Research: Fear Explains Irrational B2B Purchase Behavior

Here’s a common experience for anyone who sells products and services to businesses. A prospect is moving toward becoming a customer, and then inexplicably becomes unresponsive. Why?

B2B buying is not a rational process. That straightforward yet profound conclusion makes reading The BuyerSphere Project by Search Engine Land Just Behave columnist Gord Hotchkiss worthwhile. Other findings from the research multiply the return on time invested.

The BuyerShere Project concludes that B2B buying is a decision process driven by the emotions of the people involved. Fear is the principal emotion in play. B2B buyers are motivated principally to limit their personal risk—to keep their jobs or stature in the company by avoiding mistakes. Risk to their company’s well-being is also a factor, but a secondary consideration to their own reputation.

The “marketing funnel” is a flawed analogy that presumes B2B buying is emotion-free, BuyerShere concludes. The process is much more complex, involving both “doers” and “buyers” within the company, and the unique needs of each for information and emotional reassurance. “Doers” are frequently the individuals that initiate the purchase of a B2B product or service, but the responsibility for mitigating corporate risk is typically handed off to a “buyer” at some point. That handoff is the point at which many B2B sales efforts are derailed.

“Doers” and “buyers” need information in the B2B buying process, and that need can be satisfied online. B2B website design should consider the information needs of the “personas” who use the site and create unambiguous navigation paths leading to the information they seek.

In-person meetings are critical to fulfilling the emotional needs of prospects. Building trust through in-person meetings with both “doers” and “buyers” is necessary in the complex B2B sale.

Other conclusions from The BuyerSphere Project:

  • E-mail is the favored communication channel for B2B buyers, yet inquires are frequently handled poorly and responses are inaccurate.
  • Clear product and pricing information is the most useful website content for prospective B2B buyers.
  • Sellers of B2B products and services should initiate contact with prospects before they are actively looking to buy. Doing so allows the seller to help define the requirements of the solution and procurement process, and establishes the seller as a trusted advisor to the prospect.
  • Low risk and high risk purchases have different friction points for B2B vendors to overcome.
  • Reducing friction is paramount in low-risk transactions (like ordering office supplies) and can be accomplished by making product and pricing information easy to find and ordering simple.
  • High-risk, high-consideration purchases demand comprehensive online information about the product and company selling it, satisfying the information needs of doers and buyers, respectively. In-person meetings are frequently necessary to satisfy the emotional needs of both doers and buyers.

The conclusions of the BuyerSphere Project are richly supported by multiple sources from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including research on information foraging, brain function and technology adoption, as well as the groundbreaking eye tracking research performed by the author’s firm, Enquiro.

For all of the insight it provides, Hotchkiss concedes that The BuyerSphere is just the beginning of research into the complex topic of B2B buying.

The book attempts to cover the continuum of mundane repeat purchases of office supplies from a known entity in the B2B environment all the way to the adoption of a new technology from an unknown supplier. This proves an ambitious task and is fertile ground for future writings.

The book’s exploration of the impact of “digital natives” (those born after 1980) on the B2B buying process is another area for future exploration. Beyond saying these individuals will behave differently than prior generations, there’s little insight about how they will change the dynamics of B2B buying.

Many books have been written on mastering the art of the complex sale. Most were based on the experience of the author as a sales manager or consultant. The BuyerSphere Project is a valuable extension to that field of knowledge and a worthwhile read for anyone involved in B2B sales.

The BuyerSphere Project
by Gord Hotchkiss
ISBN-10: 1439261679
PDF: Free
Print: BookSurge Publishing, $39.99

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Other | Features: Book Reviews


About The Author: is President of Third Door Media, Search Engine Land's parent company. He has more than 20 years interactive media and marketing experience in management, product development, marketing and editorial positions.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter


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