Home > CRM, Sales, Social CRM, Social Media > Is B2B the new B2C

Is B2B the new B2C

A friend asked an innocent question on Twitter a while back. “Who has a good B2B iPhone app? Anyone?”. In typical fashion, I Tweeted, then thought (the reverse order is usually recommended). My response “The actual phone part, where I dial and talk, best B2B part of the iPhone! ” This is probably not what she had in mind, hope I did not offend; though it did get me thinking. B2B, or B2C, that is the question. What is the difference?

I put my thoughts away for a while, thinking that I was just not getting to where I wanted it to be. Then this post appeared this morning. The context is that some brands express concerns about using Social Media. There was one section which caught my eye, related to the topic at hand:

There is no difference between B2B and B2C – This one drives me crazy.  What is the difference between B2B efforts and B2C efforts?  Nothing other than the target and the message.  We are all consumers at some point in the day unless you are that famous young cult hero thief, Colton Harris, living in the woods.   The person you are trying to influence to buy is a person and a consumer.  The only thing that needs to change in your efforts is your message not the platform.  Again, quality messages lead to quality fans/followers/friends/connections, all of whom can help you to build you(r) Influence Stream.

I commented and suggested that there are few nuances, and that Social Media is a platform, with many channels. Funny, they have the same conversations as we do in CRM – but I digress. Getting past that, there are some great points here, worth exploring. Has the Social Individual, whether it is for business, or personal become the Social Customer – period!

If you put this in the context of one of those selling seminars we have all taken at one time or another, some interesting things pop out. As a buyer, people are more likely to trust someone who they feel is an ‘expert’ – oh and someone they know. In the eyes of the buyer, the seller must display professionalism, an understanding of the need, empathy. Finally, the seller needs to understand what is in it for them, the buyer, personally. OK, am I talking about a personal consumer, or a business consumer? Does it matter?

Even (Especially?) in a Business to Business environment, there is a significant emotional component to the sale. Do not take my word for it, there are many others smarter than me saying so. So, if you combine that with my post – Social Just Is – what do you end up with? People buying from people – people who are like them, have similar values and people they trust. The emotions might be different, but so what?

OK – so that is a bit of sales, not really touching on CRM. One of the best posts recently on the topic of Social ‘this and that’ (CRM, Business, Media) is by Esteban Kolsky. I am not sure if Esteban intended this or not, but a wonderful part of the post is what is not there; is it meant for a Business to Business audience or a Business to Consumer audience? He does not specify – because he does not need to specify. The lines are blurred.

So, such is life in the age of things move really really fast. As I was preparing to simply post this, a mostly stream of consciousness set of connected thoughts, Graham Hill, a person I have the utmost respect for posted a comment on my Posterous Blog Feel free to take a look (last comment), but my take is that the relationship side of B2B versus B2C is most definitely not the same. Will have to explore that one later.

Back to a quick conclusion: Sure, your strategy needs to consider what you actually sell. Assess what channel makes the most sense, I know that. But the end-game is the same in the decision on strategy.  What are your thoughts? Where else has the consumer market had a significant impact on business purchases and how is Social ‘this and that’ a part of it?

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  1. January 7, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Mitch,

    Great post, and as always with your posts — very timely. Been having this discussion with some people lately. Since you asked what my thoughts are…

    I am an advocate of the entire model of organization-customer changing. Whether it is for companies selling to other companies, or selling to consumers. I think we are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of how this is going to be so different in the future. Why this matters? because it either answers your questions or makes them irrelevant.

    Sure, most people who are just thinking of the traditional B2C and B2B markets will tell you that Social is not for B2B – personal relationships and one-to-one transactions is what matters, and you need dedicated sales people who know how to manage the process, etc, etc, etc. I agree with them today, but not tomorrow.

    If you go beyond the incipient social revolution a few years you will see that as communities are taking hold now among consumers, same thing will happen among partners and organizations. After all, the true core consitution of a community is to share power and knowledge — which I cannot think of a single organization that would not want to do want. This is going to change things in the b2b world… dramatically. why?

    good question. here is the thing, most of the interactions in the b2b world happen in secrecy. vendors put clauses in contract even to make sure that the dealings remain 1:1. companies do share information, in very limited ways, because the people in the companies have friends and colleagues willing to do so — but this is nto the most widespread practice. as communities begin to take hold in the organization, working with partners will tilt the power in the favor of the b2b customer of today, just as it is doing for the b2c customer today.

    and when that happens, the b2b model of today will change into a social relationship model, where the relationship with the community becomes more important than the relationship with the customer.

    timeframe? no more than 3-5 years from now. seriously.

    so, back to the question – is social b2b or b2c? neither.

    thanks for writing a very interesting post… and for the platform. what do you think?

  2. Mitch Lieberman
    January 8, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Esteban,

    Insightful, thanks – and in further conversations during the past couple days, I am thinking even more (scary, I know, I am trying to cut down).

    While the ‘Social’ web (sorry) is changing how and what people share, the business ‘rules’ may get in the way. As you state, partners and such may have to play nice, or they risk getting in trouble. When a person becomes a ‘fan’ in what what is clearly a B2B relationship at the company level, what are the results?

    This is going to be fun to watch, for sure.

  3. January 8, 2010 at 9:33 am

    In a B2C relationship the customer is much more likely to be able to make a final purchasing decision on their own (spouses notwithstanding).

    In a B2B relationship the customer will often need to get some sort of approval or other consensus with others within their organization.

    I think this difference will continue to have an important role to play in marketing & sales efforts regardless of how social b2b gets. The way b2c customers make decisions is much more standardized: consult with spouse/friend/trusted advisor. The way b2b customers make decisions is maybe more like this: consult with spouse/friend/trusted advisor _then_ get approval process with boss/finance/etc rolling.

    The second step is probably going to require dedicated sales people who know how to manage the process. Though a more open, social atmosphere will ease the human factors of the process, there will still be the paperwork etc.

    Or maybe I’m missing something.

    Fascinating topic. Looking forward to reading more.

  4. January 8, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Gahlord,

    The comment you made is what is wrong with B2B and the reason it won’t advance. I know what you are saying it probably correct in the old command-and-control world — salespeople are the rulers of the process — but it is so far from the reality in flat organizations like the ones we are trying to build that i cannot understand it.

    This is not a personal attack, you just made the comment that is truly one of my pet peeves.

    I cannot see salespeople involved in a flat organization. The methods and techniques they use rely on the most anti-social stances I have seen in many years. The large majority of my comment was aimed to trying to change the role of the salesperson. I know that if we can change that then the enterprise relationship, and B2B as a whole, will become better.

    I am probably ranting, but I do have some background research I am doing right now that shows how changing the old secrecy-is-my-weapon approach of traditional B2B sales to a more social, open model does make sense and both shortens the sales cycle as well as improves the relationship. You still need knowledgeable sales people — but the roles are so dramatically different since their main role is a knowledge repository to assist the community in the sales cycle, not an element of control that impedes progress.

    I have caught, and will continue, a lot of flack for saying that the future sales model will not include sales people as we see them now. I just cannot see how an organization strives to become better with its customers and still subjects them to the current sales process and methodologies we use today.

    There are changes coming, in spite of most sales people thinking that social does not belong in sales, and it make take some more time than we would like (we already see changes in service, support, even some back office functions — why not sales yet?), but they are coming…

    off the soap-box, end of the rant, etc.

  5. January 8, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Esteban,

    I’m very much new to the social CRM conversation, so I’m not offended by anything. I’m learning. 😉

    I think we agree more than disagree. We both agree that secrecy-is-my-weapon is a dinosaur’s game. We also agree that good sales people will serve as knowledge repositories to assist a community. In many cases this is true already ala consultative sales processes (when it isn’t just a whitewash for an old-school sales pitch–but real consultation and help).

    The issue is in terms of being customer-centric. The processes required to close a sale can be complicated on both sides of a b2b transaction. No matter how flat you are, if your customers aren’t flat then someone is going to have to deal with that and chances are good it won’t be the customer.

    An example:
    I’m a solo entrepreneur and I do consulting and design/build digital work for organizations of all sizes from other one-man operations to large multi-national organizations.

    My service is nuanced enough and the price is high enough that it doesn’t yet have an add-to-cart ecommerce-like ability (I’m working on that, trust me). My customers have a business pain that often needs greater diagnostics than they’ve done and then needs something to be created/done to ease that pain.

    The small operations I work with tend to be flat by virtue of their size. The sales cycle is shorter, more personal and tends to be more relaxed. I think this is because everyone in the room knows that all the policy-makers are in the room and we can feel comfortable that we’re all in it for the right reasons.

    Larger organizations are much more complicated to close, with a long lead time and a lot more work up front helping them identify their specifications. Usually everything is getting vetted through some sort of flawed RFP process (typically flawed in that it doesn’t contain a budget or a timeline or both). Then from there come interviews; first with someone who doesn’t have decision-making power but understands the required issues a little bit. Finally, there might be an interview with someone who does have decision-making power but doesn’t understand the required issues or doesn’t have the time to be interested in understanding them. Then after that there’s a raft of paperwork and agreements and processes that are unique to each customer because each customer has different policies and internal hierarchies.

    In both cases, someone needs to be available to the specific customer. For the larger organizations the time and skill of the person available to the customer is more significant because their org isn’t flat.

    I’m interested in hearing more about how SocialCRM will help help flat orgs work with hierarchical orgs.

  1. February 2, 2010 at 2:39 pm

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