Many businesses operate under a B2B2C model, with business customers who are disparate from end consumers. They facilitate key outcomes for a set of business partners (such as revenue, distribution, consumer behavior change) in a way that leads to a valuable offering for consumers (such as selection, convenience, consolidated services). Common examples include e-commerce companies, reviews sites and food delivery services
In B2B2C companies, a “one size fits all” approach to your product team and process won’t serve your customers and business optimally. Instead, you should organize in a way that accounts for the unique needs of each part of your business. Some quick tips to navigate your team through this:
1. Split Your Team to Serve Distinct Customer Personas
While nearly all businesses serve multiple personas, this is most apparent in B2B2C. A recent example from my own experience: Groupon has consumers and merchants. Your relationship with each, their goals and thus the products needed are very different.
This is a clear and perhaps obvious example from Rajesh’s post (“8 Ways to Organize Your Product Development Squads”) where organizing by personas makes sense. In fact, with this type of business it’s hard to imagine too many viable alternatives. However, this also translates into being able to think more clearly about each part of your business and forming an outcome KPI pyramid for each in light of vision-led product management. Some common outcome metrics for each:
- Business personas: customers acquired, customer retention, revenue growth, profitability, data collected, consumer behavior changed
- Consumer personas: access to service or product selection, time saved/convenience, money saved/value, service quality
As a product leader within these organizations, you will need to ensure that these fit together in order to create a cohesive product experience. However, creating squads with more specialized focus will enable them to develop greater expertise to serve each part of the business well.
2. Staff Your Squads Based on Greatest Need
Not all areas of your business warrant equal investment at a given time. The most important problems to solve may fluctuate between the business and consumer sides over time. Often B2B2C companies have to start with building out the business side first in order to have a compelling offering, but upon getting traction these needs may shift. One may also require greater short term focus to address a current gap. Some things to consider here:
- Staffing isn’t a case of “or” nor “equal” -- but rather is relative emphasis. Both parts of your product are important in a B2B2C business model. However this does not mean that you should allocate equal headcount towards them. Consider where a marginal development squad can make the biggest impact and staff accordingly.
- Disproportionately address your constraints. Identify and then give extra focus to the problems that are constraining your growth. This can also inform your priorities across your team. For example, growing consumer demand can be addressed directly (e.g. customer acquisition and retention) or indirectly (e.g. improving supplier quality to improve the consumer experience).
- Use data to inform the right balance. Metrics provide important feedback here. At a high level: are customers and consumers each achieving their main outcome metrics? At a business level: which squads do you want to staff up given current and expected impact?
- When push comes to shove, which part is more important? To some degree, the demands of “B” and “C” have tension. Is there a side you are philosophically biased towards, based on your company mission, values or strategy? For many businesses, this favors consumers under the premise that businesses will go where consumers are. In any case, clarity helps ensure that compromises don’t dilute your value proposition.
- Give squads time to build expertise. Sometimes it’s tempting to move people between personas to address low hanging fruit. However frequent context switching may result in less customer empathy, slower progress and worse outcomes. Instead, give your squads enough time (ideally at least 3-6 months) to understand and then solve meaningful customer problems. Yes, you should evaluate your staffing across areas -- just not too often!
3. Tailor Your Design Approach to Each Team's Focus
Once your organization’s squads are aligned with the key personas, consider how the approach to serving the different customers’ needs may be different. Some areas that inform this:
- Different levels of customer engagement: Likely the business customer is naturally more engaged with your product. They may use your product continually and want to leverage advanced use cases whereas a consumer might interact rarely and briefly.
- Openness to onboarding and training: A business user is thus more likely to accept some investment in configuring and learning your product, particularly where they have specialized or advanced needs. A consumer needs to instantly just “get it” or they will go elsewhere.
- Gradual vs. near-instant time to value: Related to training, a business may understand that it may take some up front investment and time to begin seeing results. Consumers rarely will have the same level of patience.
- Higher volume of product usage data on consumer side: A typical advantage for consumer applications is a greater volume of actual product usage data. This may open up A/B testing and other statistical methods to validate feature impact that may not be possible on the business side.
- Additional sources of customer feedback on the business side: On the other hand, your sales, business development and customer success teams may inherently be having customer conversations day in and day out. This can be a great supplemental source of qualitative customer data to supplement your own research and metrics.
- Ongoing support differences: The net impact of the above is that your consumer facing product should be designed such that those customers can use your product successfully without ongoing support. All else equal, this may justify a higher level of usability and polish for a product designed to work for a novice.
While much of this is framed in terms of how to approach the different sides of a B2B2C business, there are a few considerations applicable more generally:
- Organize around sub-personas at scale. Building products for different personas can extend towards casual vs. power users. As you scale, you may want to sub-segment further. For example, at eBay (a marketplace with B2B2C dynamics) we had different seller tools for casual sellers vs. SMBs vs. merchants. Many features were similar but larger businesses valued efficiency and repeatability, which had product implications. As we scaled, we staffed unique squads to focus on each of these.
- Bias towards consumer-caliber design. Increasingly, we are seeing examples of businesses that are serving B2B markets but succeeding in part because of simple, intuitive design. Examples include Zoom and Slack, but also more complex business-facing applications. Reduced need for customization, training and ongoing support may also help with supplier adoption and compliance -- for the benefit of your entire business.
Good luck, and contact us any time to talk about this in light of your own team needs.
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