B2B decision-makers care about outcomes for their business – after all, a solution needs to meet specific functional needs – but they also care about the consequences for them personally.
A solution needs to help the purchaser do their job and make them look good to their colleagues. The stakes are high, too; if a buyer makes the wrong decision, they could lose their job.
With this in mind, let's look at the positive and negative emotions that are present during the B2B decision-making process.
Business buyers, like consumers, favor brands with which they have an affinity. In other words, they favor brands that:
- Demonstrate they understand the buyer
- Have similar values and behaviors
- Mirror the buyer’s tone and language
Affinity also manifests itself in other ways:
- Some buyers favor brands that are in the same ecosystem as them. For example, agencies owned by holding companies, such as WPP, are encouraged to purchase services from other WPP agencies rather than outsourcing
- Some buyers make decisions based on patriotic or regional bias, favoring vendors that are located in the same region or country over those based in other locations
2. Trust and comfort
Buyers prefer suppliers with whom they’ve worked before. Similarly, they’re more likely to work with a supplier if they have a personal relationship with the vendor's key contact.
Even when a buyer doesn't have prior experience working with a supplier, trust can play a role. Business decision-makers are more likely to work with providers that:
- Are well-known and respected in the industry
- Are perceived to be stable
- Demonstrate their authority, expertise or trustworthiness during the sales process
Business buyers don't just want to repeat what they've done in the past - they’re interested in new ideas. They want to buy into a vision of a better future, whether it's for their company, for them as individuals or for the world.
For example, a COO purchasing a new piece of software is buying into the idea of saving his team time by automating a task, freeing them up to focus on other aspects of their role.
Buyers can also be influenced by the potential for a reward at a company or individual level. Take, for example, a business decision-maker deciding to book a flight with a more expensive carrier because they have more miles and can get upgraded.
4. Ego expression
When you purchase a brand as a consumer, it can convey something about who you are as a person. For example, certain brands communicate that the buyer has upward mobile aspirations.
This expression of ego also exists in B2B markets. If a small business purchases a prestigious brand that usually sells to larger enterprises, it’s trying to communicate its intention to grow and improve.
5. Fear, anxiety and apprehension
Business purchases often have higher stakes than consumer purchases. The consequences of failure can be greater for the individual and the company.
This fear of failure is heightened by uncertainty. When you purchase a new product, you don't know what the outcome will be. Change can be painful and add to people's workload.
As a result, B2B buyers often suffer from loss aversion. First identified by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, this tendency means that an individual is more likely to take action to prevent losses than to drive gains.
A key extension of this is status quo bias, whereby decision-makers "prefer things to stay the same by doing nothing or by sticking with a decision made previously".
Anxiety and apprehension also impact decisions in other ways. A buyer may be making a decision under pressure, either because of tight timelines or because they lack what Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir famously coined mental bandwidth.
Additionally, many people don't like confrontation and may try to avoid it at all costs. This will inevitably impact their willingness to negotiate.
6. Dissonance and suspicion
Buyers will avoid brands that don't understand them, have diverging values and behaviors or operate in a different ecosystem.
Sales and marketing teams sometimes forget that the people they’re selling to don’t necessarily think about their products as much as them. Indeed, some buyers are entirely apathetic. There are a few drivers of this lack of enthusiasm:
- The buyer is exploring possible options but is unlikely to pull the trigger, so isn't fully engaged in the process
- A lack of personal interest. Employees aren't engaged in every task they perform in their roles. Some tasks are simply less exciting than others. People differ in terms of which tasks they find interesting, and some don’t enjoy buying certain products
- Finally, the product being purchased may be a low priority and low impact. A company purchasing an enterprise firewall is to be more engaged in the processthan if they were purchasing stationery.
Guilt tends to manifest itself during buying decisions in two ways. It can impact decision making if the buyer has a personal relationship with the supplier that they’re going to reject, or the buyer makes a decision that’s best for them as an individual and not for the company as a whole. The aforementioned airline ticket purchase is an excellent example of the latter.
In B2B markets, buyers are often faced with complex decisions. The product they’re buying may be incredibly complicated, and there may be limited information on which to base a decision. Similarly, they may lack expertise in the category.
Decisions are even harder to make when multiple stakeholders are involved. The more individuals involved, the harder it is to achieve a consensus, and the more likely that a business will decide to do nothing.
10. Anger and frustration
Suppliers can sometimes negatively impact a purchase decision by inspiring anger or frustration in the people to whom they’re selling. This can be caused by one of a handful of main reasons:
- Being disinterested or arrogant
- Making the buying process unnecessarily complex
- Being hard to work with
- Providing limited information and not being transparent
11. Revenge and punishment
Many B2B purchases impact multiple departments. For example, when an organization purchases workforce management software, the following functions may be affected or involved:
- Operations and HR (users of the tool)
- IT (have to integrate the product into existing solutions)
- Procurement (may influence decision-making)
The individuals involved in the process may want to make a political point internally. The IT team may block a preferred vendor in the example above because they feel their perspective was ignored.
Another way in which revenge can influence decisions is if a buyer decides to punish a provider for a past misdeed. For example, including the vendor in an RFP process even if they have no intention of purchasing from them.