We've witnessed a spate of recent articles proclaiming the "consumerization" of all things business—the consumerization of sales, of IT, and of business-to-business (B2B) marketing most prominently. McKinsey's David Edelman has referred to the consumerization of B2B marketing and sales as a "massive disruption" on the horizon.
Although there's no questioning these trends, it's worth taking a step back and asking what "consumerization" exactly means in a business context: What is it precisely about consumer marketing and sales that B2B professionals are seeking to emulate?
Clearly the suggestion isn't that enterprise software vendors should start running print advertisements in Vogue magazine, or that machine tool manufacturers should invest in splashy TV commercials on The Golf Channel.
Upon closer examination, the move toward consumerization seems to boil down to embracing one key concept long pursued by B2C brands: minimizing friction across the promotion and buying process.
In the consumer-products world, minimizing friction explains why soup is sold in microwavable single-serving containers, why gas pumps have credit card readers built in, and why convenience stores can thrive within blocks of the nearest supermarket, despite their much higher prices.
Arguably the ultimate in friction-free consumer commerce, though, is Amazon's 1-Click ordering. Once a site visitor has searched for and filled an online shopping cart with desired items, competing the purchase requires literally one click: Amazon knows the customer's preferred method of payment, credit card details, shipping address, even preferred shipping mode. Compared with the typical B2B purchase... well, there is no comparison.
The Amazon experience is clearly beginning to influence the world of B2B purchasing. Within the past year, nearly half of B2B buyers have purchased common business items from Amazon Supply, the Web giant's online store for business and industry, because their regular suppliers don't offer an online purchase channel.
Business suppliers who want to survive the coming "massive disruption" will have to find ways to compete with Amazon, likely beyond price—by offering flexible payment options, volume discounts, deep product expertise, or value-added services, perhaps. But for low-value commodity items, as other online retailers have learned, Amazon will make the landscape increasingly challenging for B2B suppliers.