Are B2B and B2C Customer Experience Management Different?

CRM, experiential marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, contact center management, and social media customer service are more obviously applicable to B2C. Hence, these practices have probably been embraced by B2C to a greater extent than B2B. Since these practices have come into vogue more recently than customer satisfaction measurement and improvement, some of us have come to equate CEM with such practices. However, many B2B firms have always relied on direct sales forces with tighter customer relationships due to lengthy sales cycles and high average selling prices, and ongoing high-touch post-sale. Tighter customer relationship management is what CRM and the rest are really about, right? So let’s give B2B credit for their version of these aspects of CEM.

Both B2B and B2C often have a middleman: consumer packaged goods manufacturers reach end-users through retailers; likewise, many B2B companies may sell through value-added resellers or manufacturer agents, or they may make an ingredient that is actually used by the next link in the consumption chain. Both B2B and B2C companies could probably make great improvements in capturing and acting upon voice-of-the-customer from middlemen as well as end-users.

Anything being done inside the company to establish customer-focused culture is universally applicable to both B2B and B2C firms.

If you define customer experience as “All of the steps a buyer takes to get and use a solution from the time of the buyer’s realization of a need until the buyer deems the need no longer exists”, then CEM should be analyzed according to the similarities and differences in consumer journeys and business client journeys.

Here are some important differences that should be accommodated in B2B CEM:

  • The competitive nature of B2B firms’ customers may make “likely to recommend” less relevant than in B2C.
  • The multiple influencers (end-user, purchasing agent, plant manager, safety department, etc.) of B2B buying decisions infers a need for more complex/comprehensive VoC and internal follow-up on findings.
  • The interfaces between functional counterparts (e.g. seller engineers meeting ad-hoc with buyer engineers, not always as a specific step orchestrated by the sales team) at seller and buyer companies is another complexity in the buyer journey and in managing a consistent customer experience.
  • Many buyers are also sellers to their buyer, e.g. Applied Materials sells semiconductor equipment to HP for their chip-making, and Applied Materials buys HP printers and computers.
  • B2B buyers are sometimes more influenced by downstream demands and economic factors than by their own whims/preferences.
  • B2B companies often have locations around the world, which requires effort to generate consistency of brand and customer experience, yet flexibility for local needs.

Most of the issues above are managed by *someone* in some B2B companies, but rarely by whoever is charged with customer experience management, which tends to have a narrower scope than it should, given the important implications of the above list.

My take: there are few differences in actual practice. Currently, B2B and B2C customer experience managers are essentially doing the same thing. And I think that B2B is not lagging B2C anywhere near the extent that many claim. But let’s put these assertions to the test: if you manage B2B CEM, please participate in the 2013 State of B2B CEM survey, regardless of where your company is in your quest for customer experience excellence. Your comments here are also welcome. And stay tuned for the report!

Related articles:

New opportunity: participate in the 4th Annual State of B2B CEM survey

Limited time offer: buy the 2012 report now and a complimentary copy of the 2013 report will be sent when it is published

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If you currently manage CEM and work for a B2B company, please join the new Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management LinkedIn Group!