Key Differences Between B2B and B2C CRM Systems
Selling to businesses requires different strategy and tactics than selling to individual customers. While businesses justify their purchases in terms of practical and financial benefits, private customers seek out products and services that add meaning to their lives, and evoke positive feelings.
For precisely these reasons, business-to-business (B2B) customer relationship management (CRM) platforms take a distinctly different approach from business-to-customer (B2C) systems. B2B CRM software tends to focus on nurturing a small number of high-value leads through complex sales and support processes, across a few key touchpoints.
In other words, your choice of CRM software should be guided the number of leads you aim to cultivate, and the ways in which you intend to communicate with them. Although B2B CRM systems account for the lion’s share of the market, dedicated B2C CRM platforms do exist, and are worth seeking out if your business needs to track, report and automate rapid-fire interactions with large numbers of customers.
Here’s a closer look at several major areas where B2B and B2C CRM systems differ.
Across nearly every industry, the B2B sales process follows a fairly consistent set of steps. Prospects typically initiate first contact after looking over some in-depth sales material. After an initial assessment and vetting stage, a salesperson schedules a call or meeting and delivers a proof of concept. If all goes well, this meeting sets off a (sometimes extensive) process of negotiation, leading up to the big sale, which is typically followed by ongoing customer support.
B2B CRM software is designed from the ground up to map to this business logic. These platforms organize all communication into clear sales pipelines, helping B2B salespeople avoid repeating work that others have already done – increasing efficiency and streamlining collaboration on the path to a major sale, which may be achieved only a few times per quarter. The pipeline view can also help support staff deliver targeted technical assistance to clients who expect responsive support around the clock. In all these ways, the pipeline model is ideally suited to the logic of B2B sales.
In B2C CRM, by contrast, the sales process often looks less like a pipe and more like a funnel. Messaging is shown to thousands or even millions of individual leads. Automated campaigns ensure that each message gets delivered to the right prospect, on the right touchpoint, at the right moment – and websites and mobile apps filter out unqualified leads, leaving a smaller pool of ideal customers who receive the actual sales pitch – at which point they either make a purchase, or get re-routed into another stage of the sales funnel, where they may receive further pitches tailored to their interests.
A B2B pipeline approach, managing each lead’s progress in detail, would be completely impractical for such large-scale outreach. B2C marketers need all-encompassing views of entire audience segments, presenting audience behavior in terms of overall trends. A B2C CRM platform is designed to store contact information for millions of leads, to automatically deliver targeted messaging to specific audience segments, to close sales on a timeline of days (or even hours), and to generate real-time statistical analyses of audience behavior.
By mapping to B2C business logic, a B2C CRM system helps nurture large audiences, boosting operational efficiencies by obtaining greater value from each lead. Instead of helping salespeople present detailed pitches, these platforms stimulate impulse buys and “in-the-moment” decisions, by making offers that appeal to each customer’s personal tastes and interests. This is all possible because B2C products tend to be uniform, easy to distribute, and designed to be sold at scale.
Functionality and features
In B2B CRM software, each sales pipeline is displayed on a central dashboard. From this pipeline view, sales team members can “zoom in” on individual steps in the sales process, to find out which topics have been covered, which gaps still need to be addressed, which documents have been sent – or are waiting for someone’s signature – and what’s been discussed and decided at each meeting with the prospective client.
Another distinct feature of the CRM in B2C model is the organization of multiple contacts under business entities. Your salespeople may work with multiple contacts at each company – a complex task that requires them to keep track of which documents have been sent to which contacts, which team members and contacts were present at which meetings, and which steps need to be taken with which contacts in order to close the sale with that company. For this reason, B2B CRM systems help keep all relevant documents and contact data in a centralized folder for each company.
In B2C CRM solutions, on the other hand, hundreds or even thousands of leads may be pouring in all the time, via online landing pages, mobile apps, phone lines and other touchpoints. It would be inconceivable to manage each of these sales funnels individually – which is why B2C CRM platforms provide marketers with a higher-level view of each audience segments as a whole. From a campaign management dashboard, B2C marketing managers can view statistics on the performance of specific email messages within a campaign, and can quickly add or adjust steps of the campaign within a drag-and-drop marketing automation interface.
And instead of generating tailored proposals and negotiating with a few key contacts, B2C salespeople need to quickly engage customers, generate impulse purchases, and re-route leads into loyalty programs. That’s why B2C CRM platforms integrate seamlessly with social media and call center apps, enabling sales and marketing experts to rapidly manage a large-scale flow of lead and customer traffic. CRM features like high-volume customer data tracking, social media and email automation, and call center routing all help B2C teams close thousands or millions of rapid sales every day – all while maintaining a clear overhead view of the campaign as a whole.
Because of these particularities in functionality and features, B2B and B2C CRM platforms can look strikingly different on the user side. Some B2B CRM systems look similar to an ordinary email inbox – with the exception that they organize all messages and documents into color-coded sales pipelines. B2C CRM dashboards, on the other hand, may include distinct control panels for viewing customer details, automating a drag-and-drop email campaign, organizing support requests, monitoring social-media dialogues, and handling many other aspects of a multi-channel sales and support organization.
Applications and opportunities
In light of the distinct differences between the business logic, interfaces, features and functions of B2B CRM platforms versus those of B2C software, it’s no surprise that these two types of CRM systems are put to highly different uses, and applied in their own characteristic ways. Whereas B2B CRM software is typically used to handle relationships with a few prospects and customers over the long term, and to provide clear visibility over each stage of the sales process, B2C CRM platforms, meanwhile, are used to generate consistent sales through a wide range of marketing activities, and to provide big-picture projections about the performance of prospective campaigns and tactics.
In fact, these two types of systems grew out of entirely different sets of premises and goals. The concept of B2B CRM platforms originates from customer database software developed in the 1970s and 80s, which was designed to help centralize all documents and contacts involved in a client-specific sales process. The core structure of a B2B sales pipeline has changed fairly little since the 1980s – even as sales media and products themselves have undergone considerable evolution. That means B2B CRM tools are aimed primarily at helping experienced sales teams do their jobs more effectively.
The idea of B2C CRM software, however, emerged much more recently, with the application of cloud-based analytics to drive real-time business decision making at scale. Only in the last few years have B2C CRM platforms become available to small businesses – and many marketers say the full potential of these new automated platforms remains poorly understood and largely untapped. That means the world of B2C CRM presents tremendous opportunities for marketing innovators and data geeks, who can devise powerful new ways of transforming audience data into compelling personalized sales funnels.
The top three B2B and B2C CRM systems
Among B2B CRM systems, HubSpot consistently ranks near the top. One significant reason for this is that HubSpot offers automated contact importation, saving salespeople from having to handle repetitive, time-consuming tasks. Its automatic interaction tracking and streamlined deal interface make it easy for B2B salespeople to keep track of their communication with up to 1,000,000 contacts.
Pipedrive also ranks high on many lists of B2B CRM platforms. This pipeline-focused system provides intuitive tools that allow salespeople to plan specific outreach activities and sync them across calendars. Plus, its automated tracking ensures that all B2B deals and conversations are kept in the same place, easily accessible from a central deal pipeline dashboard.
For organizations dealing with large audiences, Insightly provides an extensive range of B2C integrations, including MailChimp and other third-party marketing apps. The platform automatically imports and integrates stats from all outreach across all platforms, an organizes the results into clear sales pipelines, so you can easily see where prospects are converting, and where others are dropping out of the funnel.
Freshsales has also attracted a loyal B2C user base, thanks to its flawless integration with Google Calendar and Segment, its insightful team metrics, its phone call tracking and its intuitive deal funnel dashboard. With 24/7 chat support and nearly endless customization options, this platform is adaptable enough to support a wide range of B2C strategies.
For sales organizations that manage many funnels across a large number of B2C touchpoints, bpm’online consistently scores high marks for its integrated audience segment management, spanning Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media channels. Its powerful dashboard provides clear overviews of all marketing activities, providing updates on marketing events, as well as click-through statistics and other key metrics.
And for small businesses aiming to set up extensive B2C outreach with minimal complexity, Really Simple Systems provides its own first-party email marketing an analytics tools that replace the functionality of many popular third-party apps. This ability to automate email campaigns, sync data, and generate in-depth custom reports — all without having to leave the software’s dashboard — makes RSS more intuitive than many other platforms within the B2C CRM class.
As far as business logic, B2B CRM systems are designed to support smooth progress through a pipeline of complex negotiations, with multiple contacts at a small number of companies. In terms of functionality and features, they’re focused on providing clear overviews of each pipeline, so sales teams can coordinate their efforts effectively. And on the application side, they’re geared toward gaining detailed insights of each customer’s needs, in order to drive profitable deals.
B2C platforms, by contrast, are driven by the logic of nurturing large-scale audience segments, in order to drive impulse purchases, Their functionality is built around rapid automation and adaptation of high-volume campaigns, and reporting and forecasting of overall audience behavior. And although their applications have primarily leaned toward email and social media marketing, their full implications for audience engagement remain largely unknown and untapped.
Like any unbiased CRM functionality comparison, this analysis is designed not to tell you which platform to choose, but to enable you to make your own informed decision.