Segmentation Challenges In Business-To-Business Markets
Business-to-business markets are characterised in a number of ways that makes them very different to their consumer cousins. Below we summarise the main differences between consumer and business-to-business markets, and set out the implications for segmentation: 1) B2B markets have a more complex decision-making unit: In most households, even the most complex and expensive of purchases are confined to the small family unit, while the purchase of items such as food, clothes and cigarettes usually involves just one person. Other than low-value, low-risk items such as paperclips, the decision-making unit in businesses is far more complicated. The purchase of a piece of plant equipment may involve technical experts, purchasing experts, board members, production managers and health and safety experts, each of these participants having their own set of (not always evident) priorities. Segmenting a target audience that is at once multifaceted, complex, oblique and ephemeral is an extremely demanding task. Do we segment the companies in which these decision makers work, or do we segment the decision makers themselves? Do we identify one key decision maker per company, and segment the key decision makers. In short, who exactly is the target audience and who should we be segmenting? 2) B2B buyers are more ‘rational’: The view that b2b buyers are more rational than consumer buyers is perhaps controversial, but we believe true. Would the consumer who spends $3,000 on a leather jacket that is less warm and durable than the $300 jacket next-door make a similar decision in the workplace? Consumers tend to buy what they want; b2b buyers generally buy what they need. It perhaps therefore follows that segmenting a business audience based on needs should be easier than segmenting a consumer audience. In business-to-business markets it is critical to identify the drivers of customer needs. These often boil down to relatively simple identifiers such as company size, volume purchased or job function. These identifiers often enable needs and therefore segments to be quite accurately predicted. 3) B2B products are often more complex: Just as the decision-making unit is often complex in business-to-business markets, so too are b2b products themselves. Even complex consumer purchases such as cars and stereos tend to be chosen on the basis of fairly simple criteria. Conversely, even the simplest of b2b products might have to be integrated into a larger system, making the involvement of a qualified expert necessary. Whereas consumer products are usually standardized, b2b purchases are frequently tailored. This raises the question as to whether segmentation is possible in such markets – if every customer has complex and completely different needs, it could be argued that we have a separate segment for every single customer. In most business-to-business markets, a small number of key customers are so important that they ‘rise above ‘ the segmentation and are regarded as segments in their own right, with a dedicated account manager. Beneath these key customers, however, lies an array of companies that have similar and modest enough requirements to be grouped into segments. 4) B2B target audiences are smaller than consumer target audiences: Almost all business-to-business markets exhibit a customer distribution that confirms the Pareto Principle or 80:20 rule. A small number of customers dominate the sales ledger. Nor are we talking thousands and millions of customers. It is not unusual, even in the largest business-to-business companies, to have 100 or fewer customers that really make a difference to sales. One implication is that b2b markets generally have fewer needs-based segments than consumer segments – the volume of data is such that achieving enough granularity for more than 3 or 4 segments is often impossible. 5) Personal relationships are...
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