Today, everyone wants to be treated as an individual.  That being said, how much does it matter if your prospect or customer is a B2B or B2C business?  My answer is, much of the time it does not matter but sometimes it does.  And those “sometimes” are what make relationship management a real challenge.

When does B2B or B2C matter?

I think there is a very real difference between B2B and B2C in a few very important circumstances. These differences are all about comparability.  For example, a couple deciding to purchase a new family car behave very much like a plant engineer and purchasing agent team deciding which piece of capital equipment to order.  These examples are about small teams making a major decision.

At the other end of the spectrum is the teenage girl who sees a new Kate Spade purse on Pinterest and decides she can’t face going to school on Monday unless she is carrying one – there is no comparable B2B purchasing situation.  The semi-equivalent B2B situation may be an Administrative Assistant ordering some desktop equipment (stapler, tape dispenser, etc.) for a new hire.  In this case, the AA opens the Staples or W.B. Mason web site and chooses whatever looks like what he already has on his desk. This is probably not exactly like the sweater example because someone in purchasing negotiated a discount from the office equipment suppliers and the AA can only order something really needed (who needs another sweater?) from an approved vendor at the negotiated discount.

Once we progress beyond the fashion and necessary individual purchases made by individuals, we find that there are no differences between the two types of business relationship.  Why is this the case?

In spite of what most micromanagers and cynics think, people spend company money as though it were their own.  We all want the best value for money, highest quality product commensurate with the need, purchased from people who are trustworthy and genuinely interested in us having a very good experience.  We all want to be treated with respect and educated so we can make an informed decision.

What does this all mean for acquisition and retention?

It means that the soft skills training we typically lavish on our service and support people should also be made mandatory for our sales folks. And it means we should teach our service and support people how to actively listen, provide feedback to make sure we understand the issues, and can think on our feet to craft an answer or fix just like a professional salesperson.

It also means that, since everyone wants to be treated as an individual, we must make sure that the whole organization follows the Platinum Rule – Treat others in the way they like to be treated.

And to do this requires we know how our prospects and customers want to be treated.  The only way to find out (other than trial-and-error; a losing approach) is to get to know them as individuals, ask them what they expect from your business and share that information with every customer facing person.  I am not positively sure which is worse:

  1. No one in the organization knowing what a customer wants or needs and not satisfying her or
  2. Some one in the organizations knowing what a customer wants or needs and not sharing that information with others in the organization and therefore not satisfying her.

I tend to think that 2 is worse since it says that the organization does not respect prospects and customers enough to make sure that everyone know how to take care of them.  And this is clearly a management fault and has nothing to do with the individual employees!