Moving past B2B & B2C: the era of B2H!

Eric Jan C. van Putten

“20 years ago in one of my first marketing job interviews I was asked how I see the difference between B2B and B2C. My answer that there is a tremendous overlap as you are both working with people, and the discussion that followed, did not go over well. Short to say I did not get invited back.” Fast forward 20 years and we are entering the era of Business 2 Human, B2H.

Both business 2 business and business 2 consumer worlds have their differences and growing overlap. Technology is making the world a smaller place and we can just as easily do business half way around the world as we can do with our neighbors.

The changing world of B2B 

Of course, not all products and industries are the same. Where some still rely on good old carbon paper, there are the ones that run international businesses where customers are completely self-servant.

But the business shifting impact of technology together with the new age of employees makes it possible, and needed, to give your customers a bigger part of their customer journey. People don’t want to wait 2 or 3 days before their account manager comes back to them with an invoice, manual or answer to their question. They don’t want ping-ponging endless times before the standard, semi-custom or even custom product is ready to go. They want to click it together, potentially with the help of a sales manager, order it and have it delivered or up and running as soon as possible. They want the same ‘easiness’ of doing business as they are becoming used to when they are the C in B2C.

This does not mean that B2B is the same as B2C, not at all. From a financial point of view there are still great differences. The B2B market continues to be way bigger (financially) than
the B2C one. Roughly 2-3 times as big depending on which study you believe. And in absolutes we are talking about 3 Trillion USD for B2C and towards 11 Trillion USD for B2B.

Due to its nature of B2B it is easier to build longer lasting relationships with the individuals from a sales perspective. You know exactly who is buying, and often in technology who is working with the solutions. Building a relationship can transcend both sides employers while the employees move around. Reaching out on a regular base asking how things are going with the business, your offered products and solutions and thinking with the customer becomes possible by building the relationship. Up- and cross selling based on the relation is a good way of increasing sales. The relation is what really counts on this. Sending personal offers, personalized product sheets or catalogs (maybe with a customer specific discount on some of the products) based on the company’s online behavior, or even a postcard at the right moment just to show you know them is a great way of building trust via a combination of online and offline channels.

What the change of B2B comes down to is that it is no longer about visiting the customer with a standard catalog and drinking coffee.

The changing world of B2C 

To begin with an overlap with the B2B world, the world of B2C has changed a lot in the past 2 decades as well. Before you needed to mostly go to a physical store to get the products you needed. You could say that in a way you had that ‘relation’ with the store. End if you would go back even further you might actually have a chat with the store manager as they would know who you are, and some more specialized stores still have that! So why are they still sending me a catalog or offer that is completely off from who I am and my shopping behavior?

The B2C world is losing, lost, most of its relational parts due to the digital age and changing consumer behavior. We rather save 5% on a purchase if we can get it somewhere online cheap than ordering it from the store that knows us. This as our relation with the B side of B2C has changed to more transactional than relational. As it has become easier than ever before in finding, buying and getting products delivered. You can buy an American fridge today and have it installed tomorrow. You can do minutes, hours, days of research from the comfort of your couch before hitting the purchase button. All without having to speak to anyone!

Of course, going that extra (s)mile is what is winning over consumers to shop (to a degree) at certain brands.

Introduction of Business 2 Human, B2H 

With the digitalization we are making tremendous strives for easier, quicker, and often cheaper transactions. You can find a lot, not everything, online and order from practically any corner of the world. You probably have digital services from half-way around the world, products bought from China, and ordering just a little too often from big marketplaces!

But you also remember the organizations and/or individuals that stood out in the experience. The sales rep that writes a personal note based on your latest order or customer question you had. The organization that sends you a catalog that isn’t 800 pages thick, but just a 100 with products that actually fit your needs and with personalized prices specifically for you. The endless email promotions, or now phone notifications, that would now fit your needs.

Technology and businesses are moving in the direction that makes the age-old gap between B2B and B2C way of working smaller every day. Although we are not there yet, the opening quote would probably not have resulted in a heated departure but in a follow-up meeting.

Next steps

If you are in B2B here are the steps you need to think about to transform towards B2H:

  1. Personalize the experience – when you have the relation with the customer or are working on converting the prospect there is nothing more off putting then sending or receiving information that doesn’t completely apply to my situation.

    Make it possible to send, or have the customer create, personalized product sheets, catalogs or offers.

    And if you can have the same on your eCommerce environment. Show the products that apply to this customer or product with the level of information they want or need.

  2. Self-service & sales assisted selling – with the constant growing eCommerce channel this is one that B2B can learn the most from B2C. With the changing buyer profile in B2B this generation is expecting to get answers and information when and where they want. Being able to see you order history for standard and customized products (including their product data sheets and manuals), work on a complex order with adjustments in quantity or personalized elements (potentially with the help of an account manager aka sales assisted selling), customer specific pricing based on earlier made discount agreements, and review and check-out when its convenient for them.

  3. Value the extra smile – it might sound cheesy, but with the race to digitalization and self-service we still value companies that go the extra (s)mile! Having a fun branded box, a little thank you with gift in the mail, an extra product or free upgrade, a personalized post card on birthdays or other fun moments. The companies that care are the ones that go the distance!

  4. The technology to support – all of the above can be done to high automated fashion, but it requires the right technology AND rich and accurate product information to support.

    Having an ERP and PIM integrated with your Commerce environment, setup with priint for the automatic PDF creation being data sheets or catalogs. Everything needs to work seamlessly together to achieve customer delight.

    Being in B2B or B2C, we are aiming to offer the best B2H experience possible.

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