MythBusters: Does B2B Really Need To Be More Like B2C?

April 21, 2015

If you’ve been reading any Forrester Reports, Harvard Business Review, Internet Retailer or The Future of Commerce (Presented by Hybris) I am sure you know that the conventional wisdom in eCommerce is that B2B needs to be more like B2C.

According to the aforementioned and many others B2B needs to have all the bells and whistles that have grown out of B2C like Loyalty Programs, Ratings and Reviews, Best Seller Lists, Personalized Content etc. Ostensibly consumers whether shopping on behalf of a business or for themselves at home require the same feature sets they see and use on Amazon.

We are certainly not here to categorically reject this notion. We actually agree that many features now common in B2C eCommerce experiences can be used just as effectively in the B2B realm to drive revenue and average order value up.

However it has become clear to us that much of what B2C has been developing and refining over the last decade has been predicated on two basic assumptions about the end consumer:

  1. You don’t know who your customer is
  2. The customer doesn’t know what they want to buy (aka they are shopping)

Let’s take a look at these assumptions and play a little MythBusters to find out if B2B really needs to be more like B2C.

You don’t know who your customer is

I have two words on this subject – “BIG DATA”. The Holy Grail of B2C commerce is to predict customer behavior. To glean as much information about that shopper as you can with analytics data about what pages they’ve visited and for how long, anonymous surveys they’ve filled out, emails they’ve opened (and haven’t) and then use that data to make calculated assumptions about what kind of content to serve up when in order to maximize conversion potential. Just look at the core value proposition of the most sophisticated CMS on the market today such as Sitecore and their “Persona Engine”. Tools built specifically to sell to people who you don’t have a pre-existing business relationship with (or if you do you don’t know that for sure).

However in B2B commerce many times both the Buyer and the Seller know each other intimately i.e. pre-requisite contractual relationships. The Buyers may need permission from the Seller to buy from them at negotiated rates and with specific payment terms. This fundamentally changes the focus of any commerce platform behind the relationship. Suddenly it becomes more important to have a robust approval rules engine, specific price schedules and products for certain subsets of users, a tiered system of permissions and users to organize complex relationships and enforce business rules. These types of features are woefully inadequate or often missing altogether in basic B2C commerce technology stacks. Which is why according to them the features they DO have are THE MOST important for B2B. The ol’ bait and switch.

The customer doesn’t know what they want to buy (aka they are shopping)

So many features such as up-sells, cross-sells, best sellers or related products are predicated on the notion that the end user isn’t sure what they’re going to buy or whether they are going to buy at all. They have to be enticed, manipulated and wooed.

However oftentimes in the B2B world the end-user has a job to do. They’re ordering supplies they need to do a job, or they are replenishing specific items for their brick and mortar retail shelves. Quick order entry, catalog/site navigation, repeatable favorite orders and many other features take a front seat as the most important features for a good B2B buying experience. When someone you know is coming to your site to buy something specific, assuming they want the same experience that is delivered to a non-committal anonymous shopper is naive at best, dangerous at worst. In fact many B2C features would be actively annoying as they would hamper or slow down the ordering process. For example, I certainly don’t want to have to click through cross-sells or recommendations when I know exactly what I want and where to get it.

B2C bells and whistles might add value here and there, but lets apply them in an intelligent manner, and only where appropriate. It would be damaging to assume they are the correct choice in every B2B scenario where the complexities and depth of relationships and rules leave the relatively simple B2C model looking woefully inadequate.