They are Humans, your B2B Customers.

It is often thought that buyers in the B2B marketplace are strongly driven by rational factors, and the key to successful sales is finding the right rational arguments. Of course, you need to get the core features of products and services right, but they alone are not enough. Like in the role of the consumer, also as a business decision maker people have both rational and emotional needs.

The difference with the consumer market is that in B2B sales rational and emotional needs work at both the personal and company level. B2B decision-making is also more complex in nature, as many people from different areas of expertise are usually involved in the purchasing decision and are accountable to others in the organization. The number of decision-makers and the decision-making process are also influenced by the importance of the seller’s offer to the buyer in two dimensions: the strategic and the financial importance of the decision.

Different motives that influence B2B decision-making can be for example:

PersonalHelp me do my job
Ease of use
Think like me
Make me look and feel good
Vendor’s Reputation
Make me feel special
CorporateMeet our functional needs
Product range
Industry/product expertise
Within budget
Build/protect our company reputation
Brand fit
Consistency of offer
Staying up to date

The business decision maker begins the exploring of alternatives colored by intuitive preconceptions, and the image of the provider’s company and brand influences the decisions. Much of the basis for decisions is subjective and unconscious. According to various studies, the weight of the emotional factors is equal to the rational factors.

Why do emotions guide our decisions?

The basic rule in all decision-making is that decisions are always prone to distortions and mistakes. We never have all the relevant information at our disposal, and each of us have a different attitude towards the facts we know depending on our own personality and experience. When observing one’s own decision-making, it is good to remember the human tendency to see things as we are and not as they are.

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky for their behavioral economics research have identified two different types of decision-making systems in human brain, fast and slow.

Fast decision-making is based on feelings and experiences. It is intuitive, simplistic and highly visual. The goal is quick reaction and action. The roots of the fast process are in primitive survival – is the character on the horizon a threat or an opportunity? Fast decision-making is constantly driving us unconsciously and we are happy to use it whenever possible because it is so much more natural and easier for us than slow logical decision-making.

Slow and logical decision-making system is number-driven, analytical and thorough. It is laborious and prone to interference. Each of us knows how difficult it is to keep your thoughts together at an exacting question when you are in a hurry, stress or interrupted constantly. Because slow decision-making is so cumbersome, we often replace difficult questions imperceptibly with easier ones that we can answer with the fast system. The example used by Kahneman and Tversky is the investor being asked if he thinks he should invest in Ford shares? The question is demanding, because a well thought-out answer would require knowledge of Ford’s business, strengths and weaknesses, competitive landscape, consumer preferences, passenger traffic trends, and global trade policy. So the investor subconsciously replaces the question with an easier one: “Do I think Ford’s are good cars?” And answers it.

In addition to rational selling arguments in B2B sales, it is good to think about what matters to the buyer as a person, what kind of emotional motivations can be involved in the process, and how to address also the buyer’s tendency to rely on her or his fast and intuitive decision-making system.

Also digitalization is transforming B2B decision making

On top of emotional motivations, it is important to take into account also the effects of the digitalization of information and sales channels in B2B sales:

Information overflow. B2B customers have more options and information at their disposal than ever before. However, it does not make decision-making easier. On the contrary, according to studies, the accumulation of information increases insecurity and stress. The antidote to this is clear and crystallized messages.

Expanding decision making unit. According to the Harvard Business Review, the number of people involved in B2B purchasing decisions has grown from 5.4 to 6.8 on average in just a few years. The proliferation of different perspectives and priorities makes it difficult for decision-makers to agree on anything other than “move cautiously,” “avoid risk,” and “save money.”

The direct consequence of the above mentioned is the importance of addressing different buying personas. When marketing for B2B, you need to go through a handful of user scenarios and use-cases. Think about the various people who weigh in – the CFO, the IT department, the end user and the business decision maker, for example.

Online gains importance over salespeople. The major part of B2B purchase decisions are now made online, often prior to ever engaging with vendors sales reps. According to a report by Forrester, 68% of B2B customers prefer to research independently online, and 60% of buyers would rather not communicate with sales reps as their primary information source.

Brands matter also in B2B. B2B buyers need to know that the companies they partner with will be around for the duration. They trust companies that look big and stable. They don’t trust companies that look small or unstable.