B2B vs. B2C: What Does It Really Mean?


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I’ve spent my career working in B2B. This blog and the LinkedIn group to which it’s connected are all about B2B lead generation.

Problem is, I don’t know if B2B is an accurate acronym anymore. David Meerman Scott in this interview insists that B2B and B2C are essentially the same: “Ultimately it’s people doing business with people…I think a lot of business-to-business companies forget that and they think they’re selling to Xerox and IBM and Cisco. No, they’re selling to the people at Xerox and IBM and Cisco.”

In contrast, Kristin Zhivago, who is going to be one of our keynote speakers at MarketingSherpa’s B2B Summits this fall, points out that B2B and B2C are as similar as a hysterical Justin Bieber fan and a Fortune 50 CEO. Read more in her recent Revenue Journal blog.

Here’s the paradox: I think Scott and Zhivago are both right.

B2B and B2C both have a common ground: relationships. But I don’t mean the “let’s play a round of golf” or “BFF” kind of relationship, I mean relationships that create professional trust, where “you’re in sync with your customer,” as Zhivago puts it. After all, in today’s economic climate, there’s just no room in anyone’s budget for a bad purchasing decision; jobs may hinge on solutions selected. That’s why marketing has to be more targeted than ever. We must identify precisely who our customers are. We must know how to speak to them and give them the information they want and need in a way that makes them pay attention and take the right action.

Consider this just-published MarketingSherpa case study.

In short, Central Desktop, a B2B software company, launched a cloud-based project-management platform. They determined their target market was executives in top advertising agencies and their affiliates. They developed a campaign encompassing email, direct mail, landing pages, and social media that were “in sync” with the mindset of this target market and engaged them in a conversation that was carried across multiple channels. (If you want to learn more about how to do the same, read this article.) It ultimately ended with a phone call from a sales professional to the warm leads. (This is where I would advise having a professional teleprospector make the initial phone call to qualify opportunity. This will increase the productivity of sales professionals whose time is more valuable. Dave Green explains more about this here.) Nonetheless, the campaign resulted in an increase in pipeline verging on 30 percent.

But here’s the point: their effort wasn’t B2B or B2C, it was B2CMO and B2VP.

Certainly, broad terms like B2B and B2C have their place – like big networking groups such as the B2B Lead Roundtable. But they’re not going to define my company’s marketplace and they shouldn’t define yours either. Do you agree? I welcome your thoughts.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Brian –

    In all of the worldwide B2B and B2C customer advocacy behavior research we’ve conducted at Market Probe, there’s little to argue with re. the importance of relationships and trust between vendor/supplier and customer in decision-making. What often sets B2B and B2C situations apart, however, is the complexity of the value proposition, the costs involved in a product or service purchase, the number of individuals who are part of the decision chain, the rules companies apply (such as those set by Purchasing or Procurement), and the amount of time involved in the selling effort and making the decision itself. There are more elements, of course, but these serve to make selection of a B2B vendor a considerably more convoluted process than is usually found in B2C product or service selection.

    Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., CMC
    Executive Vice President
    Market Probe (www.marketprobe.com)

  2. Thanks for the mention, Brian. Actually, I think the much more useful and relevant classification is the “Scrutiny Level” involved with the sale – regardless of the type of buyer.

    In my new book, Roadmap to Revenue, I talk about the four levels of products/services in the world, based on the amount of scrutiny that the buyer applies to the purchase: Light, Medium, Heavy, and Intense Scrutiny. There are products & services in all four of these categories on the consumer AND business side.

    The Light Scrutiny buying process for a B2C product is almost identical to the Light Scrutiny buying process for a B2B product (“see it, ask yourself a couple of questions, buy it”), and ditto, for say, a Heavy Scrutiny product (“see it, ask lots of questions, get other buyers involved, take it for a test drive, interact with a salesperson at some point, sign a contract, and get some kind of service after the sale”). Understanding what level your product or service falls into will keep you from making silly marketing mistakes.

    Anyway, always enjoy reading your articles.


  3. I should have added that for Light, Medium, and Heavy Scrutiny products/services, the buyer is not interested in a relationship. The buyer just wants to get his/her questions answered and buy the thing and get on with life. It’s the seller who wants a relationship, not the buyer. Big fallacy – the whole “relationship” thing. Dead end, as far as I’m concerned, for the lighter-scrutiny products/services. It’s only with the Intense Scrutiny products that you end up in a long-term interaction – and even then, I hate to call it a “relationship.” If I have a vendor, like a CPA, who just isn’t cutting the mustard, I’m going to end that “relationship.” I’m not going to stick with him through thick and thin, like a good marriage. I’m the buyer – I can leave.

  4. Brian, your article brings up some excellent points. As a marketing consultant, I call myself a B2B marketing expert but do not make the same claim for B2C. And if I were on the client side I would hire a B2B expert if I were selling to businesses and a B2C expert if selling to consumers.

    While it is true that in both B2B and B2C you are dealing with individuals, there are large differences. For one thing, in a business context you are asking the individual to spend company money, not their own money. Also, B2B often involves multiple buyer influencers and the sales cycles are much longer (especially for high ticket products and services). But I do appreciate what Kristin said about light vs. medium vs. heavy scrutiny and this definitely has a huge bearing on marketing strategy.


    Chris Ryan
    Fusion Marketing Partners

  5. Brian,
    I agree with much of what has been said both in the post and the comments. The other thing to take into consideration is the type of decision each prospect is making, whether it be B2B or B2C. Some would argue that consumers buy on emotion and B2B buyers use intellect, but I disagree. I think all purchasing decisions are based on emotion, which have to be justified intellectually to some extent. The bigger ticket the item (house or car for B2C/ERP system or IT infrastructure for B2B), the more you have to justify the purchase intellectually.
    Jared Bodnar
    Loop Demand Gen


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