6 Tips for Understanding the B2B Business Decision-Making Process & Engaging the Buyer

It seems that I remember the login info for this blog after all….

I wrote this as a guest post for a B2Bbloggers, and thought I may as well post it on my own blog, too. Enjoy.

Whether making a purchase decision for myself or for my company, I’m still a human. A communications strategy that recognizes this as every business buyer’s position can make the difference between an engaged prospect or an unsubscribe, a loyal customer or a lost sale.

The marketer’s goal is to get buyers into and moving through the purchase funnel of awareness, interest, evaluation, acquisition, and loyalty. The decision-making process for purchasing business software, for example, is longer and more complex than that which involves an individual consumer and an impulse buy.

Fortunately, business buyers don’t stop being human when they clock in for the day as managers, developers, and owner/operators.

Therefore, many of the rhetorical tactics and psychological triggers used in consumer marketing also work for B2B marketing, engaging the people who visit our websites, read our content, and use our products in their professional roles.

This post examines the business buyer’s position, how it differs from that of consumers, why it’s important to appeal to both rational and emotional decision making, and how to engage this audience throughout buying cycle and, later, the customer lifecycle.

(De)constructing the Business Buyer

Spending money on cute shoes you don’t need, or even an item with a longer consumer purchase cycle, like a flat screen TV, isn’t nearly as big a risk as signing off on an item with the company’s money, be it external marketing spend or a software solution.

The business buyer is in a position of high accountability for purchases, and often has multiple “buyers” to persuade. This presents some unique challenges to marketers:

•    More people are involved in the decision-making process, representing different facets of the business. With a software product, for example, it may be the primary user who shows interest initially, but the IT team and business owner are also involved in the final purchase decision. The different roles have different needs, and your copywriter is dealing with any number of different buyer personas.
•    The buyer isn’t spending their own money. ROI and other advantages must be clearly documented to justify investment in one purchase which may take budget away from another. This is the time for case studies, data, and proof of time/money savings.
•    The risk factor is often greater. Buyers fear that a bad purchase decision could lead to loss of time/money/productivity/data/hardware/resources for their business.

Where the decision to buy the shoes was largely on impulse and based on design and emotional appeal (i.e., feeling good while wearing the shoes), the purchase decision for a business product such as a software solution takes considerably longer than the typical consumer purchase, even for higher priced items such as that flat screen.

This requires marketers and sales teams to build a relationship with their contacts and keep in touch as a prospect moves through the purchase funnel, however long that may take.

Why Buy?

At work here is both the rational and the emotional brain. In general, the rational brain craves a logical approach to decision-making, hard numbers and facts. The emotional brain responds to more abstract concepts such as safety and trust.

•    The rational buyer is going to look for things like product feature specs and proof of benefit from other customers to build a quantifiable justification for the purchase.
•    The emotional buyer is persuaded more by their gut feeling in a product’s ability to fulfill its promise, the safety and trust they can place in a company or brand.

Engaging business buyers requires an appeal to both parts of the brain, using one to justify the other.

Promising time savings is great, but suggesting what they can do with the time saved is even better—putting it toward business development and getting ahead of competitors in the market, for example. Tell them the improved workflow will lead to better internal communications, higher team morale, and a better atmosphere around the office.

Just as desire motivates consumers to buy, it also motivates business buyers. Desire for efficiency, profit, data security, or even recognition for acquisition of an innovate product that impacts the bottom line.

The other primary motivator is fear. Here this could mean fear of losing business to competitors if the competitor has better resources.

A good way to build trust and credibility while at the same time dropping a few statistics and testimonials to prove the value of your product or business philosophy is through content marketing—white papers, case studies, email campaigns, social media, and the company blog.

Of course, if the product isn’t great, none of this will matter.

6 Tips for Getting Business Buyers Engaged

Let’s face it. Things like “BUY NOW!” in big bold letters and other techniques geared toward pressure and impulse purchase don’t work with these decision-makers. They need to be educated not only on the product, but how it will improve their business and professional lives which will in turn positively impact their personal lives.

To get a business audience engaged, marketers need persuasive content that appeals to both logic and emotion. The communication strategy should serve prospective buyers as well as current customers with lifetime value.

The first step, though, is persuading the busy business buyer to open your emails, or read your blog, or take your touch-base calls.

Here are 6 tips for developing a messaging strategy and writing copy that engages and motivates a business audience, wherever they are in the prospect or customer lifecycle:

  • Be relevant. Target your content and communications based on the individual’s role (technical decision maker vs. end user, for example), pain points, and activity history. Use personalized content in emails, such as names with the greeting and closure, or content based on product interests. Get the timing right—send relevant communications based on where they are in the buying cycle. Marketing automation is a must-have if this is to be done efficiently and effectively.
  • Answer why and how. Tell them why they need your product, and how it solves their business problems and pains. Create a compelling reason for them to buy, or to download your content, or subscribe to your blog, follow you, etc.  Re-enforce value and purchase satisfaction with existing customers.
  • Pique their interest. Write concise headlines and titles that set expectations but leave little mystery. Tell your readers how they can solve a problem. You can even use “how to” in the title, such as “How to Eliminate Manual Data Entry & Improve Workflow.” Focus on solution and benefit.Use numbers. It helps organize information and sets expectations with the reader.  And who can resist a question?
  • Educate early. Provide white papers, case studies, tips, and best practice content, tailored to the contact’s specific pain points and position in the buying cycle. Become a trusted source of information and content for your industry and the challenges its professionals face. Good resource for content marketing and copywriting are Junta42 and Copyblogger.
  • Manage risk. The business audience needs to manage perceived risk later in the buying cycle, and you can help them do that by providing case studies and statistics. Testimonial blurbs at this point usually aren’t enough—the buyer now needs hard facts and case studies from similar companies to make a rational justification for the purchase.   Emotionally, this purchase decision could be tied to either a promotion or a severance package, depending on the price tag and how it impacts the business.
  • Make it easy for them to purchase your product and maintain a customer relationship with you. Keep in touch after the sale.

(This article appeared on B2Bbloggers at http://www.b2bbloggers.com/blog/6-tips-for-understanding-the-b2b-business-decision-making-process/ )

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  1. #1 by kristentsetsi on June 12, 2010 - 10:13 am

    You should write a marketing book.

    • #2 by jjhnsn on June 16, 2010 - 12:10 am

      I would love to! It would have to written as a parable, or a prose poem or something. Keep it interesting :)

  1. Tweets that mention Understanding the Business Decision-Making Process « Vodka & Sauerkraut -- Topsy.com

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