Success in E-Commerce

The Difference Between B2B and B2C Buyers

Learn what you need to know about the buyers you’re trying to target

Alex Borzo
Jul 30 · 6 min read

Audience segmentation and personalization are huge in e-commerce now. All the top gurus say that consumers are looking for more personalizations, from product recommendations to the ads on their Instafeeds. New consumer trends also speak to major shifts in how and where consumers like to buy.

Which consumers are we talking about, though?

As it turns out, despite all the hyper-specific audience segments we can build (based on demographic and behavioral data), there’s a bigger bifurcation in the world of e-commerce that we need to address first: B2B versus B2C buyers.

B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) e-commerce are two very different worlds. They have the same end goal of buying something to satisfy a need, but their expectations and buying processes are different.

That means your strategy to reach them has to be different, too.

Keep reading as we break down the key differences between B2B and B2C buyers and what it all means for your e-commerce strategy.

The Buyers Themselves

You can visualize the difference between B2B and B2C buyers if you visit the following websites:

  • Alibaba (the most popular B2B marketplace)
  • And Amazon (the goliath of B2C sales)

On a fundamental level, though, why the difference? If the individuals on a business team behind a B2B purchase are the same consumers who, on an individual basis, buy their own goods online, are the customers all that different?

Yes, they really are.

The purpose of a commercial company is to maximize profit margins, which requires keeping costs down on purchases. Consumers are always looking for a deal, but businesses will have standard operating practices that determine when the cost of a purchase is reasonable for the need they want to meet.

Consumers, on the other hand, have the luxury of buying emotionally.

Psychological studies of buying behaviors have shown that both rational and emotional factors come into play when buying products. These emotions can be triggered even faster in the e-commerce experience where a user can zoom from one product listing to the next with flashy images and countless ads.

The B2B buyer, however, will take more time on a purchase. This gives emotions time to simmer and be replaced with ROI-driven rationale.

Businesses create whole environments to support more rational decisions when making purchases. Consumers respond more to emotions and aspirations.

The Expectations

The expectations of B2B and B2C buyers reveal even greater differences between the two customer markets.

When an individual consumer lands on a product page, they want information organized in a highly visual and immersive fashion. Enriched photos and AR experiences have become the new competitive norm.

They’re also much faster to the “BUY” button. Keep reading to learn more about these new trends in consumer expectations.

B2B customers, on the other hand, take longer to decide on a purchase. They’re weighing more complex factors like stakeholder buy-in. They also require more nurturing and convincing before they’re ready to commit to your brand, even for that first purchase.

In other words, it’s on the seller to prove to B2B customers that a product will improve a process or efficiency for the purchasing business. That’s a big idea to sell them on.

The good news for B2B brands is that once a B2B customer is on board, they’re on board long-term. Businesses love proficiency, so they’ll buy from the same vetted seller time and time again.

The Buying Process

Selling successfully to any audience requires understanding their buying process.

When comparing the buying process for the B2B and B2C markets, the biggest difference is the size of the purchase.

As consumers, we make many small purchases often. We go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. We stop at the gas station to buy a soda. Online, we buy a new pair of running shorts from one brand on their site and then order our favorite box of granola bars on another.

Did you notice the impulse purchases mixed in? That’s another thing consumers do that B2B customers don’t.

As a brand selling online, the consumer buying process is best met by presenting relevant up-sells, down-sells, and personalized ads and sales funnels. Even your product data should be organized in such a way that it streamlines the user experience for the B2C buyer.

B2B buyers, on the other hand, start with a need — never a want. Then, they trek off to look for a solution to that need.

Once that buyer finds a few relevant options, the next step is to get other personnel on board. That might mean getting approval from a stakeholder or soliciting an opinion from a colleague.

In every case, the purchasing process takes significantly longer.

The B2B process doesn’t stop at a sale, either. This audience requires more post-sale support, partly because of the size of their purchases and partly because of their intention to return for related purchases in the future.

Product Specifications

The product data for a B2B versus a B2C buyer differ significantly, too.

Put simply, B2B buyers favor the technical “brass tacks” product data, while B2B consumers prefer an emotionally charged visual experience.

To “speak” to a B2B buyer, ensure your product data features the following data front-and-center:

  • What the product can do
  • How much it costs
  • What benefits it can bring a company
  • Its technical specifications
  • Metrics of product success
  • Reviews from similar businesses

To “speak” to a B2C buyer, you’ll need that same technical data, but first and foremost be sure to include:

  • Enriched product photos
  • Emotional “power words”
  • Lifestyle benefits
  • Audience goals and aspirations
  • Product videos or AR experiences
  • Many positive consumer reviews

If you’re a brand making a transition from B2B to B2C (or vice versa), organizing your product data to streamline these optimizations can become a beast.

If you have thousands of SKUs, for instance, updating all of them in a uniform and user-facing fashion takes most companies months.

In e-commerce, your brand never has months to spare.

The fast-moving and competitive “new normal” in e-commerce requires product data optimized for multiple channels as well as your B2B or B2C audience. Read up on the 6 signs you should be concerned about your product data to get ahead of the problem.

The Strategy

The cost of a sale in the B2B market can be significantly higher than in the B2C market. In fact, it usually is. This is because of the additional time and consideration that goes into B2B purchases. The profit, of course, comes out in the significantly larger size of purchase.

For businesses and consumer customers, the buyer journey starts with a need. Once that customer identifies the need, the way they satisfy it is driven by different motivations and is realized through a different process.

Getting a strategy together that’s specific for your audience starts with optimizations for a B2B or B2C market. You’ll still have to do the leg work on identifying your target avatar with all the nitty-gritty demographic and behavioral trends that identify those you’re trying to reach.

Your avatar research starts, though, with this fundamental bifurcation.

Map out your high-level sales strategy today for your B2B or B2C audience. If you don’t already have the metrics to determine the following, simply start with your most educated guess. Be sure to reach out to your peers to get a second opinion.

Jot down:

  1. How you’ll position the emotional or ROI-based argument for your products
  2. The average anticipated time-to-purchase from when a lead comes in
  3. How you’ll organize your product data to fit your customer audience
  4. The average anticipated size of the purchase
  5. The average anticipated marketing cost per conversion

We all have a tendency to get lost in the weeds sometimes. Alice in Wonderland would have never happened if it weren’t for those alluring rabbit holes.

Before you let the magic happen with hyper-specific segmentation, take a step back to look at your audience as B2B or B2C. With these optimizations in mind, your whole e-commerce strategy will be stronger, and all decisions down the line will be made easier.

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