The biggest difference between B2B and B2C product managers

[Cross Post from Authors Blog ]

There’s a common assumption that B2B companies have a lot to learn from their B2C counterparts. Where B2C leads, B2B should follow — especially when it comes to engaging prospective buyers and creating memorable customer experiences. After all, when was the last time you raved about a new piece of commercial software over holiday dinner?

There are lots of related stereotypes about how B2B and B2C companies differ, including:

  • B2B companies prioritize workflows; B2C companies prioritize customers
  • B2B companies focus on making the buying process scalable; B2C companies focus on making the buying process seamless
  • B2B companies build brands customers tolerate (at best); B2C companies build brands customers love

The bottom line? B2C companies are often thought to be more customer-centric than B2B companies. 

Customers > everything else

Although the notion of putting the customer first can feel overused — or that it’s just marketing speak — it’s actually extremely relevant for product managers (PMs), since everything they do is in service of the end user. Which led us to wonder: if B2C companies are seen as more customer-centric, are B2C product managers inherently different than those who work in B2B?

To better understand how B2B and B2C product managers compare, we turned to Pendo’s annual State of Product Leadership report, and filtered the results by business type (similar to how we filtered by geography for Battle of the Product Managers: East Coast vs. West Coast vs. UK).

As it turns out, B2B and B2C product leaders have a lot in common. But who is more attentive to customer needs? It depends on how you define “customer-centric.” 

B2C product managers empathize with customer success

The report showed that B2C product managers are more likely to come from customer success (CS) backgrounds. Although marketing is the most common previous role for both B2B (28%) and B2C (26%), customer success is the second most common background for B2C product managers, with 16% of them coming from CS roles. On the flip side, only four percent of B2B product managers worked in customer success before becoming PMs.

Another area where B2C product managers proved to be more customer-oriented was in their relationship with customer success. Compared to B2B product managers, B2C product managers are more likely to believe in having strong alignment with the CS function.

B2C product managers rated alignment with CS 3.97 out of 5.00, making it their second most important department to align with (after business operations with 4.03). Meanwhile, customer success was B2B product managers’ third most important department with a rating of 3.56 out of 5.00 (marketing was number one with 3.98, followed by design/UX with 3.94).

So, B2C product managers are more likely to have experience working in customer success and may feel stronger about aligning with CS — but being customer-centric goes beyond that.

B2B product managers are better listeners

Given the close alignment B2C PMs have with customer success, it’s reasonable to conclude that they’d be more likely than B2B PMs to rely on customer feedback to come up with ideas and make product decisions.

However, the data told a different story.

 

Customer feedback is actually the least common source of product ideas among B2C product leaders (10%), and is the most common source for B2B product leaders (39%). As it turns out, B2C product managers are most likely to turn to their own product for ideas (45%), followed by internal suggestions and requests (29%).

This idea of B2B product managers listening to their customers more is also echoed by their usage: a majority of B2B product leaders (54%) say they use a user feedback collection and/or management tool regularly, making it their second most used tool (behind prototyping tools, 63%).

 

In contrast, only 23% of B2C product leaders report using a user feedback and/or management tool regularly, making it their second least used tool. B2C product managers favor experimentation tools (e.g. feature flagging and A/B testing), with 52% using them regularly. Another interesting data point is that the third most popular tool among B2C product leaders, session recording/replay (32%), is the least popular tool for their B2B counterparts (9%).

Based on tool usage, it would be a stretch to say that one group values customer data more than the other. But, the results reveal that these two groups of PMs turn to different types of customer data — B2C product leaders prefer quantitative data, whereas B2B product leaders seek out qualitative data that requires asking customers for their opinions.

Breaking the B2B vs. B2C mold

With all of these differences in mind, the results showed that B2B and B2C product leaders do still share a lot of attributes, including experience level (product managers from both groups typically have between six and 10 years of experience) and salary (B2B and B2C product managers typically make $100,000 to $125,000).

 

And in the end, the point of this wasn’t to prove that one group’s approach is better than the other. But it does show that while B2C companies have been leading the charge in many ways, B2C product managers can also learn a lot from how their B2B friends are doing things.

For reference, here’s a full breakdown of how B2B and B2C product managers compare:

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