Which selling style do B2B buyers prefer?
In which departments are B2B buyers more likely to give a chance to upstart products?
In the B2C or retails space, the answers to these questions are known. Brick-and-mortar and e-commerce stores spend millions of dollars influencing B2C buying behavior. On the other hand, B2B buyers are not immune to such influence, either- However, quite less research has been conducted on the influence on B2B buyers.
Goals of the B2B Buyers:
The reason behind this B2B buyers persona research was to identify and quantifiably measure these hidden factors.
The research goals were the following;
- Understand how b2b buyers perceive the salespeople they meet with
- Explore the circumstances that determine which vendor is selected
- Learn how different company departments and vertical industries make buying decisions
To achieve these goals, more than 250 business professionals who evaluate the products and services their organization use participated in this research. This group was comprised of 41% women and 51% men, who work within the following industries and departments (see the below image):
To test a variety of customer decision-making hypotheses, the participants were asked unusual questions.
1.Buyer’s Risk Aversion:
Just 35% of the B2B buyers have a favorable view of salespeople.
What percentage of salespeople would you say are good, excellent, average or poor?
- 38% average
- 23% good
- 12% excellent
- 27% poor
The B2B buyers won’t buy until they are fully satisfied. And when b2b buyers meet with salespeople they become cross-examiners, proctors rather than collaborators.
From the perspective of departmental b2b buyers, when you look at the ratings of salespeople, a pattern emerges. Evaluators who are part of the Engineering, IT, and Accounting are more critical of the salespeople than those from process-oriented, less-scientific departments such as Marketing.
When tolerance for risk is analyzed by the department, an interesting pattern emerges: There’s a correlation between tolerance for risk and the ratings of salespeople. Specifically, salespeople’s higher negative rating is inversely related to a department’s tolerance for risk.
For example, while the IT department risk tolerance average was a low 5 out of 10, IT buyers rated 37% of all salespeople as poor – higher than any other department. Conversely, while marketing department tolerance for risk rating was much higher, at 7.1 out of 10, Marketing rated 18% of salespeople as poor – the lowest “poor” rating in the group.
With varying levels of due diligence, it can be easily inferred from these metrics that these two departments interact with salespeople and analyze vendors in quite different ways.
The tolerance for risk varies hugely by the industry as well. Creative, dynamics, trend-oriented industries like Media, Fashion, and Real Estate have the highest risk tolerance averages. More static, conservative, and process-oriented industries like Consulting, Government, and Healthcare have the lowest risk tolerance averages.
This clearly shows that B2B buyers analyze vendors and interact with salespeople with varying levels of due diligence based on the buyer’s industry and subsequent tolerance for risk.
To reduce the risk of buying, B2B buyers go to great lengths. Your reception as a sales professional depends on the department you’re selling to as the B2B buyers are fixated on risk mitigation.
2. Buyers Group Dynamics:
More than 90% of the time, salespeople need to convince just one person in a buying committee: the dominant influencer.
As b2b buyers, whenever organizations make a buying decision that involves a team of workers, politics, self-interest, and group dynamics influence the final decision. Drama, tension, and conflict are quite normal parts of group dynamics as buying decisions are not generally made unanimously.
Usually, one member of the selection team is able to exert his or her will and determine the vendor chosen. This person tenaciously fights for their cause in order to get their way. Single-handedly, they impart their own will on the complete selection process by selecting choosing the vendor and pushing the purchase through the procurement process.
While on the other end of the spectrum are B2B buyers who are quite accommodating. They are less likely to advocate for any single vendor and are more apathetic about whatever solution is purchased during the selection process. B2B buyers are more likely to act in a dominant way when they have an elevated status like title or domain expertise, within the evaluation team.
More than 90% of the respondents agreed that there’s usually or always one member of the committee who tries to influence the decision their way.
Based on the vertical industry, the occurrence of this influential, dominant person varies. Technology and Finance industries have the highest response rate, while Consulting and Entertainment industry has the lowest.
How often is the dominant person successful in getting the outcome they want?
While 89% of the respondents said that this person is successful most of the time, just 11% of the respondents said some of the time.
Today, one of the most formidable enemies facing salespeople is no decision. What prevents prospective B2B buyers from making a purchase?
B2B buyers take on specific roles when they are part of a selection committee, beyond their formal titles and position on organization charts. And some take control of the group and steer the decision toward their preference.
One may expect, based on the study results, IT, Sales, and Engineering to have more internal clout to push through their projects than Human Resources or Marketing. Hence, from the salesperson’s perspective, they’re better departments to sell into. At the end of the day, a project won’t or will get approved based on who is pushing it.
3.Vendor Market Position Advantages:
Different departments and industries, as b2b buyers, are more likely to purchase from underdog vendors rather than the goliath of their industry.
A single organization dominates the market in most industries. They have top-of-the-line products, much bigger market share, greater marketing reach and budget, and more company cache compared to their competitors. And life can be very intimidating for the salespeople who have to compete against these industry giants.
But, in this regard, the study results show some good news. B2B buyers aren’t necessarily fixated on the market leader and are more than willing to choose second-tier competitors than one may expect.
Just 33% of the respondents said they prefer the best-known, most prestigious brand with the highest functionality and cost. And 63% of the respondents indicated they would choose a fairly well-known brand with 85% of the functionality at 80% of the cost. But, just 5% of the respondents said they would choose a relatively unknown brand with 75% of the functionality at 60% of the cost of the best-known brand.
Respondents from the Engineering and Information Technology departments were most likely to choose the top-of-the-line, best-known product, while Sales and Manufacturing departments were least likely.
Conversely, Sales and Manufacturing departments would be most likely to purchase from lesser-known brands with slightly reduced functionality if they were priced accordingly.
All major B2B purchase progresses through four sales cycle stages and different kinds of decision-makers, influencers determine which vendor is in the lead at each stage. At the beginning of the sales cycle in the Buyer research stage Vendor websites are most influential, while the influence of evaluation group dynamics and internal politics become more critical as the sales cycle progresses.
- Buyer research stage: The customer does independent research on the vendors, underlying technologies, and methodologies via the Internet, product reviews, analyst reports, member associations, industry news, and elsewhere.
- Product stage: The b2b buyers contact a select number of vendors and meet with their salespeople to learn more about the products based upon their research. B2B buyers validate their initial research and also augment their knowledge of the respective solutions through interactions with each salesperson competing for the deal.
- Business stage: B2B buyers assess which vendors offer the best business value, as the sales process progresses, and are a philosophical fit for their business.
- Political stage: The final stage is making a final decision among the top three or two vendors. The final decision is usually influenced by several political factors beyond the attributes evaluated in the product and business stages.
For the b2b buyers, the importance of the vendor’s website varies during each stage. In the beginning, the website plays an instrumental role as the b2b buyers decide which vendors are qualified. In the product stage, the website serves as a validation checkpoint for b2b buyers when the sales team provides most of the information directly to them. The website’s importance increases even more during the political and business stages, as senior-level executives who weren’t part of the evaluation team review the recommendation and findings.
Do vendor websites influence the final vendor selection you make?
61% of the respondents indicated the website definitely influenced their final decision, while 37% of the respondents said it somewhat influenced their final decision. And just 2% of the respondents said it had no influence at all.
A website is much more than just an online reference platform; it’s an extension of the sales force. The website sets the stage to make sure their sales teams are invited to participate in the customer’s evaluation. It gives validation while the sales team discusses business and product capabilities with prospective b2b buyers. It also gives affirmation to senior-level decision-makers who may not meet the sales force that they can confidently move forward with their purchase.
In some sales scenarios, in order to win, it is necessary to align with the thought process of b2b buyers. These B2B buyers are knowledgeable and experienced in their technical fields and business. In other scenarios, the thought process of b2b buyers must be transformed and smoothly shaped over the entire course of the sales cycle. Finally, in some sales scenarios, you must control prospective b2b buyers in order to help them, just as a doctor must sometimes prescribe a painful treatment to heal a patient.
What selling style do prospective B2B buyers prefer?
The study shows around 40% of the respondents prefer a salesperson that understands, listens, and then matches their solution to solve a specific problem. Another 30% of the respondents prefer a salesperson who earns their trust by making them feel comfortable. And the rest 30% of the respondents prefer a salesperson that challenges their perceptions and thoughts and then prescribes a solution that they may not have known about.
There were significant variations in selling preferences by industry. While Manufacturing and Finance preferences were fairly evenly split among all three styles, the Government vertical entirely selected a salesperson that would listen and solve their specific needs. Technology preferred a salesperson who will work with them successfully over the long term or someone who would challenge their thinking. While just 20% of the Consulting industry preferred a salesperson who challenges them, the Real Estate vertical doesn’t want to be challenged at all.
6. Buyer’s Regret:
The study respondents, the b2b buyers, were asked to recount the last time they experienced significant buyer’s remorse in order to better understand the impact of human nature on b2b buyers. When the b2b buyers feels a sense of regret, guilt, or anger, a buyer’s remorse occurs after the purchase is made, and they second-guess their decision.
Mistakenly, many people associate the remorse of b2b buyers with an impulsive purchase or just assume it was caused by the pressure tactics of a salesperson. The source for remorse of the b2b buyers can be categorized into nine different root causes. But, it is the action of buyers which actually caused remorse in over 70% of the examples, not the product that was sold or the salesperson.
16% of buyer’s remorse scenarios recounted a scenario in which the company or product did not perform to their expectations. 13% of b2b buyers felt they over-purchased more capacity or features than they actually needed, while an equal percentage of buyers thought they under-purchased less than they actually should have. 11% of b2b buyers faulted themselves as they didn’t do enough research during the sales cycle, and 11% of b2b buyers felt they purchased too impulsively. 9% of b2b buyers experienced remorse at a later stage because they found out there actually was a price decrease or didn’t negotiate the best price. 8% b2b buyers put the blame on their salesperson for pushing them to buy, and 8% b2b buyers they were too focused on short-term results and should have had a longer-term perspective in hindsight. A critical event or deadline pressured 7% b2b buyers to purchase when they weren’t ready, and a fundamental situational change caused 4% b2b buyers to question their decision.
It is the collection of all these negative sales experiences of the buyer over the course of their lifetime, which shapes who they prefer to do business with or how they purchase. As a result, when deciding which solution to choose and confusion about whether they should even make a purchase at all, b2b buyers experience a mental tug-of-war. Hence, they adopt coping mechanisms facing the stressful situation of choosing between salespeople and their solutions.
Coping mechanisms are behavioral and psychological strategies that are used to manage threatening situations and stress, a psychological strategy for avoiding buyer’s remorse.
B2B buyers are never 100 confident they are buying the right solution. On the inside they are experiencing uncertainty, fear, and doubt; regardless of their confident demeanor.
Within every organization, each department has its own buyers. Within many organizations, buyer persona profiles or ICP are developed by Sales Enablement to provide messaging and information on how the salespeople should interact with the various types of prospects they talk to.
There is a solely human, intangible side to the sales process. And it is the mastery of the intuitive human element of the buyer relationship that separates losers from the winners.