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B2B vs. B2C Buying Behavior

After all, we are only human

Not a day goes by that I am not inundated with business-to-business marketing articles through my Linkedin and Twitter, and yet I still go to my Flipboard to seek out more (while also checking on who Chelsea Football Club is looking to spend its next $50M on). It seems a lot of people talk about the nuances in the B2B and B2C marketing space and how the audiences differ. Of course that is true to a degree, but is a human being really that different when sitting at the dining table with the family than when he or she arrives in the office (assuming the office and home are not one and the same!)?

I’ve been a business professional for 15 years and a consumer for many more. The question I pose here is, “Do I really think differently when I’m wearing my business hat?” My conclusion is, “no.” The assumption among many B2B marketers is that personal decisions tend to be much more emotional than business decisions.  Using a research sample of one (myself), let’s play out some real-life decisions I’ve made at home and at work.

“Considered” Purchases: Personal vs. Business

Personal: The Mincham clan is expanding.

We are very happy to be having our second baby at the end of 2015. There is no end to the life-changing decisions my wife, Helen, and I now need to make. One of the most important (and fun) is the car. I am a car guy, always have been, and I love the process of researching cars — even when I’m not in the market. I regularly irritate Helen with ideas: “maybe we should get a classic car” or “I think I need a truck.” But in this instance it was serious. With our growing family, we needed a more practical vehicle, we needed (gulp) a minivan. Suddenly the prospect of car shopping wasn’t quite as exhilarating, but it was more important than ever. It is no small expense and it will carry precious cargo daily!

Going through the process:

Naturally, I started with Top Gear to see which one is the fastest. But then I remembered what I was buying and switched gears. My research turned to a more appropriate channel, looking at reviews online for features, safety, top 10 lists, and blogs. I spoke to my friends who owned or were also considering a minivan. Without even looking at a vehicle, I narrowed down my top 3. Now I set about evaluating the financial options available, leveraging Car Fax, True Car, and equivalent resources to value my trade in, spec out my new vehicle, and determine the required (and equivalent) models. I created a fancy spreadsheet and put everything side-by-side, eventually narrowing my choices to 2 vehicles. The Honda Odyssey and the ”Minivan B.” I was prepared with the lease vs. finance options, upgrades, etc. I knew the approximate value of my current car as a trade–in, and I was ready to walk into any negotiation armed with facts and ready for counter-offers. I had researched my options on dealerships, using online, offline, and personal references to weed out the less reputable ones. I was ready. But this was not my decision alone, so I proceeded to bore Helen with all I have done and she gave me her input: “No way am I driving a Minivan B.” OK, so my decision was made. We set out to the number one choice dealership, Helen drove the car, played with all the amazing gadgets, the electric doors, the special mirror to watch the children. Beaming at the end of the test drive, we were ready to seal the deal. We completed the paperwork that day and drove home our new family car.

Business: I need a new Marketing Database Provider

Going back a little bit in my career, when I was responsible for database marketing, our incumbent database provider was not living up to expectations and it was time to see what else was in the market. We had been struggling, as the incumbent was missing the mark on day-to-day delivery, and issues were occurring all too often, and they weren’t providing strategic insights that would help us remain market leaders. I needed someone who could handle our scale while providing the strategic guidance that would keep our team front and center in the marketing organization and across the company as a whole.

Going through the Process:

I went to my leadership to explain our situation, the issues, and the financial impact. Once I got agreement that we needed to make the change, a development budget was made available to make the shift. I set about researching the competition. I knew all the big players; I had worked with all of them at some stage and they were clearly on my list. But in this case I wanted a wild card. I wanted someone that might come with a different perspective and challenge the status quo. I researched online, I hit the forums, I spoke to colleagues and industry experts, and I found my wildcard to include in the RFP. Before speaking to a single sales provider, I had whittled our options down to 3 candidates. We ran through a typical RFP process that you would expect from a large enterprise, sending out our request, setting the timeframe for submission, evaluating the responses, and viewing the presentations. We whittled down to two, went through our financial negotiations, ran a test, and debated internally about who was the winner. Much like in buying my minivan, this is where I had to negotiate with my decision-making unit. Granted, there were many more people in this discussion and the financial implications were far greater. It wasn’t done in a day, but in the end we agreed on a winner and went ahead with signing up our partner for the next three years. A surprise to everyone was that we went with the wildcard.

In Conclusion:

While these examples were heavily considered purchases, I find similar patterns in my personal and business impulse purchases. There are real instances of impulse buys in B-to-B as there are in B-to-C. Think about buying that new toner, replacement power supply, or even stationery.

Reflecting on my personal and professional decision processes, it is clear that they are basically the same, depending on the magnitude of the purchase. I am engaging my logical and emotional wants and needs. In the larger, more heavily considered purchases, I am taking time, I am planning. I need to be nurtured, I trust the opinions of others, and I will be VERY prepared to engage in a negotiation. All the information I need is at my fingertips and I am in control of the majority of that process. I will take my time and I will go with the product or solution that meets my goals and the goals of those affected, be that Helen or my peers, employees, and management.

The line between a considered decision and an impulse decision changes considerably, depending on the budget of the individual, the decision-making unit, or the company. But you can get smarter in the way you connect with your audience based on your insights about their personal purchase decision making processes.

A sample B2B customer profile

This is about context — understanding the customer from both a consumer and a business perspective. You can leverage personal, professional, and corporate data from third-party online sources and your own first-party data to understand your audience and build a true persona that is more than a slide on a PowerPoint and can drive a great customer experience and revenue.

Want to learn more about HOW to do this? Contact me at [email protected].