As consumers, we understand impulse buying; it happens as a result of an emotional connection with a possible purchase and is often not associated with logic. It is the main reason why supermarkets put sweets and magazines beside the tills, and pipe the smell of fresh bread around the store. It’s also why Amazon suggests ‘things that you may like’ whenever you put something in your basket.
The B2B context
The only difference in B2B scenarios is that the ‘impulse’ does not apply to the whole purchase. Instead, it may occur during a part of the process, or even more than one, because the B2B buying process is more than just one transaction. For example:
- There is a stage before buyers are really buyers, when they are simply ‘someone with a problem’. They probably know that they have an issue, but perhaps not even what questions to ask. At this point, they may be searching for information fairly blindly. Someone who can articulate their problem clearly becomes a credible source of information, bookmarked for future use. The impulse? “I’ll keep this source, it could be useful later”.
- Later in the process, buyers start to define their requirements, and identify potential suppliers. At this stage, buyers are still not in touch with potential suppliers; this is an online research process. To be credible, suppliers need to have demonstrated through what they have already published that they will be able to solve the problem. Just as ‘liking’ on Facebook is an emotional response, so is deciding whether to add someone to the shortlist.
- What about at the ‘request for information’ stage, when buyers first get in touch with potential suppliers? They need to be able to speak to someone without creating a huge expectation. The impulse here is driven by the confidence that they know enough about you from previous engagements and/or what you have published to be comfortable that this will be the case. “I feel sure they’ll be OK with this.”
- Even validating and deciding to make a recommendation is an emotional decision. It has to feel right, because if it doesn’t, buyers will go back to the drawing board. Just as in a B2C world, buyers are likely to be looking at case studies and customer references, as well as suppliers’ own content, and it all has to hit the right note.
Aspects of B2B decisions
There are a number of aspects of B2B decisions that influence the process, and particularly the role of impulse buying.
First of all, buyers are both professionals and individuals. They have a business need to fulfil, but they also have personal needs, such as career advancement. To be influential, your engagements need to address both.
Buyer behaviour in a B2B context is not so very different from in a B2C context. It has to feel right, as well as fit logically. But this, in itself, is a challenge, because there are so many people involved in the B2B purchase decision, and they all have slightly different needs and challenges.
Getting it right
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to make decisions feel right. Perhaps the most important is to know your product. You need to be a subject expert if you are to come across as one. As humans, we are programmed to detect insincerity, and most of us can also pick up the subtle signs of someone who is in too deep and is not sure how to answer a difficult question, or worse still, is simply ignoring the question. It’s worth taking time to get to grips with the details of your product, and how to express them simply, and in terms of your customers’ difficult issues.
This is particularly important in the B2B market, because many buyers are also product experts. They have often done extensive research, if they have not been using similar products or services for many years. They know what they’re talking about, and they will certainly quickly identify if you do not.
Which brings us to the second area of knowledge: understanding your customer. You cannot target anything effectively if you do not have a very clear idea of your target audience, and particularly their pain points and challenges. You also need to understand their buying processes, so that you target your efforts effectively.
This all sounds very logical. But add in the effect of impulse buying, and you can also add some scope for creativity. It is all about building and maintaining a relationship, or, in other words, an emotional connection, whether B2C or B2B.