As copywriters, it’s critical that we understand the psychology of the prospects and buyers our copy will reach. If we fail to consider all of the potential emotions at play our copy won’t have the success our clients expect.
In this article, Bob Bly explains that the business buyer is no exception. In fact, the business buyer usually has dual interests when making purchasing decisions. These interests may even conflict at times.
Understanding these competing interests and the emotions that go with them will help you write more effective copy that is more successful for your B2B clients.
In an article titled “7 Ways B2B Marketing is Different,” I describe the key factors that set B2B marketing apart from Business-to-Consumer marketing. The seven principles I outline are:
- The business buyer wants to buy.
- The business buyer is sophisticated.
- The business buyer is an information seeker who will read a lot of copy.
- B2B marketing involves a multi-step buying process.
- The buying decision is frequently made by a committee and not by an individual.
- Business products are generally more complex than consumer products.
- The business buyer buys for his company’s benefit – and his own.
Let’s examine the two parts of the seventh principle in more detail.
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. IT professionals have an old 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.