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4 Ways a B2B Relationship Differs From B2C

Ben Blaney< Ben Blaney March 2, 2021

It’s funny.  Though most of us operate in B2B, we still find ourselves using B2C examples to illustrate our points.  Perhaps that’s because we know we have a lot of prospect and customer information in our heads (and so we know we must not breach the NDA in place). 

However, I’d argue that there are four important differences between a B2B relationship between seller and buyer and the B2C relationship, which must be understood and considered.  There are some pitfalls to thinking that B2B and B2C are the same buy for the legal entity to whom one is selling.   I’ll run through some key differences here.

Duration of Sales Cycle

B2B can have much longer sales cycles than B2C. It can be substantially less transactional. There’s an increase in complexity, and there are more moving parts to any given potential purchase. There’s a larger buying constituency to coalesce and coordinate. Buying processes have more steps; more people need to be made aware. Those people must sign off on the spend, the integration, the timeline, the risk management plan, the vendor selection, the use cases, the performance parameters, and the legal terms and conditions.

This is non-trivial and takes a long time. Suggesting that the B2B sales cycle is analogous to the purchase of a ream of printer paper from Amazon is folly.

Specification and Engineering

It’s very common in a B2B relationship for there to be an involvement of specifying engineers. The buyer is very often solving a problem that’s never been solved before. It involves custom dimensions and performance parameters, not to mention intricacies of location, installation, and operation. Terms such as “Configured to Order”, and “Engineered to Order” are indications there’s an amount of discussion and design necessary in order for the appropriate item to be sold.

There may be manifold methods of achieving the outcome; the buyer has zero experience, and the supplier is an expert. Point people on both sides need to be guiding this process.

Projects

In B2B, there’s often the consideration that a given activity forms a part of larger project in place. There are dependencies on all sides; there are timelines and budgets, and a critical path, and implications to every decision that is made. There will be constant contact between teams on the supplier side and the buyer side, as all the moving pieces conspire to confound the best-laid plans. Very few B2C circumstances are similar to this.

Fundamentally, B2B relationships exist because the supplier is helping the customer make money, or save money. 

Rejecting Oversimplification of the B2B Relationship

We’re profiling these differences to encourage folks in B2B to reject the over-simplification of the B2B relationship you’ll see in some areas. B2C pricing concepts will likely fail in B2B. However, it’s true that there’s a move in B2B toward more convenience in commercial relationships.

But given everything we’ve spoken of above, do we really expect that an “Amazon-like” B2B experience is around the corner? Perhaps there is – in the most simple, the most commoditized, the most fungible of circumstances. And if you live in a world of complexity and nuance, you’ll probably want to reject over-simplistic B2C relationship models and think more deeply about the solutions that would prove profitable for your business. We’ll be happy to help.