinking. Remember that you have to handle reps differently from managers or executives - you will have to emphasize other selling points, such as simplicity and user-friendliness.  

'It’s not enough that end users see the benefit in your software; they must be able to extract it,' says Hollison. 'Executives want visibility, forecasting and predictability, whereas a sales manager is solely focused on hitting quota. Sales reps are focused on doing things their way, and don’t want to have the whole process disrupted.'  

Hollison is crystal clear about the outcome of getting this wrong: 'If you pitch the wrong vision to the wrong person, you lose. You need to sing a song that everyone gets.'  

You need allies throughout the business, not just in the boardroom. You need managers inside, as they will preach your gospel on the shop floor and get reps enthused by your product.  

The importance of this point is not lost on Lankton and Stafford. '[O]nce a salesperson has learned that five to ten people in an organization have become active users of a product, he or she can visit that company to sell an enterprise-wide license to accommodate more users,' they write.  

With this approach, companies are able to reach existing customers far more economically and penetrate new segments that were previously too expensive to target.

B2B needs to become ever more dynamic to meet customers’ needs, but B2C’s trailblazing work means they’ve got a great template to copy. The user friendliness of B2C products has set expectations in ecommerce, SaaS and even in sales processes. B2B needs to be there too.

Featured Image Source: Handshake duisenberg school of finance by Duisenberg CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons 

About the Author

Geoffrey Walters

A serial entrepreneur and digital nomad, Geoffrey has been running his own marketing consultancy for the past year.

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