Is B2B customer experience delivery different to B2C?

I attended a meet-up group recently where informal discussions fell on the difference between building an operation to support B2B versus B2C.  The group seemed quite divided – some suggesting that the difference was considerable, whilst others suggested that the differences (for operational purposes) are most cosmetic.  I heard lots of interesting view points, so thought I might summarise the discussion together with my own observations.

The key differences in servicing SaaS customers (clients) in B2B environments, versus customers in B2C environments, quite often lies in thew scale and complexity of B2B models.  There are so many similarities, and yet a few notable differences, so it’s easiest to break down both B2B and B2C into the primary stages of the customer journey, and considering the similarities and differences for each stage.

Getting to Know You: When marketing to consumers, targeting is a challenge and is sometimes abandoned, in favour of a more scatter gun approach.  SaaS B2C often favour a “freemium” model to increase overall user volumes.  This is more difficult to achieve in B2B.  You have to acquire a decent set of target data to efficiently reach the stage of having real conversations with businesses if you hope to have a shorter buying cycle.

First Date: The sales cycle in B2B (even for SaaS businesses) is invariably longer than B2C sales cycles.  Businesses have multiples stakeholders (influencers, decision makers, sign-offs) – that means more effort to engage the right people, potential different messages to the stakeholders and ultimately more steps for the sales team to go through before a sale is made.

Falling in Love: Any modern SaaS business will be obsessed with driving the on-boarding of customers in either model.  Whether that’s through self service, tutorials & emails or a higher touch Customer Success team, the sooner that the customer achieves value, the more likely they are to stay a customer.

Married Life: Once again, for B2C or B2B, fast and reliable support is necessary, but for businesses, there’s a potential higher level of impact (risk of reputation damage or financial loss), and thus in B2B, it’s much more important to track and report on clearly defined SLAs.  Likewise, introducing change to products and services needs more notice and communication to reflect the potential greater disruption on a business and its customers.  Processes around renewals will have to be more complex, with businesses requiring purchase order triggers and alternate billing methods.

Growing the Family: Retaining business, engaging communities, creating fans who recommend you and selling additional services to your B2B customers is probably where the 2 customer journeys are most different.  Where B2C activity can be spontaneous, creative and loaded with personality, B2B activity needs meticulous planning and more structure to nurture businesses towards a deeper relationship.

Additional thoughts:

  • The bigger the revenue opportunity, the more complicated and costly the business model you’ll need – but the greater the revenue returns per customer account (CLV)
  • Automation can work in both models, as long as it is predictable and reliable. In B2B models, availability and administration are critical to allow a business oversight and control over their users
  • Not all customer journey initiatives work easily in both models (consider reward programmes in B2C, which drive short term commitment for an individual, but less tangible benefit for a business. Or personal account management and customer success in B2B, which builds loyalty in a business, but would invariably be a costly overhead in many B2B businesses)
  • Qualitative (survey, customer conversations) as well as quantitative data (operational performance, statistical insight from systems)  still need to be gathered and analysed to determine the quality of the experience

In both models, you are still dealing with human beings, and your service and delivery needs to reflect that. Identifying the key retention factors that drive up your revenue, tenure and recommendations is just as important, no matter who you are supporting.  Probably the most important aspect is to consider the factors and leavers that will drive adoption and retention.  Quite often, in B2B SaaS models, the product consumer / user may not be the same as the product purchaser / decision maker, so additional layers of measurement and journey mapping are required.

I hope this very simple blog helped provoke a few thoughts and considerations.

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