Being the swan in a family of ducks and trying to prove you aren’t ugly – it’s a fairly common conundrum for B2B business units in B2C companies.
Any business unit that’s different from the dominant elements of the overall company faces special challenges in securing organizational resources and attention. Usually the rhythms, dynamics and metrics of a B2B division are quite different from the B2C divisions surrounding it. To compound the issue, senior management will tend to be more familiar with the B2C context as well. (I have seen this on the flip side as well, in large organizations where B2B units are perplexed by the B2C-oriented initiatives and metrics they are being forced to adopt by centralized planning processes which just don’t work for them.)
I was recently speaking with a team in exactly this position at a large B2C company. In their case, they are enjoying the benefits of senior management attention these days – although, as often happens, the tradeoff is that there are high expectations for them to grow. We were talking about how sometimes it’s lonely being the B2B island, surrounded by an ocean of B2C – but they are a strong team, by all accounts, and clearly that makes a big difference to them.
If you’re the leader of a company that has both B2B and B2C elements, bear in mind that a little neglect goes a long way – if you are focused primarily on your B2C businesses, you can’t expect the B2B divisions to sustain their performance. As with any specialized group within a company, it’s difficult to sustain great work without senior-level support. This will eventually manifest itself in financial performance, and probably employee attrition as well. It’s important to be clear on the differences between the B2B and B2C units, and set distinct expectations for the different types of businesses.
If you’re running a B2B division within a B2C-dominated company, here are a few things to consider:
- Be clear-eyed about the level of executive support you have, both currently and what’s reasonable to expect in the future. (Are there ways you can build on that?)
- Manage expectations about performance carefully – others may not have a good feel for the dynamics and rhythms of the business so you will need to educate them, and this will need to happen on an ongoing basis. Remember to educate both upward and laterally, especially with functions like finance and HR.
- Look for opportunities to integrate your activities into the rest of the business – but don’t get too distracted by the drive to bring disparate activities together. As with any collaboration, keep things separate where it makes sense in terms of your standalone business objectives.
- Keeping your team motivated and stable is likely a key preoccupation for you already. Typically they will need to be team-oriented generalists, since you probably won’t have enough headcount to enable much specialization. Working in this type of “different and special” business unit can be a fantastic professional experience for your team members, but can also generate frustration, which can be alleviated by strong leadership.
- Supplement your team with external resources as appropriate, whether that includes consulting services like ours, individual contractors, or even interns. That kind of flexibility can really bolster your team and slingshot the performance of your unit without requiring the same kind of negotiation for resources that full-time hiring does.
Do you have experience leading both B2B and B2C divisions at the same time? What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them? Are you the lonely B2B leader surrounded by B2C businesses? What do you find is key to success in that situation?