B2B used to be a boring software category. When the rise of affordable Cloud Computing dropped the cost of starting a new company, that changed — innovation took place in every sphere of business and we all ended up with a set of amazingly powerful tools to work better together.
Now a new wave of change is happening. B2B companies are adapting their Sales, Marketing and Product playbooks with techniques that were formerly found only in the consumer space. This creativity is necessary now, because of the rise in remote teams and Millenials taking over the office.
Today, professionals want to work at the speed of Whatsapp and do it from wherever it is most convenient too. This means that in a lot of categories, the buying process for work tools is looking like the adoption of consumer products.
The Nature of Work and Workers Has Changed
Beginning in 2016, millennials became the largest generational cohort in the U.S. workforce, according to Pew data. At 56 million and counting, millennials have enormous sway in today’s companies. Millennial attitudes about technology, teamwork, equality, and even dress code, have all been a force for change in corporate America during the past decade.
Consider how the way we consume business information has shifted to mirror the evolution in consumer media. Epic memos once sent via email have been replaced by tools that resemble social media — Slack, voice memos, and even video explainers.
PowerPoint presentations are no longer the height of learning, not when you can take a deep dive into a Podcast. And you can forget about a print ad when a two-minute video imparts so much more information about the company and gives the audience all the feels.
Not to mention, with the proliferation of broadband internet and the rise of collaborative online tools, the very concept of what constitutes an “office” has completely changed for many companies, with remote work now making up a significant contribution to work overall.
All of these changes amount to a simple new reality. Even people in business are going to work how they want, when they want, and where they want. These are consumer attitudes. And because today’s workers show up in much the same way that we show up as consumers, their mentality around product adoption and purchasing also reflect those same modes of thinking.
How the Rise of Freemium SaaS Is Based Around Individual Adoption
Over the past two decades, consumers have become accustomed to free or freemium apps, products, and services. That expectation has carried over into the workplace, where freemium tools now proliferate. No longer blocked purely by leadership decisions to purchase expensive software, companies that make these tools can also market them to individuals, looking for a bottoms-up approach to adoption and growth.
Consider Slack. Yes, Slack is a powerhouse communications tool that solves tons of business problems. But, it’s also a lot of fun. Custom emojis, personalized loading messages, and a Giphy integration aren’t necessarily the highest-priority features in B2B communications. What they do is make Slack entertaining and more like real-life interactions — a social layer that helps make the platform an indispensable part of how we work.
In other words, by putting the consumer at the heart of the experience, Slack is creating an experience people actually love. By driving individual adoption, Slack achieves viral growth throughout the business.
Ultimately, even the most hardcore enterprise users can’t escape their consumer sensibilities. The more SaaS proliferates, the more uniform our expectations will become. Therefore, if a B2B SaaS product doesn’t speak to potential customers as consumers, it most likely won’t get attention as a business solution.
B2B Companies Need a Blended Mindset Companies Need a Blended Mindset
In the past, the B2B mentality could be summed up by the following phrase: nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. Buyers of previous generations tended toward a kind of institutional conservatism. The best choice was the safest choice — safe being whatever the firm had done in the past.
But in many product categories, to play it too safe would be a grave mistake. The new consumerish B2B buyer isn’t inspired by safety and reliability anymore. They want a product with a mission, a great experience — which is to say, they want products that solve business problems and appeal to them personally.
Don’t jump all the way off the deep end just yet. We can’t completely discard the wisdom of the past either. Because while B2B firms are certainly selling to people who more closely resemble consumers, the ultimate customer remains a business that must scale to meet demand which potentially spans the globe.
In order to strike a balance between appealing to B2B buyers as consumers and meeting their needs as business professionals, we need a blended mindset. On the one hand, we’re leveraging the expectations and communication styles that define today’s consumer experience. But on the other hand, B2B firms need to meet the standards of quality and reliability that are table-stakes for widespread software adoption.
After all, even if the product and messaging have a more casual vibe that appeals to the consumer inside them, in the end, B2B buyers are still responsible for justifying expenses based on business outcomes. That’s why the boundary between B2C and B2B continues to blur, but the most successful firms will be the ones that can walk and talk on both sides of that line.