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24 March 2023

What is your B2B market? If B2B is really going to drive growth, vanilla offers won’t succeed

B2B is used as a catch all for all business that is derived from customers other than consumers – and it’s seen as the big prize waiting for 5G. But businesses are more complicated and differentiated – so why do we maintain this binary view?

B2B is the big prize that will ensure payback for 5G. Apparently

This year’s MWC saw a growing emphasis on B2B opportunities for mobile network operators (MNOs). These opportunities are expected to result from new 5G investments and the inclusion of specialised wireless connectivity and performance settings. As such, MNOs are talking loudly about their B2B opportunities.

But what does this really mean? After all, the business market is essentially one half of a binary market segmentation. There are consumers – and everything else is classified as business. In the new world of 5G-enabled B2B services, does this simple classification hold true?

Well, it isn’t even true in today’s service world. Businesses come in all shapes and sizes, from a sole trader to a multi-national corporation with tens of thousands of employees. The largest employer in Europe is the UK’s National Health Service, with around 1.7 million employees, while the largest in the world is Walmart – counting 2.3 million people on its payroll[1].

Some companies are bigger than national MNOs

Many of these mega-organisations have more people working for them than many MNOs have subscribers. Put simply, there’s such massive variation in the business workforce (which must also include the public sector, for a start), that the binary distinction is at best unhelpful – at worst, completely misleading. What’s more, it doesn’t even begin to take account of the fact that different sectors have completely different operating requirements.

So, even before we start to think about the segmentation that will be required for specialised 5G services – which, after all, are supposed to be individually tailored to meet specific needs – we need to recognise that B2B is simply too limiting a term. At the very least, we need to apply some basic rules.

Segmentation: from horizontal to vertical. But what’s the differentiating offer?

In fairness, some operators already do that. They may, for example differentiate between small and large companies; some even explicitly seek to address SMEs. While for some this is a matter of positioning, some market-leading operators do provide different feature sets and solution offers to support these propositions.

However, few have considered how vertical specialisation will impact such offers. At best, a small number of operators try to tweak positioning, but they may not necessarily properly differentiate the underlying solutions they include in their offers. Savvier operators want to do this, but few have succeeded in delivering propositions that are uniquely tailored to the needs of, say, the healthcare sector, for example.

But they are going to have to do so to stand any chance of success with 5G B2B – and despite the noise, at MWC, we saw much of the same thing. Aspirations to succeed with 5G B2B, expectations of a rich market – but little evidence of the specific proposition that will be required.

Identify and focus on key targets

So, we all know that B2B matters – and that it’s essential to drive growth to recoup investments in 5G – but operators need to think about what B2B means to them. Are they seeking to provide solutions to every kind of business, or do they wish to align their business propositions with the verticals they seek to address with new 5G B2B services?

Can any MNO meet all such needs, across sectors as diverse as the public sector, car manufacturing, ports and shipping, defence and so on? In truth, MNOs are probably going to have to pick a few markets they can really understand and partner to succeed in others.

But it’s absolutely clear that they will need to deliver greater tailoring to meet the needs of these sectors. In the next wave of B2B, one size most definitely won’t fit all.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_employers

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