B2B2C: Growing in Power

A business model that evolved with the internet benefits multiple sectors, including healthcare.

Business has long been defined by two acronyms: B2B and B2C. 

B2B refers to business-to-business, or the process of one business selling to another—an accessory manufacturer wholesaling handbags to a department store chain, for example. B2C translates as business-to-consumer, the practice of purveying products directly to the customer. A consumer purchasing groceries from a supermarket is an example of a B2C transaction.

But there’s another acronym that emerged with the internet and conflates both models, maximizing customer outreach and profit opportunities for all involved: B2B2C, or business-to-business-to-consumer.  

B2B2C models vary. A transaction as simple as a delicatessen purchase can involve a B2B2C arrangement. The deli sells its signature corned beef sandwich—but the accompanying beverage is provided by a large soft drink manufacturer.

In a more complex example, Company X has a promising product but lacks the means for effective marketing. It partners with Company Y, an online enterprise able to provide comprehensive digital access, content, and strategies for Company X’s product. The benefit for both companies is clear: Company X moves product through portals developed by Company Y, and both companies reap enhanced revenues.  Moreover, the two companies can harvest valuable consumer data from each other; Company X’s customers can thus become Company Y’s customers, and/or vice versa. 

One of the best-known B2B2C partnerships was forged between Google and AOL during Google’s infancy. Google clearly had a stellar product, but it was hobbled by limited name recognition and poor consumer access in its early years. AOL was the internet giant of the time, and its channels afforded Google the access it needed for cultivating subscribers. As Google gained customer data, it was able to establish itself as the preeminent search engine it is today. AOL benefitted through both shared revenues and a stake in Google. 

Today, B2B2C is usually associated with consumer products and digital services—but there’s increasing evidence that it’s a powerful model for a wide range of business sectors, including healthcare, pharma, and life sciences. 

“B2B2C is a highly effective means for connecting consumers and healthcare enterprises, but the process differs from retail applications,” observes Tina Wilson, the director of healthcare and pharmaceuticals for Astound Commerce, which specializes in multi-model ecommerce solutions, including those predicated on B2B2C. “Regulatory oversight is implicit in healthcare, and companies must be meticulous in ensuring their marketing efforts are compliant.”

Astound has been an international innovator in designing and implementing effective and compliant B2B2C healthcare solutions, and Wilson cites a recent case as an example.

“A major manufacturer of skincare products through authorized providers tasked us with developing a compliant and experience-driven B2B2C ecosystem that would allow patients to purchase provider-recommended skincare products from the comfort and convenience of their own homes,” Wilson says. “We had to design a collaborative and compliant system that dovetailed with the needs of patients and healthcare providers [HCPs], allowing both patient access and physician oversight.”

To meet this complex challenge, Astound utilized Salesforce Commerce Cloud to create a platform with the ability to support tens of thousands of white-labeled microsites employed by HCPs to  provide the client’s skincare products directly to patients. Astound integrated with SAP ECC6 software to streamline product catalog, order management, and settlement capabilities while simultaneously tracking consumer requirements and usage. The system was optimized for mobile and integrated with the client’s loyalty program. The platform allows HCPs to offer personalized product recommendations to patients. Astound’s solution also included innovative subscription-based ordering for consumers. Instead of leveraging a third party, this is a fully native Salesforce Commerce Cloud subscription solution.

“This was one of the earliest B2B2C platforms on SFCC, and it has become an aspirational standard for the health sector,” says Wilson. “It is compliant, and it allows the client to benefit from thousands of HCP microsites, expanding the client’s customer base and product distribution, creating new revenue streams for HCPs, and augmenting the client’s brand image and reputation.”

Further, says Wilson, the new subscription programs are increasing sales and retention for both the client and the HCPs.

 “‘Win-win’ is perhaps an overused phrase in business,” Wilson adds, “but in this case it’s appropriate—and it points to the growing power of B2B2C generally.”

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Glen Martin

Glen Martin is a a frequent Astound Insights contributor whose other credits include Forbes, Wired, Outside, and Men's Journal.