a business shoe and a sneaker next to each other

What’s the real difference between B2B and B2C customers?

We are regularly asked whether B2B and B2C customers really differ from each other or whether they make similar purchasing decisions. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

logik und herz_iconGut feeling vs. logic

For a long time (and to some extent still) B2B purchasing processes were defined as predominantly logical and pragmatic. The first Google result when asked about the difference between B2B and B2C speaks of “logical, process-driven” for B2B and “emotionally driven” purchasing decisions for B2C customers (source: wordstream.com).

This is the wrong approach. (To be fair, the article itself explains this as well)

Whether a purchase is decided more emotionally or logically (whereby the question arises as to whether each is humanly possible 100%) depends much more on the individual than on the product or service.

B2B customers are also people who have their own needs and goals. Just because they make their decision for a company, doesn’t mean that they automatically switch off their emotions.

Likewise, B2C customers are also interested in product details and features and do not buy (certain) products and services without comparisons and research.

Accordingly, B2B marketing can and should also address the emotional side (something that marketers currently want to strengthen). B2C marketing, meanwhile, should not be based solely on emotions, but can also score points with the (right) information. As long as the emotional as well as fact-based approach is relevant for the respective customer group, it will hit its target.

schriftdokument_iconCustomer Reviews vs. Use Cases

Both B2B and B2C customers rely on the opinions of other customers in their decision-making process. In the B2B process, the individual use case or success story plays a major role. Customers present concrete problems that could be solved by a product or service and at the same time discuss the course of the project.

What the Use Case is to the B2B customer, the customer review is to the B2C customer. This has become so important that there are hardly any online stores left that do not have reviews. According to a study by Spiegel Research Center, the presence of customer reviews on a product page increases the probability of purchase by 270 %. Incidentally, the influence of (positive) reviews also increases with price levels.

agiles arbeitenDecision-making processes

B2B purchase decisions often have clear underlying processes; the “impulse purchase”, as it exists in the B2C sector even for high-priced products, takes place in B2B only for low-priced products if at all. As a result, B2B customers almost always have a buying cycle that usually is a bit longer than the B2C buying cycle.

Due to the Buying Centers, i.e. multi-part decision chains in companies, this buying cycle is sometimes delayed further and further and can even last up to six months (and longer). During this time, vendors must ensure that potential customers remain “in the loop” and are supported with information, demos and relevant content.

But buying cycles are also growing in the B2C sector, due in particular to the shift from stationary retail to digital. For example, the buying cycle for a stationary purchase lasts on average one week, while customers can take up to 28 days for a digital purchase (source: criteo). Digital wish lists in particular and the storage of products in the “shopping cart” can support customers in this process, but also ensure that customers give themselves a little more “time to think”.

große vs kleine Gruppe_icon

Buying Center vs. single purchase

The above-mentioned Buying Center is one of the most striking features of the B2B buying cycle. It is the main difference from B2C buying. Suppliers do not always communicate with all stakeholders but have one contact who obtains offers and discusses them internally. It is therefore important for B2B providers to give this person not only the necessary information for their individual decision, but also the right decision-making aids for the other participants in the Buying Center. It is therefore essential that the relationship takes place at eye level, as the contact person is ideally the “product-cheerleader” for the other decision-makers.

But even in the B2C sector there are not exclusively individual buyers. Depending on the industry, it is not unlikely that purchase decisions will be made by small “B2C centers”, especially for high-priced products. Roommates and families often make decisions together, which is why sales and marketing must take different needs into account in these cases.

Checkliste_iconLonglists and Shortlists

B2B companies often start with a longlist and then work their way up to the shortlist with a catalog of requirements, after which they make a decision in direct discussions with the providers (depending on the type of product/service). Longlist creation is often researched online these days, which is why B2B companies urgently need to work on providing sufficient information to guarantee themselves a place on the long and ultimately the shortlist.

B2C customers are on average not quite as extensive. In fact, in the study already cited, criteo found that almost one in three customers goes directly to provider sites to obtain information. The days of Google and Amazon as an often important point of contact in research might be running out.

Here I would venture the assumption that smart advertising on social media channels is increasingly ensuring that customers are directly offered products and either make a note of them or look at them immediately, thus often skipping the “Google phase”.

Digitales Schloss IconCompliance & data protection

Probably one of the biggest differences in the B2B and B2C markets are the legal and company-specific requirements for the use of software, but also for the purchase of certain products and services. While private buyers often only have to think about whether the product is right for them, companies have to comply with specifications in many areas. These include data protection guidelines, technical requirements (for example, due to the software or machinery used) and process-related requirements (certain workflows, peripheral systems for software, etc.).

This is certainly also the reason why B2B purchasing decisions are often described as “purely logic-based”, because there are elements in the purchasing process that follow a clear catalog of requirements and must not deviate from it. Meanwhile, it is important for B2B providers that these are not the only decision criteria, and emotional messages can also tip the scales, especially when several providers meet the requirements.

BildschirmVisual vs. informative

One difference, which is certainly often due to the type of product of the respective target groups, is the focus of B2C marketing on images and symbolism, while B2B marketing more often advertises more pragmatically. This is certainly less due to the fact that B2B customers decide less with their eyes. The prejudice that B2B customers decide “more logically” might be applicable here, again.

However, especially in industries with products similar to B2C markets (clothing, furniture, equipment), the way they are presented becomes important. Just because the market is still lagging behind does not mean that customers would not react positively to, for example, catalogs or online stores for workwear that offer a little more creativity and individual expression (within the guidelines).

Conclusion: The differences lie in the details

Of course there are differences in the B2B and B2C markets. Sales are often more developed in the B2B sector, while in B2C marketing has the greatest influence on customer relations. B2B customers often have stricter specifications and longer catalogs of requirements.

(It should also be mentioned that customer service in both areas is crucial for long-term successful customer relationships).

Nevertheless, it is not possible to make sweeping statements about many supposed differences. Both the B2B and B2C markets are diverse. With higher prices for B2C products, the similarities of the B2B customer journey add up and the sales department takes on a greater role. With bigger target groups and low prices, even B2B products need more marketing measures and shopping experiences similar to the B2C sector.

B2C customers are more likely to shop impulsively. But B2B shoppers are also human beings and can therefore be reached by emotional messages. Simultaneously, B2C customers also want to be informed and are not content with vague messages to make a purchase. The best solution is to get to know one’s own customers and identify what exactly they want, what they prefer and how they proceed when making purchasing decisions.

Customer Journey Management helps you see your processes from the customer’s perspective. No matter whether they are B2B or B2C, you can create positive experience and long lasting customer relationships. Find out more with our white paper. 

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