During export in Escherichia coli, SecB, a homotetramer structurally organized as a dimer of dimers, forms a complex with two protomers of SecA, which is the ATPase that provides energy to transfer a precursor polypeptide through the membrane via the SecYEG translocon. There are two areas of contact on SecB that stabilize the SecA:SecB complex: the flat sides of the SecB tetramer and the C-terminal 13 residues of SecB. These contacts within the complex are distributed asymmetrically. Breaking contact between SecA and the sides of SecB results in release of only one protomer of SecA yielding a complex of stoichiometry SecA1:SecB4. This complex mediates export; however, the coupling of ATP hydrolysis to movements of the precursor through the translocon is much less efficient than the coupling by the SecA2:SecB4 complex. Here we used heterotetrameric species of SecB to understand the source of the asymmetry in the contacts and its role in the functioning of the complex. The model of interactions presented suggests a way that binding between SecA and SecB might decrease the affinity of precursor polypeptides for SecB and facilitate the transfer to SecA.