Are B2B decision makers more rational than their consumer counterparts?

Are B2B decision makers more rational than their consumer counterparts?

This is a question I have been asked many times recently and one (at face value) for which I have a simple answer. “Yes”.

But, if they are more rational than their consumer counterparts the critical questions to ask are “why” and “how does this affect they way in which we should engage them”.

In terms of the “why”, there are a number of critical factors that impact on B2B decision makers that drive more rational, considered and risk averse behavior.

Lets take complexity as a key example.

From a purely ‘consumer’ perspective even the most complex (and very often most impactful financially) decisions such as moving house, buying a new car, or getting a new job, are confined to the family unit, close friends and peers. Whilst many decisions such as what food, clothing or even household goods to buy, are made by no more than one or two persons.

Compare this to the complex decision taking structures within an organisation wherein frequently leadership, lines of business and procurement are involved – often over an extended period of time – and already you can start to see why B2B buyers have to be more rational in approach than their consumer counterparts.

Now that’s not to say that organisations are deploying these complex ‘buyer centres’ for every single business purchase. In fact many low-cost, low-risk purchases (and thus decisions) are taken every day, and by less senior members of staff.

But it does bring us on to the next critical factor; the cost and complexity of the service, product or solution an organisation may wish to procure.

There’s a fairly simple rule we can bring into play here. The greater the cost and complexity – the greater the duty, responsibility and therefore pressure there is on the individuals and business functions to make the right decision.

This has a direct impact on the level of due diligence applied, the rigor of the decision taking process undertaken and the number, function and seniority of the individuals involved.

All good buttoned down stuff that we expect of any well-run organisation – and all very rational – or so it seems.

But crucially, these high-risk business decisions reflect on the decision takers, and no matter how rational they must be, they are very often more emotionally involved in the decision than consumers are in most purchases, and with their professional reputations at stake.

So how does this effect the way in which we engage B2B decision makers?

Lets boil it down to a few simple rules that we apply when helping our B2B clients engage with their buyers.

Know your buyers – Its common knowledge that to succeed B2C businesses really need to know their buyers (consumers) that’s why there is a mature research, intelligence, innovation and trends industry providing the insight that informs their brand, marketing and sales strategies.

Strange how little of this methodology is applied to B2B marketing! Why?

Budget, resource levels and sophistication of marketing function are all reasons that B2B organisations don’t deploy these practices, but another simple reason is misunderstanding of the B2B decision maker and the role that ‘being rational’ plays.

Yes, B2B buyers are more rational in many senses than their consumer counterparts and for good reason – but this does not mean you should treat them; a: all the same, b: like machines that can only interpret quantitative, functional facts, or c. as emotionally uninvolved (as per my ref earlier)

A great example of ‘knowing the buyer’ is ‘The Everywhere Generation’, a very recent (Cisco Velocity Marketing 2015 Awards Winner) Enterprise Mobility positioning and demand generation program we developed and executed on behalf of Cisco/Citrix/Logicalis.

The decision makers we had to successfully engage comprised of senior operations, finance, HR, marketing and technology functions across enterprise level businesses in EMEA.

Buyer persona, influencer and journey mapping enabled us to define rational and emotional drivers for change, challenge, and key buying cycle touch-points, covering all sides of this amorphous decision taking group.

Focus on the emotional (as well as the rational) benefits – Combined with market and competitor intelligence our buyer-centric approach enabled us to develop a simple proposition platform comprising of two key functional benefits that decision makers were focusing on; a. Security and b. Productivity.

We also determined a single key emotional benefit the solution could deliver the entire workforce, namely Freedom.

We were able to dial our focus on these three core components up or down according to audience and stage in the communication process and buying cycle, enabling us to engage all contacts at a rational and emotional level across a elongated period of time.

Dare to be different – The audience for this Enterprise Mobility solution was no different from all B2B decision takers out there – they had too much choice!

Bombarded with information, they were inundated with offers 24/7 and although ‘being rational’ played an important role in their decision making process it did not fully control their behavior or response, especially at initial engagement stages.

‘The Everywhere Generation’ was created to resonate with our audience emotionally (well-being and freedom of workforce) as well as rationally (mobility and productivity of workforce) whilst being refreshingly differentiated (getting noticed!) from the competition.

Making it personal – The results were great! Better buyer engagement and understanding, more meaningful conversations and a greater propensity for the buyers to comfortably interact with client sales teams right through the tender process.

The reason was simple. The buyers were more comfortable and saw less risk in buying from a brand that was seen to be offering value on a personal as well as professional level.

So, are B2B decision makers really more rational than their consumer counterparts?

My answer is still yes, but I’ll add a small caveat. Don’t confuse a more structured, rigorous and rational decision-making approach with a lack of emotional attachment or indeed response to emotional positioning and messaging – in fact I’d advise you do the opposite and consider the emotional involvement of your buyers and reasons why.

And finally…You’d think that B2B marketing would now be as emotionally engaging and accessible as B2C marketing. But no, more often than not, it still lacks the insight, understanding and sheer balls to be bold and different.

This combined with a predilection to get stuck on the features and specifications its mistakenly believes are the focus of buyers driven solely by ‘being rational’ are some of the reasons it often fails to deliver the results it really should.

Want to engage your ‘rational’ B2B buyers with stories they take notice of, relate to and believe in, then look no further…

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