Business Buyers Are Looking For
Personal Benefits

In a column titled “The 6 Key Differences Between Business-To-Business And Consumer Marketing,” I describe the key factors that set Business-to-Business marketing apart from Business-to-Consumer marketing. The first six principles I outline are:

  1. The business buyer wants to buy.
  2. The business buyer is sophisticated.
  3. The business buyer is an information seeker who will read a lot of copy.
  4. Business-to-Business marketing involves a multistep buying process.
  5. The buying decision is frequently made by a committee and not by an individual.
  6. Business products are generally more complex than consumer products.

Then recently, I formulated a seventh principle and added it to the list.

  1. The business buyer buys for his company’s benefit — and his own.

There are two parts to this seventh principle. Let’s take them one at a time.

The Business Buyer Buys For His Company’s Benefit

The business buyer must acquire products and services that benefit his company. This means the product or service saves the company time or money, makes money, improves productivity, increases efficiency, or solves problems.

Let’s say, for example, that you sell a telecommunications network and your primary advantage over the competition is that your system reduces monthly operating expenses by 50 percent. If a prospect is spending $40,000 a month for your competitor’s network, you can replace it and provide his company with the same level of service for only $20,000 a month.

The company benefits because it saves $240,000 a year in communications costs — more than $1 million in a five-year period.

Yet, despite this tremendous benefit, you find that prospects are not buying. They seem interested, and you get a lot of inquiries. But few sales are closed.

Why? Because in addition to buying for his company’s benefit, the prospect also buys for himself.

The Business Buyer Buys For His Own Benefit

The second part of Principle #7 is that, while the buyer is looking to do right by his company, he has an equal (if not greater) concern for his own well-being and selfish interests.

Although the idea of saving $240,000 a year with your telecommunications system is appealing to your prospect, his thought process is as follows:

“Right now, I have an AT&T system. Your system sounds good but I don’t know you or your company. If I switch and something goes wrong, I will be blamed. I may even get fired. My boss will say, ‘You shouldn’t have gambled on an unproven product from an unknown vendor — why didn’t you stick with good ole reliable AT&T?’ He will say this even though he approved my decision. So to be safe, I will stick with my current system … even though it costs my company an extra $240,000 a year. After all, I’d rather see them spend an extra $240,000 a year than me lose my $60,000-a-year job!”

This play-it-safe mentality is only natural, and it affects buying decisions daily in corporations throughout the country. Data processing professionals are fond of saying, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” Buying IBM ensures the prospect that no one can criticize his decision, even if Brand X is the better choice from a business and technical point of view.

A corporate pension fund manager, writing in Money magazine, noted that no money manager ever got fired for losing money invested in a blue-chip stock. A different example, but the principle remains the same.

The Business Buyer Is For Himself

Concern for making the safe, acceptable decision is a primary motivation of business buyers, but it is not the only reason why business buyers choose products, services, and suppliers that are not necessarily the best business solution to their company’s problem.

Avoiding stress or hardship is a big concern among prospects. For example, a consultant might offer a new system for increasing productivity, but it means more paperwork for the shipping department … and especially for the head of the shipping department. If he has anything to say about it, and thinks no one will criticize him for it, the head of shipping will, in this case, work to sway the committee against engaging the consultant or using his system … even though the current procedures are not efficient. The department head, already overworked, wants to avoid something he perceives as a hassle and a headache, despite its contribution to the greater good of the organization.

Fear of the unknown is also a powerful motivator. A middle manager, for example, might vote against acquiring desktop publishing and putting a terminal on every manager’s desk because he himself has computer phobia. Even though he recognizes the benefit such technology can bring to his department, he wants to avoid the pain of learning something he perceives to be difficult and frightening. Again, personal benefit outweighs corporate benefit in this situation.

Fear of loss is another powerful motivator. An advertising manager in a company that has handled its advertising in-house for the past decade may resist his president’s suggestion that they retain an outside advertising agency to handle the company’s rapidly-expanding marketing campaign. Even if he respects the ad agency and believes they will do a good job, the ad manager may campaign against them, fearing that bringing in outside experts will diminish his own status within the company.

In these and many other instances, the business buyer is for himself first; and his company, second. To be successful, your copy must not only promise the benefits the prospect desires for his company; it should also speak to the prospect’s personal agenda, as well.

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Published: July 10, 2012

1 Response to “Business Buyers Are Looking For Personal Benefits”

  1. Thank you, Bob, for contributing this article. It was a pleasure, as always, to read your work. As usual, you are right on the money here.

    An individual's subjective truth can and does deal with objective reality.

    What is going on "in here" is closely related what is going on "out there."

    That's why corporate life is rife with people playing games and politics--that is the norm in any company today.

    We are told to make decisions objectively but our feelings and sentiments often get in the way.

    And this can prove to be a major disaster for both companies and individuals.

    Archan MehtaJuly 12, 2012 at 11:29 am


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