There is no such thing as B2B or B2C

Go to any business meeting these days and talk about Twitter or Facebook and you’ll be met with a familiar cry: “Aha,”, says the hapless accountant, lawyer or consultant to you, “that’s all very well for consumer businesses, but how can it help those of us in the B2B sector?” It is special pleading, suggesting that there is something very different about being in “business to business” that sets you apart from “business to consumer“. These people ask you for “B2B” examples of the success of social media, taunting you that the only real success has been found in the “B2C sector”. “Aha, got you,” they seem to be saying under their breath.

The fact of the matter is – and, be warned, this is really difficult for people who reckon they are in the B2B sector – there is no such thing as either B2B or B2C. It is a false distinction.

B2B is the same as B2C

When I get told that B2B is special I simply ask: “Who buys your stuff? Is it a machine? Is it a business? Or is it a person?”. Often people stumble out a reply saying, “well obviously it is a person,” then there’s a pause and they add “but they are in a business”. This last bit is simply the justification for their thought that B2B exists.

So, I pursue my line of enquiry, rather detective-like. “Which businesses then, give you most of your business? Which companies do you sell most to?” People are usually able to say who their best clients are. Then I ask, “And do you have good relationships with the people in that business?” Naturally, the answer is yes.

Then I ask them to think about the businesses they do little business with. I ask them to consider the personal relationships they have in those firms. “Well, I don’t really know anyone there,” is the usual reply. Then it slowly dawns: the “businesses” with which a company has the best personal relationships are the ones which generate the most cash. In other words, you are not selling to a business, but to a person – often a friend.

Asking people in a B2B environment about who they do business with always reveals this fact: most business is done with individuals in a company with whom a good, solid personal relationship exists. Ask any B2B owner if relationships are not important to their sales and they will look at you like you’ve just arrived from the planet Zog.

B2C is the same as B2B

In the “B2C” sector companies, such as retailers know this. They know that each purchase is a one-on-one experience. They are selling to you the individual, whether you are buying a bottle of fizzy pop or a new dining room suite. They focus on selling to individuals, to people – they just call them “consumers” in order to make it sound much more fancy than it is.

The truth is – whether you are selling to businesses or to consumers – it all comes down to relationships. It is all, ultimately person to person business – P2P.

What this means is that “B2C” companies are merely those which concentrate on personal selling. “B2B” firms are often not focusing on the person-to-person nature of their business enough. Once they do, the difference between them and a “B2C” company gets eroded.

Whatever business you are in your buyers make the same purchasing decisions. Whether it is a bottle of fizzy pop or a multi-million-pound mega deal, the brain processes are the same (and ultimately emotionally driven). The buyers do not divide themselves into “B2B” or “B2C” – to them they are just a person buying something. When B2B companies realise they are just a person selling something they will then be able to connect – P2P – using all the wonders of the online world.

Social media may be dominated by “B2C” examples, but that’s only because they are one-step ahead of most “B2B” firms in realising that they are selling to individuals. Social media is P2P – when you focus on being a P2P business instead of a B2B one, that’s when it will work for you.