Some of you may have seen my recent LinkedIn posting, “Can B2C’ers transition to B2B?”. It was the most read and most commented posting I have put up all year. It really struck a chord because so many marketers have worked on both sides of the fence. In an effort to assemble all responses into a single post for quick reference, I have created this compilation of comments which address the question head on. As you’ll see by reading these responses, the myth that B2C’ers simply cannot transition to business-to-business is not only busted, this posting tears it to shreds.
How can this information help you? At least four ways:
-You’re interviewing for a B2B marketing position but you’re running into resistance because you have mostly B2C background. Send them this post. This is gospel from some of the most experienced and successful B2B’ers on the planet, many with decades of experience and who began their careers in B2C.
– You’re engaged in a lively discussion about B2B marketing versus B2C, and someone stubbornly opines that “once a B2C’er, always a B2C’er.” Send them this post. It will help open their eyes.
– You’ve been in B2C your entire career and you really want to broaden your skill set by adding some B2B marketing to your experience, but you’re not sure you have the B2B skills to be successful. Read this post. It will boost your confidence.
– You’re just starting out in your career in ecommerce and/or digital marketing, and wondering which direction to take. Read this post. You’ll learn a LOT.
I am giving this posting a unique hashtag, #B2BversusB2C, for future reference. The names of the commentators have been redacted to maintain confidentiality, but all are experienced marketers and many are contacts, clients, associates and candidates who I worked with over the years.
“At the end of the day, that same B2B customer shops in their personal life as a B2C customer. B2B should be treated the same as B2C fundementally. Only difference is net terms, quantity, and delivery. The user experience should cater towards the B2C feel within a B2B marketing environment.”
“You know that this is a passionate debate for us B2B marketers! Of course we market to people and not to companies or enterprises, and all marketing is individualized, but there are fundamental differences in Enterprise B2B or B2I that require a different strategic approach. Hierarchical structures exist in B2B and not in B2C, decision making in an Enterprise is very different than decision making in a household. If you are evaluating B2C versus SOHO or small business B2B, you will see many more similarities, but I think it does an injustice to both B2B and B2C marketers to try and argue this one. I have learned much from “B2C” marketers over the years and I know that they have learned much from me. We can all learn how to apply principles from different segments to our communication channels. I AM NOT A B2B MARKETER. I now consider myself a B2E marketer = “Business to Everyone.”
“I work with many clients on ecommerce for both B2C and B2B marketing and I agree with some other comments here — expertise in one informs the other. There is only COMMERCE today, I wear different hats all the time, and I am not alone.”
“B2b and B2C are extremely different skillsets. There’s a lot of skill transfer (overlap), but unless you’ve had success generating demand in both roles, you will likely fail.”
“The line between B2B and B2C has become so blurred, it is practically a distinction without meaning. All customers now expect highly relevant, personalized experiences, regardless of whether their buying journey is consumer or business related. Business-2-Everyone (B2E)”
“I made the transition a while ago from B2C to B2B and prescribe to the philosophy that while B2B has a longer sales cycle, (customers) have the expectation of a B2C experience.”
“All marketing, whether B2C or B2B, is marketing to an individual. Our job as a marketer is to convince one person that our product or service is valuable to them. The difference is that in B2B, there will be many layers of convincing needed. But in the end, you continue to convince one person to take action. And every person, whether in business or consumer, has the same basic needs: To make my life better and easier. From buying a soft drink to enterprise-wide software; convince the buyer their life will be better/easier and you will gain a customer (sure it is a bit more complicated, but follow this tenet and you will succeed).”
“I see two big differences in B2B: (1) supporting the sales rep and working in lock step with them and (2) longer and often more complex sales cycles, although it depends on the type of transaction. Can talent transfer from B2C to B2B? I would suggest the answer is yes if two (2) dynamics in which it would: #1, most of the buyers are small businesses, in which case the company behaves like a consumer because one person is likely making the purchase decision. And #2, the B2B company is seeing B2C expectations rising in their shopping experience.”
“I remember a colleague who came to B2B from (a large consumer products company) and could not BELIEVE how much tougher it was in B2B. No data third parties to leverage for instant data, hygiene challenges, not being able to relate to the customer in a lab. She adapted fine!”
“It ain’t rocket science. For anyone to say that B2B and B2C are so different is as outdated and wrong as “separate but equal”. I have extensive professional experience on both sides with multiple companies each. In one job, we were 50/50 B2C/B2B. I also have an MBA with a concentration in Marketing and a M.S. in Marketing, where one of my courses focused exclusively on B2B. So, my classmates were a mix of people, many of them like me, and we talked about this all semester. In my expert, professional opinion, B2C and B2B ARE different, but the differences are NOT night and day, and they are easily understood, IMHO. There are technical differences, such as how to take payments on a website, account set up, private price lists, and so on, and the customer decision journey (CDJ) is sometimes different, because you may have to appeal to multiple stakeholders at varying levels. “
“Good people can migrate easily, you’re still selling to people and the nuances can be learned. Have been successful going the other way too, B2B to B2C.”
“I would say the challenge is making sure you know the questions to ask when moving to the B2B side. There are idiosyncrasies in pricing, distribution, sales cycle, and more in B2B that just never show up in B2C. Not that a B2C’er can’t learn, but if you’re making the leap there will be aspects of the business you probably haven’t encountered before.”
“There’s a learning curve for any change in company, regardless of whether you are going B2C to B2B or vice versa. There’s enough crossover that a skilled marketer should be able to adapt easily enough. And there are things that people who have primarily only done one or the other can bring to the table for the other side. I think in many ways it is similar in going agency to client side or client side to agency. Cross-pollination of skills and experience can bring with it a lot of other benefits.”
“Thank you for addressing this-I can really get on my soap box on this one! It is all human to human marketing! Why do B2B companies make it out to be a secret club? Know your audience pain points, competition, differentiation, work with sales, product positioning, metric reporting. It’s all marketing. Period.”
“30 years under my belt, 50% B2B/B2C. I’ve found nearly every principle, practice, test, most automation platforms and even some channels crossover. Seems to me that most of us independent consultants are open to all client types and therefore need to be adept with both sides. I’d say that successful crossover is entirely possible. It is highly dependent on the candidate and less so on the job description.”
“I spent 20+ years on rhe B2C side and now most of my clients are B2B, including financial services and manufacturing. After concluding a couple of projects, my clients commented that they believed they benefited by having a fresh set of eyes from outside their industry.”
“I think the division between the two is more blurry on the digital side. Buyers in businesses shop more like consumers. A lot of B2B sites look 10 years old and are difficult to navigate. If applicable, the difference is learning about lead generation and supporting inside and outside sales teams.”
“The only difference in B2B and B2C is the transaction process on who is buying. In B2B it’s often most important to improve the transactional efficiency, and for the selling company the gains in B2B are operational savings often before margin increases. You also have things like EDI, punchout, batch upload, fax/OCR to contend with. I personally like B2B better then B2C as it fits my problem solver mentality and allows me to get my hands dirty in Ecommerce, Supply Chain, SIOP, and logistics. You can only have so much fun in B2C with PPC, ad spending, and email campaigns.”
“B2B buyers want to make work purchases in much the same way they’ve become accustomed to making purchases in their personal life. They want a B2C-like online shopping experience, and B2B businesses who ignore this fact are going to get left behind.”
“The amount of content/requests/outreach people in the B2B space receive continues to grow to unmanageable levels; to stand out from the crowd requires a ‘one-on-one’ marketing approach. Therefore, understanding segmentation, drivers, channels, metrics, and meaningful storytelling is key. These deliverables are no longer circumscribed to B2C marketing, but are necessary to succeed in the business space. Which also makes the case for the B2B to B2C transition, as the lines between B2C and B2B get increasingly blurry. Business people are people. As a B2B -mostly- marketing executive, I often rely on the B2C experience I acquired in the mobile telecommunications space to drive meaningful engagement and brand-awareness in the B2B space. Jerry’s comment reminds me of the ‘inbound’ vs. “outbound’ discussion a few years back. The continuous evolution of the marketing science is what makes it such a compelling and fun discipline. Never a boring day.”
“As someone who has hired B2C marketers for a B2B marketing business, I learned that it is not only possible but required for most B2B businesses to hire the B2C skill set. B2C digital players are skilled in concepts such as merchandising and user experience. They embody the focus on end-user and have a better sense of business impact. Yes, they need to learn demand-gen and considered purchase, but I suspect the B2B world has enough of them. And finally as people have alluded to, eventually all marketing will be P2P or H2H. Might as well start now.”
“B’s and C’s are both human beings that evaluate opportunities as human beings not as B’s and C’s. Same intellectual and emotional quotients at play.”
“I think it really depends on the role you are hiring at. I do both B2B and B2C (and B2B ecommerce). Each one has a completely different rythm, message sequencing, technology and key lever marketing channels. Smart marketers can pivot and learn quickly, but many don’t. I think it depends if youre ‘hirimg for talent but training for skills’, in which case heck yes, hire someone with a different background and watch them jump the learning curve. If you need someone to create the strategy, them you probably want someone with prior experience. Also, a B2C focus may not be the right fit for some B2B companies, a simple user flow may be better. Or, the cost of pivoting the organization may be too high. It seems like a case-by-case.”
“B2C and B2B marketing have many of the same guiding principles, although as you mentioned, there are nuances that make them unique. Similarly, there are differences between marketing for regulated industries (banking, insurance, etc.) and non-regulated industries. Once you have the marketing knowledge solid, the rest is a matter of industry learning, and using the data to optimize and continue to improve no matter what your target audience looks like.”
“I’ve done both. They are different. Not always as easy as some people think, not as hard as others seem to think. So the basic answer is yes, you can make the transition.”
“Here’s a few thoughts on what I’ve noticed (all my opinion of course). B2C: The scale is usually much, much larger than B2B. The greater size allows you to test MUCH more easily than B2B, as the sample sets can be larger. So it’s easier to move faster and improve processes faster. Also, the emails tend to have a slightly longer decay curve than B2B, where the decay curve is measured in minutes and hours, something that was a real shock to me coming from B2C. With B2C, you also (usually) have a much better defined brand and brand voice. While selling and revenue are important, it’s often not as important as in B2B where there’s much more focus on selling. Also, I think the B2C tools are better because the volumes are so high, the tools are simply better. But maybe that’s me.”
“The distinction between B2B and B2C digital marketing has all but disappeared. The key is the ability to understand the customer journey and finding the right touch points and tools to influence the decision points. Those skills are universal.”
“I’ve been successful in both and frankly feel B2B has plenty to learn from B2C. Omnichannel marketing along with online shopping has blurred the lines between the two. My affinities are the same wether I’m making personal or professional purpose.”
“I have the same conversation in my current job search. It’s the predictable bias of B2C (and you could inversely say B2B also) that there’s a grand river between the two. To be honest, I made the move from B2C to B2B marketing leadership and it was MUCH easier because I had the experience. Data is the key, and the fact that consumers (regardless of placement on the spectrum) started online in a B2C world. There’s much to learn from both and there are so many things that connect the two. Data and the use of it being the biggest. I think, sadly, it’s a bias that needs to be dispelled.”
“I’ve bounced between B2C and B2B for nearly two decades, intentionally. I’ve found it’s much easier for marketers to go from B2C to B2B, than the other way around.”
“One more squarely in the “B2H” camp. The days where there was this clean and distinguishable line are long gone. Companies that have figured this out are the ones thriving today.”
“I think people need to dispose of the B2B/B2C line. Once people realize that we are all consumers, we engage with similar media/mediums, etc., it truly dissolves the line. Consumers and businesses look for the same solution to the problem, ie, how does this benefit or solve for what I need? The only difference is the way in which we secure on behalf of ourselves or organizations.”
“In this day and age, it is imperative that folks think outside the box. This is a very timely question as I am transitioning and speaking with B2B outfits this comes up alot. I am also talking to colleagues of mine who are in the B2B space and to a person they say not only is the transition from C to B possible, it also brings a unique perspective that traditional B2B may lack. It’s about understanding talent and how the puzzle fits. And remember whether the customer is a individual consumer or a business, at the end of the day it is a customer. You are trying to move a good or service. We are at an interesting time, and I think things are changing and adaptability becomes the question.”
“No way. I’ve been B2C my entire career and pivoted to B2B a year and a half ago. My B2C upbringing has paid huge dividends in understanding our customer (retailers) and better servicing them.”
“Take away the B2B/C designation and look at what needs to get done. The base skill sets are virtually the same. I wore both hats for many years without issue and I am confident that if you have your goals defined, it is a simple matter of slightly tweaking the rest.”
“Speaking from a tremendous amount of practical experience working and managing both B2C and B2B (as well as the combination of both), its a silly misconception driven by a combination of a lack of practical experience and general knowledge about how both sides work. There are way more similarities than differences and the skill sets are extremely similar.”
“Both backgrounds bring a lot to the table to benefit the “other side.” Good people can migrate easily with a little effort.”
“I think its an easy transition….at the end of the day you are marketing to people. the only difference is you know exactly who your target is… the general principles of marketing still apply, with the exception of some minor differences due to potentially longer sales cycles.”
“I transitioned from B2C to B2B2C a few years back, it was a change but not too drastic. The marketer just has to realize that going to B2B means that one more compelling message needs to be produced; you now need a good value proposition for your client in addition to the end consumer. The messages are related but not exactly the same. Also, more patience is needed as you don’t have the final call on when a B2B strategy gets to market.”
“I think that the basic marketing skill sets are similar but the buyer journeys and motivations are very different, so the implementations are different. For example, while one person can be both a B2C and B2B customer, as a B2C buyer they may make impulse purchases motivated by a desire for quick gratification, while at work they probably make purchases more thoughtfully and carefully, motivated by a desire to achieve success (or avoid embarrassment) in their careers. Instagram video ads vs. YouTube “How to” videos, re-targeting ads vs. email drip campaigns, etc.”
“I have started my career in B2B marketing, later switched to B2C, and now back to B2B. I don’t find much difference once you can understand the segment behavior, attributes, how to market to those personas. Marketers target decision makers, and the behavior of those decision makers switches throughout the day from B2C (when they are buying for themselves) to B2B when looking for solutions. Content plays a vital role in catering to those audiences. B2B marketing requires a lot of spoon feeding (nurturing) with trails of material, while B2C tends to make an instant decision with the spot on content. A smart marketer should be able to adapt regardless of the situation. So, the question should be “once a marketer should always be a marketer?'”
“As someone with many years of experience on the advertising side, my colleagues and I have successfully worked with many different kinds of B2C and B2B businesses. I find excitement in the learning curves, and have certainly gained experience working with sales teams, and even import/export issues, in both B2B and B2C realms!”
“I agree with so many of the other commenters that B2C experience can be extremely valuable to a B2B marketer (or, as some have said, a B2E or B2H marketer). Expectations are shifting, and our buyers want an experience that’s comparable to the experience delivered by their favorite consumer brands. Yes, in B2B purchases, there are frequently more decision makers in the mix and the sales cycle can be very long. However, it’s always important to understand your audience, and B2B buyers are also consumers. B2C experience plus an understanding of B2B buying — or eagerness to learn about it — sounds like a great combination to me. I agree that the learning curve is not insurmountable. I know this from my own personal experience.”
“There has been a long trend to seek round pegs for round holes. While the learning curve is greatly reduced, you don’t get fresh new thinking or strategies. I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity 12 years back to transition marketing healthcare/pharmaceutical brands without any prior vertical experience, and that was based solely on my direct response marketing experience. Over these 12 years I learned how to market to physician segments (aka healthcare ptofessionals) which would be considered B2B, as well as consumer patient marketing which would be considered B2C. Taking it a step further, as the healthcare system shifts, I’ve introduced another slant on B2B, targeting C and D suite titles as they are the ultimate decision makers within hospital and healthcare systems. The point I want to make is that there are unique candidates who are motivated and able to adjust their career direction, and able to ramp up, adapt quickly, and bring value-add to their new roles.”
“The gap may have been larger in the past with B2B marketing lagging several years behind B2C. Today it is about authenticity, experience and execution with B2B much closer in relation to development resources and the customer journey. There still are unique differences between the two, but nothing an engaged marketing executive would not be able to identify and maximize quickly. Also worth noting that with so many B2B companies going direct, you need people who can view the ecosystem through both lenses, and position the company to capitalize on both.”
“The principles of marketing remain true no matter what side of the equation you drive. As we in the marketing business know very well: * Not All Customers Have The Same Value.* *Customer Behavior Will Change Over Time Due To Specific Events.* *All Competitors Will React.* *Resources Are Limited and Must Be Prioritized.* If we focus on these 4 foundational concepts, we will deliver greater value to the companies we serve. B2B or B2C is just a flavor.”
“If you’re a marketer, you understand the importance of knowing your audience and how they go about making decisions, etc. You also know how to identify their selection criteria so you can make sure you are providing the right information at the right time/stage of the buying process.”
“I split my 30-year career between B2B marketing and B2C marketing in a variety of industries with successful results. If I can do it, others can.”
“I believe firmly that once you’ve mastered certain marketing skills overall, the pivot between B2B and B2C is not a huge leap. In fact, many of my peers have made this transition with minimal adjustment. I myself have managed to do the same thing many times in my own career, working on various accounts and adjusting between B2B and B2C. It is truly a function of one’s own marketing abilities.”
“I agree that there is an advantage to being able to see through both the B2C lens and the B2B lens. I have run operations with multiple brands and both B2C and B2B at the same time. I think there is an advantage. With B2B marketing you are fishing in a smaller pond but generally you can spend more to acquire new customers. But the biggest differences are psychological, and they’re not as big as they used to be. Every B2B buyer is also a consumer, and what they see on B2C sites is what they’ve largely come to expect on B2B sites.”
For those looking for a good visual explanation of the differences between B2B and B2C, check out this video from Insite Software. It’s pretty basic, but sometimes going back to basics is the best explanation of all.
Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation's preeminent and veteran digital marketing and ecommerce recruiters, and has been called the "voice" of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, "Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing," on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 29 years.