b2b marketing decision makersYou’ve heard the old adage; “don’t assume, it makes an ass out of “u” and me”, but unfortunately, it’s all too easy for B2B marketers to forget.

It slips your mind, because every day is spent tirelessly analysing digital body language – guessing where your prospects are, what they’re doing, and what will most likely get them to take action.

Mediative’s The Buyersphere Project outlines what B2B marketers wrongly assume about organisational decision-making and the risk mechanisms which can be used to remedy the situation.

Assumption 1. There’s Only One Critical Decision-Maker

Unlike the more straightforward world of B2C, there’s rarely only one person you need to influence. Yes, even in small businesses. Although someone has the final say, other people are asked for input – on and off the record.

This is why the buying cycle for B2B is often long. Getting a lot of people to agree on any one thing is not quick and easy. In fact it complicates the buying process significantly. Plus those decision makers, even if they are unified by a common problem, often have different perspectives or windows on that core problem and marketers must take the trouble to understand those unique perspectives. Think how a CFO vs Head of Division might have different perspectives on a common problem.

Whereas a personal purchase decision is dictated by a balance between the emotions of desire and risk, when we buy something for a company the personal reward is not as important, as there are fewer personal benefits for decision makers. Risk management has a greater degree of importance and influence in the decision.

Why it’s dangerous: If you design your campaigns and content around one buyer persona, you risk rejection for failing to respond to objections from other personas who are key influencers (if not decision-makers themselves) in the purchase.

How to fix it: Audit your current content for gaps. Ask yourself what question each persona would have at each step of their buying journey. Make sure you have easily accessible content to answer that question.

Assumption 2. Decision-Makers Follow A Linear Buying Journey

Another common pitfall is the assumption that all of these buyers follow a linear path to making their decision, from unqualified, to lead, to prospect to customer. Many B2B marketers design their campaigns to move their buyers down that funnel in the same chronological fashion.

The problem is, humans just aren’t wired that way. Although there are formal processes in place to give the appearance of process, there’s an element of random-ness completely hidden to marketers that can drastically alter their funnel positioning. Budgets get cut mid-year, people get laid off, companies reorganise and decision makers now report to a new boss, decision makers leave, priorities shift.

Why it’s dangerous: If you wire your campaigns to only work for buyers who follow a linear process you fail to cater for buyers who move back and forth between stages and leak from your funnel. You run the risk of losing them forever.

How to fix it: Allow for some wriggle room. Have recycling campaigns that continuously offer opportunities for buyers to re-enter the lower stages of your funnel when they’re ready. Plan your content to work over the typical lifecycle of a lead (at least). Design specific conversion “gates” in your content marketing plan, so that you can identify when a lead has downloaded a lower funnel offer (for example). Lead scoring can be used effectively to alert you to leads that are “on the move” and in active decision mode.

Assumption 3. Buying Decisions Are Based Purely on Logic

Which brings us to the final assumption – that B2B purchasing is rational. Marketers think that when their buyers are narrowing down their options, each fact is considered and every option is weighed.

However, humans use shortcuts to rational decision-making (like their own personal feelings, emotions, beliefs, instincts, and habits). Salespeople never forget this because they deal with it every day. But all too often, it’s the marketers who attempt to impose rationality on a largely irrational process.

And when you have many irrational decision-makers on your hands, all trying to use formalised processes to reach one decision, it’s nearly impossible to predict the outcome.

Why it’s dangerous: You forget the human component that goes into it. So instead of talking about your buyer’s pain points, you keep talking about how great you are – features, functions, and benefits. Snore!

How to fix it: Show them that you know what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes. Help them solve the problems they have and stop talking about yourself. Remember that B2B decision-making is often driven by a fear, or managing the risk of decision making, so do all you can to mitigate that risk. Word of mouth and recommendation plays an important role in mitigating risk. Social media (especially in trusted networks such as LinkedIn groups) works as digital word of mouth. Ensure you use social media channels to increase visibility for your content and share success stories, case studies and testimonials from happy customers.

Become the Risk-Averse Option

The bottom line is that B2B buying is all about minimising fear by eliminating risk. Mediative identified the following ways B2B decision-makers mitigate risk in an organisational buy:

1. Personal experience or an approved vendor list.

People want to deal with who they know, or a vendor who’s been given a seal of approval. An approved vendor stamp avoids exposure to risk, so it’s the single most important risk control mechanism.

2. Word of mouth.

…of co-workers and peers. It’s common to seek the opinions of those close to you early in the buying process.

…of existing vendors. Sales representatives that have built trust with customers are often one of the first places prospects turn to when thinking about an upcoming purchase, even if the vendor doesn’t sell it.

3. Credibility and position of vendors.

If you want to buy something but have no personal experience with the vendor (or know anyone who does), you lean on the wisdom of the crowds. Why? Because even if it goes badly, you can say you weren’t alone.

4. Online research.

The web empowers buyers by giving them access to plenty of information previously unavailable. Prospects can easily browse product information, past user experience, impressions of the vendor, comparisons and reviews.

This is where you should be spending most of your time, because it was rated as the second most important element in decision-making, topped only by vendor word of mouth.

Aim to get them while they’re conducting online research. Not only is it more influential than all the rest, it’s the only one you have almost total control over!

For more information about getting found by your buyers online, please download our free eBook:

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Can you think of any other dangerous assumptions B2B marketers make about their prospects? Share them with us in the comments section below.