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B2B Buyers are More Complex than Your Segmentation Model

By Aaron Bean on Jul. 16, 2015

Strategy Content

B2B Buyers are More Complex than Your Segmentation Model

Companies don’t buy things. People do. And while it’s true that with any complex business purchase people need to substantiate their decision through logical argument, financial analysis and factual data, they make their buying decisions based on feelings and emotions.

The curious thing about appealing to the emotional aspect of business buying is that it’s not necessarily about being emotive per se, or simply focusing on benefits instead of features. It’s about appealing to the “gut”. It’s about tapping into the personal impact of owning a business decision. Perhaps, Michael Fitch says it best:

“B2B marketing is cutthroat, and it’s easy to forget there is a human face behind the logo of a customer organization, and that human has emotions. When it comes to major business decisions, 62% of executives make their decisions based on gut instincts. Simply put, if you can’t make decision makers “feel it,” then don’t even do it… logic and reason spur debate and conclusions, emotion spurs action.” –Michael Fitch

No doubt about it, emotions drive purchase decisions. As B2B marketers how can we more fully acknowledge this reality and appeal to our business buyer’s emotional needs to drive demand, fill the pipeline and help sales close deals? A place to start is by casting a broader, more enriched view of our buyer through personas that represent the totality of their needs, desires and motivations.

B2B Personas Characterize Modes of Buying Behavior

The assumption that we can define people—their unique behaviors, motivations and mindsets—based on just their business role is flawed. It does not account for the complicated range of scenarios that exist in the real world.

For example, consider the line of business manager who has a deep technical background or the sales guy who has been in IT for a decade. How do you decide what is the best content to engage them via your nurture program? Do you consider each a business decision maker or a technical decision maker? The reality is, they likely have influence in both areas. How do your buyer personas account for this?

Also, don’t forget that a new generation of B2B buyers is coming of age. B2B buyers are getting younger, which means their expectations for how brands behave are rooted in a fundamentally different perspective than the baby boomers that once dominated the B2B buyer landscape.

“46% of professionals aged 18-34, also known as the millennial generation, now have some kind of influence or decision-making power on B2B purchases.” –Michael Fitch

To effectively reach them, your brand behavior needs to be mobile and contextual, leveraging all known data even more than ever. While boomers may be less reliant on emerging social media tools, millennials will expect your brand to not only be present in that space, but responsive to their always-on behavior.

The point is: we must incorporate other factors – far beyond role - to more accurately define the buyer personas that will guide our marketing strategy and program design. From engagement planning and content marketing to creative development, accounting for mindset and role offers a far more actionable formula.

Mindset is Different from BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing)

Let’s talk about mindset for a moment. What is mindset? Simply put, it’s the established set of attitudes held by someone. Those attitudes—towards technology adoption, towards your solution, product or service category, towards the value of marketing content—should greatly influence the  approach you take in engaging each buyer.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking of buyer personas as synonymous with audience segments. They are complementary, but different. Think of each this way:

Audience Segment

A method of grouping companies and people in your marketing database for the purpose of tactical planning, defined by such criteria as:

  • Firmographic profile
  • Industry classification
  • Targeted accounts by size
  • Priority contact titles

Buyer Persona

A method of “stepping into the shoes” of the buyers you seek to connect with to build trust and motivate to action. Defined by attitudes, behaviors and decision-drivers such as:

  • Individual profile
  • Mindset, role and motivations
  • Rational and emotional decision-making drivers
  • Goal-directed decision-making influences

Companies Make Decisions in Different Ways

In addition to thinking critically about buyers through the lens of a buyer persona, it can also be useful to create company personas in order to uniquely capture the decision-making structures within which your target buyers work, and contextualize how they operate as participants on a buying committee.

Companies across different industries and of different sizes often have different decision-making dynamics. They may have more or less people involved in a buying decision based on the type of purchase it is; often the higher-consideration the purchase is, the more people are involved. They may have different company policies regarding purchase authority and sign-offs required. Bottom line is that with the continued push in B2B towards account-based marketing, thinking strategically about company dynamics is a helpful addition to your planning that will complement your individual buyer personas.

In the recent 2014 B2B Buyer’s Behavior Survey by Demand Gen Report it was found that

“The number of team members involved in a purchase decision has increased over the past 12 months. More than one third reported that four to seven team members were typically involved in a B2B buying decision, and half said that two to three people had input on a purchase.” – The Payoff of Account Based Marketing, Demand Gen Report & Marketo

With the number of people involved in business buying decisions today, considering the structure and substance of your buyer personas and how to build them in a manner that drives truly actionable marketing program design and execution is fundamental to your success.

Talk to Customers, Listen for Buying Clues

So remember this, companies are fundamentally comprised of groups of people. And people make decisions based on reasons and feelings. Having a conversation with your customers is often the most expedient way to understand what’s really happening behind buying decisions.

Building sharp B2B buyer personas that inform targeted, contextually relevant marketing programs requires that you do your homework. It requires gathering real insights from real buyers and monitoring trends that will change how buyers behave over time. It may even mean taking a new view on a marketing tool we’ve all been using for the last decade or more.

Art by Sandra Ballardo


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