For centuries, their rivalries have divided society …
Cats vs dogs?
Tea vs coffee?
Superman vs Batman?
Tupac vs Biggie?
In the corporate landscape — particularly for those at the forefront of emerging online markets — a new rivalry has been born: B2B vs B2C.
As with all things that intersect technology and commerce, it's a fight loaded with complexity:
- Which path is more lucrative?
- Can a company serve both markets?
- What about retention and customer lifetime value?
- Are channels and purchase decisions fundamentally different?
With these questions in mind, I want to help end the rivalry, unearth the differences between B2B vs B2C ecommerce, and bring to light the ways they’re actually much the same.
Guidance for B2B ecommerce growth
Shopify Plus hosts ecommerce’s largest community of Launch Engineers, Solutions Engineers, award-winning Partners, and Merchant Success program.
Those are just a few of the reasons — along with a dedicated wholesale channel for B2B sales — our merchants are growing 126% year-over-year.
What’s the Difference Between B2B vs B2C Ecommerce?
Difference 1: Breadth of Audience
One of the primary differences between B2C and B2B is the scale of their audiences. B2C brands often strive to reach a broadly defined group of people—sports fans, fitness-minded moms, millennials who are into music, or kids in general.
These are large demographic and psychographic groups that each demand their own customer journey map:
B2B ecommerce audiences are a lot more narrow.
In fact, there’s usually a set amount of buyers, with a pretty straightforward profile. For example, a B2B brand might only target ad agency owners or finance VPs at tech startups.
While you might think this would limit the potential of B2B, the opposite is actually true. Here's a look at the global gross merchandise volume in B2B vs B2C ecommerce:
Difference 2: Average Price Point
A B2C ecommerce brand might need to reach and sell to hundreds of thousands of people to crack their first million in sales because they’re likely selling products at a lower rate. In B2B ecommerce, it’s common for brands to have fewer than a couple hundred customers but still generate millions (sometimes billions) of dollars in revenue.
As I think about one of the main differences between B2B and B2C, I’m reminded of this visual from Christoph Janz at Point Nine Capital:
The idea here is simple: If you want to build a $100 million business, you can catch—i.e., sell to—10 million flies worth $10 each (think B2C) or hunt down 1,000 elephants worth $100,000 (think B2B).
The average order value is one of the reasons B2B is taking off. In a piece highlighting the advantages of B2B ecommerce, Aaron Orendorff revealed that B2C averages $147 per order while B2B averages $491. That’s more than triple the value.
Of course …
There are always outliers—B2B goods that cost only $20 and B2C goods with a price tag of $15,000. But across most industries, B2B ecommerce purchases are much higher in price.
Difference 3: The Decision-Making Process
Here’s what a B2C buyer sounds like when they’re ready to buy: Ching. Ching. Ching.
Here’s what a B2B buyer sounds like:
Okay, I’m ready to share this with my manager who’s going to pitch it to the senior direction team then pull in finance and legal. I wonder if we should run it by the marketing team, too?
When The Challenger Customer was published in 2015, an average of 5.4 decision-makers were involved in the B2B buying process—and that number has since climbed to 6.8. In addition, the authors of this must-read for B2B professionals found a clear correlation between the size of buying teams and the likelihood of a sale being successful:
Here’s perhaps the most important pointer to take from this reality:
Your content—your About Us page, product pages, PDFs, demo videos, pitch decks, catalogs, and more—are going to be shared with at least five people within the organization.
What’s that mean?
It means you need to invest as much into creating an optimal user experience as B2C brands do. It means you need to ensure that when someone visits your site, they find reasons to trust your brand and believe you're the best solution for their problem. That’s why it’s crucial for B2B ecommerce brands to optimize their user experience and clearly communicate their story.
To do that, here are a few solutions that every B2B ecommerce brand needs …
Solution 1: Educational Content
B2B buyers are no longer looking for sales professionals to hold their hands through the entire buying process. More B2B buyers are looking for content that’s readily available online so they can self-educate. Thus, it’s important for B2B brands to invest in creating content that will help B2B buyers make their decision.
When asked about his must-haves for B2B merchants, author and marketing expert Jeff Bullas explained that B2B brands should have interesting content—as long as it’s useful:
“Create content that adds value to the target audience. Write and create content that solves problems and educates the potential buyers.”
Solution 2: Quality Site Search
Studies show that 98 percent of B2B buyers do at least some online research. What’s more, 62% of B2B buyers also ranked enhanced search functionality as “increasingly essential” to their online shopping experience.
If it’s not easy to search your website and discover products, then you are leaving quality leads and revenue on the table. V-Belt Guys, for instance, uses Shopify app LiveSearch to give visitors instant results alongside visual merchandising to search queries that include product names, descriptions, types, materials, specifications, and even ordering codes.
Solution 3: A Presence that Goes Beyond Your Website
As potential buyers do their research, they’ll look beyond your website. That’s why your online presence needs to be consistent—your social media pages and online reviews should reinforce the positive message conveyed by your website.
In this regard, the differences between B2B and B2C marketing aren’t really that significant. The main difference is the time it takes to nurture a relationship with a B2B buyer—or rather, a whole team of decision-makers. Which brings us to...
Solution 4: Email Marketing to Strengthen the Relationship
There’s no question that email marketing remains a powerful tool for B2B sales. B2B brands can still rely on email to connect with their audience in a meaningful and one-to-one way.
There are plenty of ways for B2B brands to build their mailing list, but one of the most successful strategies is offering value up-front. Educating visitors about your product, providing an interesting case study—all of this content can be used to capture emails and generate potential leads.
Invest in content worth downloading and then follow up with those users by providing additional value in the form of educational content. We know that B2B buyers want to self-educate. Take this opportunity to position your brand as an authority and establish a relationship built on trust and value.
Do B2C and B2B Ecommerce Have Any Similarities?
While the differences between B2B vs B2C ecommerce are significant, I’ll be the first to tell you that B2B and B2C aren’t completely night and day. In fact, I hope that as you read some of the concepts above, you were able to take away a few insights that could be applied in both B2B and B2C ecommerce situations.
While the differences result in marketers and owners embracing different mindsets, philosophies and strategic approaches, B2B and B2C ecommerce have a few similarities too.
Similarity 1: Multi-Channel Matters
According to Forrester, 59 percent of buyers prefer to do research online instead of interacting with a sales rep because reps push their sales agendas rather than solving the problem.
It’s likely that many of these buyers start with Google but—just like their B2C counterparts—multi-channel browsing and buying habits dominate.
The vast majority of B2C and B2B buyers spend their time on similar channels. They rely on YouTube for instructional content and networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook for social engagement. Just as a university student might check Facebook to learn about their classmates, a C-suite executive uses Facebook to share photos of their kid.
The use case may be different, but both parties can be found in the same place.
In other words, don’t assume that just because your audience is B2B you can ignore Facebook or even Instagram. The B2B brands that embrace these channels while everyone else ignores them are likely to be the ones that capitalize on cheaper reach and less competition.
Similarity 2: People Are People
One of the biggest myths about reaching a B2B audience vs B2C involves the person on the other end of the transaction. For far too long, organizations have assumed that a B2B buyer is a completely different type of person than a B2C buyer.
We both know that’s not true.
Whether they’re a university student or Fortune 500 exec, they’re still human. And all humans are made of the same neurons and chemicals that trigger emotions and drive us to behave a certain way.
Thus, there’s a great opportunity for B2B marketers to leverage psychology to connect with their target audience. Understand the value of highlighting benefits over features. See how Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs can influence your copywriting. Realize the role that fear can play when a buyer is deciding between two similar solutions.
Illuminating B2B vs B2C Ecommerce
We’ve broken down the differences and similarities between B2B vs B2C ecommerce. While I’m not 100 percent certain that this debate will ever end, hopefully, this article has shed light on the beauty that lies in B2B.
I’d love to hear your take in the comments. And, if you have a favorite B2B ecommerce brand, I’d love to learn about them—it’s always powerful to see brands doing great things in the space.
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