Important question: Are your customers also your users?

Or, why the terms B2B and B2C aren’t totally useless.

For a long time I disliked the terms “B2B” and “B2C”. They sounded like over-architected corporate terms to me that didn’t really mean anything. I still think they’re over-architected corporate terms but I now think that they hint at an important distinction: the difference between selling to customers who don’t use your product and selling to customers who do.

In B2B businesses sell to other businesses. In B2C businesses sell directly to consumers. This distinction makes all the difference. When you sell to someone who uses your software, you’re talking to someone who cares about the user experience because it directly affects their future. They might even want to try out your product first. They’ll want to know what others in their situation did. That’s why on consumer oriented sites you see free trials…because someone who is purchasing for their own use wants to know what they’re getting into.

When you sell to someone who does not use your software then you have a very different task in front of you. You’re not talking to someone who cares about user experience because they’re not the ones who will use your product. They care about making the purchase look like a good idea, so they’re naturally concerned about features, pricing, and convincing other people. That’s why on enterprise sites you rarely see free trials and instead see things like whitepapers, webinars, and case studies that someone can use to report to others.

Those two activities are very different: buying and using. When one person does them both, they appear to be one activity and can obscure what’s really going on. When they are separate, when the customer is not the user, then the difference becomes much more clear.

Therefore, we must design accordingly, depending on who we’re selling to. This is part of the age-old maxim to know who your audience is and know what they care about. So take a second look…knowing if your customers are also your users is one of the most important things you can know.

Published: September 20th, 2011