B2B Product Managers vs. B2C Product Managers
November 23, 2020

B2B Product Managers vs. B2C Product Managers

by Brian de Haaff

"What do I need to do to make a shift from B2C to B2B?" A senior product manager once asked me this during an interview. It is a good question with a simple answer. Not too much — if you use your core product building skills and have the right mindset. Beyond the typical new-job work of getting to know the company, the product, the team, and the customers, you should not need to do anything special to make the transition when you work in technology.

Whether you serve consumers or other businesses, the core skills required to succeed as a product manager are the same.

Now, that does not mean we cannot draw some distinctions. There is an obvious one — the customer. A business is different than an individual consumer. The acquisition flow is often different. And consumers do not typically need as many features for managing or interacting with a team. Every industry, company, and offering has its unique differences too.

But all product managers should aim to deliver a Complete Product Experience (CPE) — the complete experience and relationship you and your customers share. It requires you to see the big picture of what you are building and enhance every customer touchpoint.

Good product management is good product management. And yet you have probably heard these overly pedantic storylines yourself. "B2B product managers lead with logic, while B2C product managers can appeal to emotion." "Brand equity is only important for consumer products."

But what if I told you that these examples are not true? Generalizations perpetuate myths — not reality. Here are five additional myths around B2B and B2C product management:

Strategy

Myth: B2B product managers are more strategic. B2C product managers are reactive.

Reality: Taking a goal-first approach helps you think clearly about what you are building — regardless of who you are building it for. Strategy is not optional, especially in today's competitive markets.

Agility

Myth: B2B product managers stick to longer-term timelines and rarely deviate from the roadmap. B2C product managers are more agile and adjust high-level product plans frequently.

Reality: You need a long-term product vision that captures the core essence of your product and its direction. But your product plans should not be so rigidly structured that there is no room to change and adapt. Refine your decisions based on product goals — allow for iteration as the details change.

Customer experience

Myth: B2B product managers build what sales and executive teams ask for. It is easier for B2C product managers to build exactly what customers really want.

Reality: Everyone expects outstanding experiences and usability from a product they choose. Your responsibility as product manager is to uncover the true need behind every ask — no matter who it comes from.

Release cadence

Myth: B2B product managers release less often, but bundle more functionality to avoid disrupting users too much. B2C product managers are quicker to release new functionality because consumers are receptive to change.

Reality: Launch frequency does not necessarily mean you are meeting customer needs. Both B2C and B2B product managers need to find a release cadence that works for the organization and brings the most value to customers.

Revenue

Myth: B2B product managers care about cross-selling and up-selling existing accounts. B2C product managers focus on new customer acquisition.

Reality: Every business needs to gain new customers and expand the services they provide to existing customers to thrive. That means that all product managers should care about customer loyalty as much as growth, since it is almost always more efficient to retain and grow a current customer than it is to bring on a new one.

Strategic roadmapping, empathizing with users, and effective prioritization are universal skills that can apply across any industry.

And while the details of who you work with and how you sell your product may change when you start a new role, the fundamentals of how you build a product do not. Nuances in your customer base, industry, or organization will dictate the correct strategy.

So my answer to that product manager did not end at "not much." I shared my thoughts above and encouraged them to focus on the fundamentals — to think holistically about what product management really is.

We should actually think of ourselves as human-to-human product managers. This is a better approach than terming ourselves B2B or B2C. We are all building solutions for actual people.

What myths have you heard about product managers?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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