Why You Can’t Ignore the Personal Side of B2B Buying

The essence of content marketing is providing relevant and valuable content to a clearly defined and understood target audience. Relevant and valuable content usually means content that:

  • Explains the ramifications of an important business issue of challenge
  • Describes how an important business issue or challenge can be addressed
  • Describes the business benefits that a company would obtain by addressing an issue or challenge

I’ve italicized the word business in this list because most B2B marketing content focuses on some aspect of business value – the value that the prospect organization will realize by addressing a business need, issue, or challenge. Focusing primarily on business value is understandable and appropriate, but B2B marketers are making a mistake if they ignore the personal dimension of the B2B buying process. Here’s why.

B2B buying decisions are complex and multi-faceted. They usually involve a mix of rational thinking, emotion, instinct, and post-decision rationalization. In addition, B2B buying decisions almost always involve two dimensions of value.

  • Business value – the benefits and value the prospect organization will realize by purchasing and using a product or service
  • Personal value – the benefits that will flow to individual members of the “buying group” if the purchase is successful

Sales experts have recognized the importance of the personal dimension of B2B buying for years. For example, in their 1985 book Strategic Selling, Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman emphasized that a successful salesperson must deliver both positive and measurable results for the prospect organization and personal wins for each member of the buying group.

New research by CEB, Google, and Motista demonstrates that the personal dimension of B2B buying remains as critical as ever. CEB and its research partners tested the impact of more than 70 brand benefits on a broad range of “commercial outcomes,” including familiarity, consideration, preference, purchase, repeat purchase, premium payment, internal advocacy, and external advocacy.

The researchers divided the benefits into two categories. Business value benefits were those that flowed to the prospect organization and drove improved business performance. Personal value benefits were those that flowed to individual “buyers.” These benefits included professional benefits (career advancement, etc.), social benefits (popularity, admiration from colleagues, etc.), emotional benefits (confidence, happiness, etc.), and self-image benefits (pride, feelings of accomplishment, etc.). The CEB study found that personal value benefits had twice as much impact (lift) on commercial outcomes as business value benefits.

So, how can marketers incorporate personal value benefits into their marketing content resources? One of the best ways is to use case studies that cast the customer (and, by implication, the individuals who made the purchase decision) in the role of the “hero.” Another powerful technique is to include brief “success examples” in other content resources like white papers and e-books. It’s always important to be subtle when discussing personal value, but the personal dimension should play an important role in your content marketing efforts.

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