Though in theory, the supply side of a two-sided marketplace sounds like the twin sister of demand, a lot changes in the way Product Managers need to approach Product Management on the supply (i.e. B2B) side. I also want to call out that in this article, we would be looking at B2C as a non-paid product e.g. TripAdvisor.
Most of the fundamentals of product management remain the same at B2B and B2C. A PM works toward the overall goal for the company and the business by first identifying the personas (or the supplier categories) that they are addressing, and then figuring out the problem that they are trying to solve. The PMs then prioritize the problems and figure out solutions to address those problems for these personas. The metrics and testing process are equally important on both sides of a two-sided marketplace.
However, to be successful as a B2B PM, you would need to work on some extra aspects. Let’s look at the 7 key differences that arise because of the kind of users that the B2B PMs deal with.
- Suppliers often pay to use the product: The B2B product users not only use the product but usually also pay for it, in most cases through a single representative legal entity. The expectations of these users are also higher in terms of robustness, privacy, data management and security. The product is expected to have high interoperability with other systems and directly help the enterprise users in successfully completing their day-to-day tasks, otherwise it often results in loss of revenue for the supplier.
- Every B2B customer is not created equal: An outsized influence in the prioritization and impact for a B2B PM’s product roadmap can occur from the value of different suppliers to a company. The trick is to balance the needs across suppliers and the ability to decline specific asks of even bigger suppliers. An important aspect that Product Managers need to keep in mind is to build a solution that positively impacts the suppliers goals/metrics, rather than simply build a solution that they have asked.
- Building relationship with the sales team: The B2B PMs can get the benefit of understanding the suppliers better as they have an opportunity to build a relationship with the sales team. But, in addition as PMs you also need to think of the right features and tools to empower the sales team, in order for them to better service their accounts and garner new suppliers. For example, if you launch a new feature and you want to get specific feedback from suppliers, you would need to enable the sales team to understand the supplier’s data before they reach out to these suppliers.
- Figuring out the value of non-revenue driving features: When building features for the B2B world, most of your focus would be on revenue driving features. However, there are often requests from suppliers that could fall in categories like ‘reporting, ‘advanced options’, ‘real-time access’, etc. The key to success lies in identifying metrics that can be tied to these requests, and then figuring out whether these metrics are directly/ indirectly related to the core of measuring the success of the suppliers and your company. For example, if a supplier is looking for ways to decrease API call load on their endpoints, it is not going to directly impact their revenue but it does help in improving their operational efficiency and reducing costs. If you can tie this feature request to their ability to provide a more accurate and reliable API response (indirectly leading to higher revenue), then it helps you understand and communicate the priority of the feature.
- Effective but slow feedback loop: While testing or launching new features or products for B2B, a key benefit is access to a reliable feedback loop. However, when you need to run A/B tests that involves participation from suppliers, then the need to have supplier participation slows down the process of feedback loop. Thinking through this early on is necessary to be successful in your testing.
- Running faster is harder: Due to the nature of impact of the B2B products/ features, suppliers often want these products very reliable and robust. To ensure this reliability and robustness, the release cycles would often become complex, along with high stakeholder management bandwidth from the B2B PMs. This essentially leads to a lot more effort to get the same speed of release cycles as B2C PMs.
- Getting to a win, win, win: As a B2B PM, you are interested in the success of all three parties – your suppliers, your company and your end customers. Features that are positive for only one or two parties and negative for the rest do not qualify as overall wins. As a B2B PM, you would often need to plan multiple steps ahead for reaction from the different parties.
Although there are a number of differences in how you approach the B2B Product Management compared to B2C, as a PM one must never stop striving for a great user experience and obsess over the value you can provide to your customers..
You might prioritize certain elements more than others compared to a B2C PM, but in the end, you are building a product that is well understood, is usable, is efficient and solves a real problem.
We would like to hear from you if you believe B2B or B2C product management is more challenging. Please let us know in your comments.
Mahesh Chayel is a seasoned product manager, who has built a number of successful supplier/ B2B products that ensure TripAdvisor platform is beneficial for its end customers, for its suppliers and for TripAdvisor. He is passionate about identifying new business opportunities, taking them from ideation to execution and scaling, and partnering with engineering, data science, analytics, sales, marketing and operation teams in the process.