B-to-b marketing: Plumbing the 'irrational' side of buyer decisions

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Although it’s all marketing, there are some very distinct differences between b-to-c and b-to-b strategy. Previously, I talked about building brand loyalty in the b-to-b space, and the challenges that presents. Much of the challenge comes from the psychology behind irrational versus rational buying behavior. In the b-to-c world, there is nothing rational about camping out overnight outside an Apple retail store to buy the newest edition of the iPad or iPhone, but this is the essence of brand loyalty.

With b-to-b transactions, you are typically in a rational state of buying. You are weighing budgets with price and quality, and ROI back to the business. Spreadsheets of data and performance are analyzed. It’s all about rational decision-making, which is not a bad thing as you are spending the company's resources. It’s your responsibility to do so effectively, especially when those resources are limited.

So if we are dealing with a rational buying process, can we create irrational buyers through rational means?

We have a mantra throughout the company that, if we make our customers smarter, then they will see us first as a value-add and afterward as a necessity, ultimately doing more business with us. We find the more “free” information, insights and data that we equip our customers with the smarter they become about their business and the better they look to their bosses and peers.

Now, we begin to tap into the irrational/emotional side of the relationships. Our customers connect with us on a new level because we bring value to them every day. We bring this value through our marketing plan and through one-on-one interaction between our sales reps and our customers.

Our marketing plan involves developing content based on industry research and trends our experts monitor. Sometimes we partner with external research companies to validate the statistical correlations. Then we create multiple touch points to communicate that research in a meaningful way to our clients.

One example is our annual Opportunities in Staffing report that we do for the staffing industry. Other research is done in-house by our research team and then pushed out through the press, our social media outlets, email marketing calendar, speaking engagements and some direct mail efforts.

We use this same research and materials to train our sales force. We equip them with this knowledge so that, in every email, meeting or phone call they have with their clients, they are providing at least one new bit of relevant information. Sometimes this information is industry data and sometimes it’s something specific about the client's account or business.

All of our largest, most profitable accounts are true relationships built through this methodology of using rational information, such as industry trends, data and company research, to make our customers smarter and in turn feel an emotional connection to our reps and our company.

In essence, perhaps we can create an irrational buyer through rational means. More data and analysis are needed on this point … of course.

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