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Segmentation in B2B Markets

15 January, 2016 - 09:18

Many of the same bases used to segment consumer markets are also used to segment B2B markets. Demographic criteria are used. For example, Goya Foods is a U.S. food company that sells different ethnic products to grocery stores, depending on the demographic groups the stores serve—Hispanic, Mexican, or Spanish. Likewise, B2B sellers often divide their customers by geographic areas and tailor their products to them accordingly. Segmenting by behavior is common as well. B2B sellers frequently divide their customers based on their product usage rates. Customers that order many goods and services from a seller often receive special deals and are served by salespeople who call on them in person. By contrast, smaller customers are more likely to have to rely on a firm’s Web site, customer service people, and salespeople who call on them by telephone.

However, researchers Matthew Harrison, Paul Hague, and Nick Hague have theorized that there are fewer behavioral and needs-based segments in B2B markets than in business-to-consumer (B2C) markets for two reasons: (1) business markets are made up of a few hundred customers whereas consumer markets can be made up of hundreds of thousands of customers, and (2) businesses aren’t as fickle as consumers. Unlike consumers, they aren’t concerned about their social standing, influenced by their families and peers, and so on. Instead, businesses are concerned solely with buying products that will ultimately increase their profits.

According to Harrison, Hague, and Hague, the behavioral, or needs-based, segments in B2B markets include the following:

  • A price-focused segment composed of small companies that have low profit margins and regard the good or service being sold as not being strategically important to their operations
  • A quality and brand-focused segment composed of firms that want the best possible products and are prepared to pay for them
  • A service-focused segment composed of firms that demand high-quality products and have top-notch delivery and service requirements

A partnership-focused segment composed of firms that seek trust and reliability on the part of their suppliers and see them as strategic partners 1

B2B sellers, like B2C sellers, are exploring new ways to reach their target markets. Trade shows, which we discuss in more detail later in the book, and direct mail campaigns are two traditional ways of reaching B2B markets. Now, however, firms are finding they can target their B2B customers more cost effectively via e-mail campaigns, search-engine marketing, and “fan pages” on social networking sites like Facebook. Companies are also creating blogs with cutting-edge content about new products and business trends their customers are interested in. And for the fraction of the cost of attending a trade show to exhibit their products, B2B sellers are holding Webcasts and conducting online product demonstrations for potential customers.


Segmentation bases are criteria used to classify buyers. The main types of buyer characteristics used to segment consumer markets are behavioral, demographic, geographic, and psychographic. Behavioral segmentation divides people and organization into groups according to how they behave with or toward products. Segmenting buyers by tangible, personal characteristics such as their age, income, ethnicity, family size, and so forth is called demographic segmentation. Geographic segmentation involves segmenting buyers based on where they live. Psychographic segmentation seeks to differentiate buyers based on their activities, interests, opinions, attitudes, values, and lifestyles. Oftentimes a firm uses multiple bases to get a fuller picture of its customers and create value for them. Marketing professionals develop consumer insight when they gather both quantitative and qualitative information about their customers. Many of the same bases used to segment consumer markets are used to segment business-to-business (B2B) markets. However, there are generally fewer behavioral-based segments in B2B markets.


  1. What buyer characteristics do companies look at when they segment markets?
  2. Why do firms often use more than one segmentation base?
  3. What two types of information do market researchers gather to develop consumer insight?