Sales managers sometimes ask me why their latest business-to-business (B2B) campaign failed.
“I was sure it’d be a success,” one said to me. “We had everything in place. A great product. A truly unique selling proposition. We understood our prospects’ corporate requirements and purchasing processes. I don’t get why the results didn’t live up our expectations.”
I have a pretty good idea.
Many believe that B2B buying behaviour is based on logical, rational business decisions, while considering that business-to-consumer (B2C) buying is based on a more personal, emotional decision-making process.
Nothing could be further from the truth – this is a bias that holds businesses back from connecting with the business buyer on a personal level.
The B2B buyer’s perspective
B2B buying is often a highly personal, emotional undertaking — even more so than B2C buying — due to the often inflated level of personal risk that B2B buyers experience.
Yes, corporate purchasing representatives have to consider the core business implications of their buying decisions. They use their logic and reason to consider the functional benefits of their purchase. How will it affect operational performance, efficiency and productivity? They also consider the business outcomes. How will it affect expenses, revenue and profitability?
Recognise the personal risk
The personal stakes, however, are also high. The company buyer’s perception of their own personal value is inextricably linked to their buying decisions.
At the back of their mind they consider the personal professional benefits and risks associated with their purchasing assessment. Will it make them a better leader? Will it improve their day-to-day working (and non-working) life?
They consider the social benefits and risks. Will their decision help or hinder their relationships with their colleagues. Will it invite admiration or ridicule from others?
They consider the emotional benefits and risks. How will their decision affect their personal confidence, enthusiasm and even happiness?
They consider the benefits and risks to their self-image. Will they feel accomplished after making the buying decision? Will they feel they are making a positive contribution to their organisation and to society?
The personal risks associated with B2B purchasing are almost always higher than those of B2C purchasing. B2B buyers fear the loss of a huge amount of time and energy if a purchasing decision doesn’t work out well. They fear a potential, and very public, loss of credibility. They can fear the loss of their job, or even career, if they are responsible for an unsuccessful purchase.
The B2B salesperson’s response
So what’s a B2B salesperson to do in response to the buyer’s peculiar cocktail of fears, apprehensions and insecurities?
If you’re the salesperson, it’s important that you engage B2B decision-makers emotionally as well as commercially, as it’s their emotions that will invariably drive their decision to purchase, or to not purchase.
Make your pitch personal
Let’s say you’re selling an IT solution and you’re negotiating with a buying company’s Head of IT. The fact that the solution would save the organisation money may not be the most important factor if it doesn’t provide a personal ‘win’ for this individual.
If your solution is so reliable that it potentially stops people calling the IT Head outside normal working hours to fix problems, and therefore reduces this person’s stress levels (and the impact on their personal life), they are likely to favour the purchase and will be more disposed to advocate the purchase decision to other relevant stakeholders.
What are the personal motivations?
So how do you discover the B2B purchaser’s personal buying triggers? Research into this question was reported by the CEB Marketing Leadership CouncilTM in an article titled ‘From promotion to emotion: connecting customers to brands’, published in www.executiveboard.com.
The article suggested that:
Asking customers direct questions about their emotional needs or personal goals is rarely effective. Although customers are happy to share their business needs and goals, they are not always willing or able to articulate their emotions.
To dig deeper, B2B sellers should use open observation of customers to spot nonverbal or contextual cues that reveal underlying emotions.
Forming effective business relationships
One thing’s for sure, if you can achieve a clearer understanding of your prospective customer’s personal, emotional motivations for buying, you’re one step closer to forging an effective business relationship that will serve their needs, and yours, on many levels.
If you’re confident you understand your buyer’s personal decision-making process, you can also incorporate this when creating your wider sales and marketing campaigns.
Taking a personal approach in engaging with prospective customers is the best way to understand your buyer’s goals and build trust. You should always strive to engage in a person-to-person, two-way conversation, whether this be through telemarketing calls, qualitative research, psychographic research or even simply observing your customers in less formal contexts.