When Steve Lucas talks, people listen. After all, Steve was the founder of Marketo, which was sold to Adobe last year for $4.8 billion. Now the SVP of Digital Experience at Adobe, Steve gave a talk at the recent Adobe Summit in Las Vegas to describe his vision of the future, which revolves around B2B and B2C merging to become B2E – Business to Everyone.
Steve acknowledged that B2C is all about individuals in their personal buying capacities, and that B2B is about accounts – typically groups of buyers and influencers within an organization, so he understands where and how B2B and B2C differ. But he then cites Amazon as a company that is both a B2C seller (think Whole Foods) and a B2B seller (think Amazon Web Services). Steve thinks there are lots of B2C/B2B sellers out there, and that there is a great unmet need for a single, integrated marketing platform. May I politely disagree?
Sure, there are always a few hubristic companies that are flush with cash and feeling their oats that will be willing to chase this inchoate vision of the future. But are there many of these companies? Most companies are still trying to get their B2B or B2C marketing straight. B2B marketers are only a few years into their embrace of Account-Based Marketing (a new name for a very old concept, but that simply reinforces my point) and B2C marketers are warily picking their way through a growing minefield of privacy and regulatory rules that actually creates a bias against being too cutting edge.
As to the information need, a simple question: why? In a B2E world, Amazon would indeed be able to know that, for example, the VP of Purchasing at Boeing likes organic lemons. But how does this knowledge advance the sale of either Amazon cloud services or Whole Food produce sales? Indeed, B2E creates the opportunity to build such detailed dossiers that the end results will toggle between scary and silly.
There are already B2B data companies that build detailed personal profiles of top corporate executives to help with high-level selling. That makes sense. Trying to do the same thing with even more granular detail and at scale doesn’t make sense.
B2E reeks of “wouldn’t it be cool if…” syndrome. Making databases bigger and more complex doesn’t inherently make them more powerful or useful. I remember a marketing database at AT&T many years back. It was state of the art for its time, centrally tracking every purchase of AT&T equipment, services and merchandise for 20 million customers. Then one day, an AT&T executive had an epiphany: not only should the database track what customers bought, it should also track everything they were offered but didn’t buy. Everyone thought the concept was brilliant, though at the same time nobody could articulate how all this new information might be used. The initiative involved building a huge new data center, and the sheer volume of data being collected and stored brought the system to its knees. The system became so complex and so slow that the marketing organizations stopped using it … for anything. The whole database was quietly abandoned a few years later.
I can understand why Adobe would find B2E appealing, but it’s a mystery to me why anyone else would.