It’s the first rule of marketing, writing, or really any form of communication: know your audience. This becomes clear when one finds a website that doesn’t understand the differences between B2B and B2C design.
Whether you’re writing a letter or building a website, you are designing something for a specific reader. You wouldn’t send your best friend a form letter, and you shouldn’t make a website for everyone and just hope the right people stumble across it.
Many B2B websites, though, fail to design fully for their audience. Instead, they follow best practices for B2C websites. Though these two spheres have much in common, there are crucial factors which differentiate them. Building a B2C website for a B2B customer means a lot of wasted time and money for both of you, and a diminished ROI for your customer.
So what are some of the main differences between B2B and B2C websites? Let’s take a closer look.
Businesses and Individuals Make Buying Decisions Differently
Everyone, businesses and consumers alike, fundamentally value the same things. Value, quality, and compatibility are important to everyone to varying degrees. But these needs often express themselves differently in different groups.
Firstly, businesses generally take longer to make buying decisions. Not to say consumers never take their time or do their homework, but this is a fundamental part of every initial business purchase (recurring purchases can become automatic, but this only follows an initial decision-making process and is often subject to re-evaluation).
This applies to companies of all sizes. In large organizations, the employees in one department will often have a hand in recommending the purchase of a certain piece of equipment or service. More often than not, though, the final decision rests with management or a dedicated purchasing department. One side advocates for performance, the other for value (of course, these aren’t mutually exclusive, merely an indication of what would be on the front of their minds).
Small businesses, including solo operations, also consider both of these, but they don’t often have a clear structure for making the final purchases.
The decision-making process for consumers is even less formal. Though ideally members of a household would still make purchases—especially large purchases—after coming to an agreement, there’s not really someone formally tasked with buying decisions and impulsive buys happen more often.
This is not just an issue of price, it’s an issue of compatibility. This is a common issue for customers when buying software or hardware (as anyone who has ever scrambled to buy an HDMI cable for their new TV can attest to), but it’s crucial for enterprises who purchase equipment that almost always needs to integrate with other equipment in complex processes.
In practice, this means that B2B websites need to accommodate this longer buying time. A “Buy Now” button which creates urgency and aids impulsivity in consumers isn’t gonna fly here.
Instead, purchasers are going to look for information to use in the decision-making process. Product manuals, detailed comparisons with other products, diagrams, and more all provide purchasers with the material they need for their highly-informed purchases. All of this combined with the ability to quickly and easily request a quote gives websites an advantage when it comes to attracting business customers.
Pricing Strategies for Business Require More Nuance
Wherever they shop, an individual consumer will find the same price as every other consumer. Even if something is on sale or you have a coupon (something I get very excited about now that I’m older), everyone else has access to the same discount. There’s not really room in a retail setting to try to negotiate a lower price. Try to haggle for a discount on a blender and see how far you get.
This is not necessarily true in business, where items are often bought in bulk or through a sales rep who may throw a discount the buyer’s way in order to help strengthen their relationship. Consequently, two different business may well pay two different prices for the same product or service.
This means that B2B websites face a challenge B2C websites don’t. They need to display a price in order to get customers into the sales pipeline, but that price may be higher than the buyer would ultimately pay. You have to deal with the unknown here. How many customers decided not to even contact you because they were put off by a price they may not even end up paying?
B2B websites need to put a lot of effort, then, into getting potential customers in contact with a sales rep who can offer them more accurate, personalized information. Having a quoting tool is great for this, as is any opt-in form (such as a newsletter) that allows the sales team to introduce themselves to customers.
Businesses Are All Different Sizes
Above, we touched on what businesses have in common, regardless of size. But there are important differences between large and small businesses when it comes to purchases. These differences, in turn, highlight an important difference between the needs of B2B and B2C organizations.
Consumers, by and large, will be looking at the same products regardless of the size of their household. Income may limit their particular options, but their performance needs remain the same. A married couple shopping for a stand mixer will likely be looking at the same options as a family of five.
This isn’t necessarily the case for businesses. Say two companies need to purchase an industrial kiln. They navigate their way to a distributor’s website and both find the same kiln.
The first one they look at is a massive, $18,000 kiln with room to roll in massive carts to be fired. This is great for the larger company, but it’s far more than the smaller company can justify. They’d be a better fit for a $2,000 top-loading model. But how easy is that for them to find?
Effective B2B web design predicts the needs of users based on industry, size, and other factors. The website should then funnel users toward the products that best fit them.
This is why many good B2B websites—especially for companies who serve multiple sectors—often have a landing page that asks users to select their industry and/or the size of their company. If the website can then filter their products to highlight those that the user will need, they stand a better chance of converting the user.
While there are crucial differences between B2B and B2C websites, there are similarities at the fundamental level. Websites need to be easy to use and navigate, secure, and attractive to increase the chances of reaching customers.
It’s important for B2B organizations to select designers and developers who understand their needs. Those who can apply the aesthetic standards of B2C designers to the unique needs of B2B customers.
At Kokopelli, we’re proud of our track record of developing highly effective B2B sites. We’re able to do this not just because we combine strong, evocative design, but because we take the time to understand the needs of our customers and find the best tools to meet them.