Skip to main content
Business LibreTexts

4.1: The Characteristics of Business-to-Business (B2B) Markets

  • Page ID
  • Learning Objectives

    1. Identify the ways in which business-to-business (B2B) markets differ from business-to-consumer (B2C) markets.
    2. Explain why business buying is acutely affected by the behavior of consumers.

    Business-to-business (B2B) markets differ from business-to-consumer (B2C) markets in many ways. For one, the number of products sold in business markets dwarfs the number sold in consumer markets. Suppose you buy a five-hundred-dollar computer from Dell. The sale amounts to a single transaction for you. But think of all the transactions Dell had to go through to sell you that one computer. Dell had to purchase many parts from many computer component makers. It also had to purchase equipment and facilities to assemble the computers, hire and pay employees, pay money to create and maintain its Web site and advertise, and buy insurance and accounting and financial services to keep its operations running smoothly. Many transactions had to happen before you could purchase your computer.

    Each of those transactions needed a salesperson. Each of those companies have a marketing department. Thus, there are a lot more college marketing graduates going into B2B companies than in B2C, which is reason enough to spend some time studying the subject. There are other differences, too.

    Business products can be very complex. Some need to be custom built or retrofitted for buyers. The products include everything from high-dollar construction equipment to commercial real estate and buildings, military equipment, and billion-dollar cruise liners used in the tourism industry. A single customer can account for a huge amount of business. Some businesses, like those that supply the U.S. auto industry around Detroit, have just a handful of customers—General Motors, Chrysler, and/or Ford. Consequently, you can imagine why these suppliers become very worried when the automakers fall on hard times.

    Not only can business products be complex, but so can figuring out the buying dynamics of organizations. Many people within an organization can be part of the buying process and have a say in ultimately what gets purchased, how much of it, and from whom. Having different people involved makes business marketing much more complicated. And because of the quantities each business customer is capable of buying, the stakes are high. For some organizations, losing a big account can be financially devastating and winning one can be a financial bonanza.

    How high are the stakes? Table 4.1 “Top Five Corporations Worldwide in Terms of Their Revenues” shows a recent ranking of the top five corporations in the world in terms of the sales they generate annually. Believe it or not, these companies earn more in a year than all the businesses of some countries do. Imagine the windfall you could gain as a seller by landing an exclusive account with any one of them.

    Table 4.1 Top Five Corporations Worldwide in Terms of Their Revenues

    Company Sales (Billions of Dollars)
    Walmart Stores 422
    Royal Dutch Shell 369
    ExxonMobil 341
    PetroChina 222
    Chevron 189
    Note: Numbers have been rounded to the nearest billion.

    Source: “The Global 2000,” Forbes, April 8, 2011, (accessed October 10, 2011).