How B2C Customers Are Similar to B2B Customers

The Roles Consumers Play as They Interact with Your Firm

October 4, 2012

Regardless of what hat your customers are wearing when they do business with you—parent, employee, soccer coach—they all want a great customer experience. Although there is a common practice to treat business customers differently than consumers, consumers actually have more in common with business customers than you might think.


The common perception that consumers are a different breed than business customers doesn’t hold water. Just as in a business, consumers play different roles in their families (such as purchasing agent or maintenance manager), make decisions by committee, and are accountable to budget considerations.

When designing a customer experience, understand what your customer is trying to accomplish and that both consumers and business customers want it to be easy to find the right products, purchase them, use and maintain them, replenish or replace them when they are outdated, and to plan for future purchases.


There is a common myth that consumers have different customer needs than do business customers. After all, some say, the customer experience for consumers is personal and individual, whereas the experience for the business customer is all about the company for which they work.

But I disagree1. A customer is a customer, and while the context in which a customer does his or her shopping/purchasing may be different, universally, customers want:

  • To trust their suppliers
  • To achieve their outcomes with a minimum of fuss and obstacles
  • To always get what they want in a timely (by their definition) fashion
  • To always know what to do to get what they want and need (no confusion)
  • To feel special and valued as a customer

In fact, when you look closely at when and how consumers make buying decisions, there are a lot of commonalities with the context that surrounds business customers. Like business customers, consumers often play different roles in the family/community structure; need to consult and get approval from others for their purchases; and have accountability for the purchasing decisions they make. And, just to look at the other side for a moment, business customers are individual people who want a great experience and to be treated as a valued customer, not as an anonymous cog in a corporate customer machine.


Most companies do a pretty good job of providing a good experience for individual customers as they go through the customer lifecycle (see Illustration 1).

The Customer Lifecycle

(Click on image to enlarge.)

© 2012 Patricia Seybold Group Inc.

1. When designing your customer experience, make sure that you take into consideration all the different stages of the customer lifecycle.

Savvy providers understand the lifecycle and do their best to make sure that each individual customer will have an easy time navigating the different stages.

Different Roles in the Family

However, an individual isn’t always going through the lifecycle “alone.” A consumer customer is only completely in control when selecting, buying, using, etc. items for products and services that he, and he alone, cares about and uses. Think about what you buy. How often is the purchase for another family member or for the family to share? Just like a B2B customer who has a role within her organization, individuals play multiple roles within their families. For example, consider the following “family roles:”

  • Purchasing Agent. A family member often makes purchases on behalf of another family member. In my family, my mother bought all the clothes for my brother and myself, as well as clothing staples, such as socks, for my father. And when we wanted a specific toy, it was our mother (or, actually, more often our father—who could be a pushover) who made the purchase. The kids (and spouse) act as influencers and the family purchasing agent does the actual shopping and buying. Like a purchasing agent, the family member doesn’t make the decision on what to buy, but does find the best place and/or price to buy it.
  • Influencer. Turning that around, each family member acts as an influencer for the purchases he or she wants made on his or her behalf. For example, when selecting and buying a family car, the kids often influence the final purchase. (Often that influence is manifested as whining and nagging—“If you buy that boring station wagon, you’ll have to drop me off two blocks from school” or “That car will be mine in four years when I get my license, so it can’t be green!,” but it is influence nonetheless.)
  • Household Manager. Like an office manager who selects, purchases, and replenishes office supplies, a household member takes the responsibility of buying the groceries and household staples (such as bathroom tissue and trash bags) that the entire family needs and uses. Although influencers may have input initially (Colgate toothpaste tastes better than Crest), once the standard list of household supplies is established, shopping for the customer is usually a matter of restocking the shelves.
  • Comptroller. In any organization, someone is in charge of the budget. The same is true of a household. Occasionally, the responsibility is shared, but, typically, one family member keeps track of purchases and available money. And, as in a business, when someone spends outside of the budget rules, there are consequences to pay! (“I know you wanted the new weed wacker, honey, but that means you can’t get the new grill you wanted for another three months,” or “If you buy that toy now, you’ll have to pay for it with your allowance for the next five weeks!”)
  • Maintenance Manager(s). In business and at home, things break! And, like in most organizations, a different person/role arranges to get things fixed based on what is broken. In business, IT is called in when systems don’t work, and facilities fixes the broken door. At home, when an appliance breaks, dad might call, schedule, and supervise the repair. Mom might be in charge of returning clothes that don’t fit or that are damaged. And the teen-aged daughter may be in charge of making sure electronics are working correctly (“Sweetie, how do I post a new picture on Facebook?”).

When consumers are acting in these roles, they want the same consideration and streamlined experiences that business customers expect. And vice versa; business customers want it to be as easy to fix a broken system as calling and scheduling without having to go through a complicated and time- consuming process of determining SLA agreements, account numbers, etc.

The Customer Lifecycle with Consumer Roles

The Customer Lifecycle with Consumer Roles
(Click on image to enlarge.)

© 2012 Patricia Seybold Group Inc.

2. Typically, different roles, whether in a business or a household, handle different stages of the customer lifecycle. Be aware, however, that the same customer may assume different roles at different times depending on the purchase and the situation or context.



1) See “Does B2B Customer Experience Differ from B2C CX?” by Ronni Marshak, July 13, 2012.

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