Coca-Cola and Pepsi, might be some of the most recognizable consumer brands in the world. Yet they don’t sell directly to individual people. Instead, the beverage giants’ customers are retailers, wholesalers, distributors, and bottling companies. So why do both companies spend millions (or even billions in Pepsi’s case) of dollars on consumer advertisement? They know “if you build it, they will come” only works in movies.

The same is true for EdTech businesses that have different people buy and use their products. When you start a business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) company, signing contracts with institutions, organizations, or companies to buy your product doesn’t guarantee learners will use it. You need to build awareness and interest among both buyers and users by understanding the nuances between the audiences and their role in driving growth. 

Customer or Consumer? Understanding the Differences

As a B2B2C business, distinguishing your customers from your consumers is critical to understanding your audiences.


Customers are the people who purchase your product or service. For some companies, their customers and consumers are the same people. However, in a B2B2C model used by many EdTech companies, customers purchase a product or service for other people to use. Your customer could be the dean of academics purchasing a curriculum development tool for instructional designers to use or an employer implementing immersive training software for employees. As the final decision makers, customers play an important role in the success of your company.


Consumers are the people who will use your product or service regularly. For example, consumers can be learners, faculty members, or administrators. Since consumers are your end users, the problem you are addressing must be the one they want solved. 

Crafting an Audience-Based Business Model

Now that you know the difference, you’re ready to build a deeper knowledge base of your audiences and use it to grow your business.

Step 1: Map Consumer Input

Identify your consumers. Are they learners, faculty members, or someone else? Think about what conversations you need to have with your users and how you can do it. Strategies including surveys, focus groups, and co-design sessions can help you identify the challenges, motivations, and lived experiences of your consumers. Map your findings to your business roadmap to ensure you are developing a user-centric product or service.

Step 2: Map Customer Channels

Now, use what you know about your consumers and how your product is used to identify potential buyers. Within education, that is often colleges and universities, training providers, or employers. Make a list of potential decision-makers within the organizations you will target. You’ll need to understand the challenges, motivations, and context of your customers' lives, just as you did for your consumers. The information you gather about customers will influence your marketing and sales strategies and messaging.

Step 3: Prioritize Strategies

Once your maps are complete, they will become useful tools to prioritize your business. For example, knowing the pain points of your customers will give you the insights to develop a website dedicated to their needs, rather than those of your consumers. Similarly, you may choose to focus on product features or service expansions that best serve users instead of decision-makers. Centering your audiences in your strategy ensures a robust B2B2C approach, especially for early-stage startups that must prioritize spending to where it matters most.

Establishing a throughline from your company’s purpose to your customers and consumers positions you for short- and long-term success. By adopting an audience-based business model, you will have built a great product and ways for consumers and customers to find it.