The Psychology of the B2B Buyer

B2C marketing these days is all about buyer psychology. When marketers create campaigns, they consider their intended demographic at every step of the way一 and tailor their approach to maximize their impact. They use the latest neurological and behavioral insights available to them to psychologically influence their exact audience, which in turn increases engagement, piques interest, and optimizes the marketing process.

But these tactics are tragically overlooked when it comes to B2B marketing, where we forget just how prominent a role the individual's psychology plays in the buyer decision-making process for larger companies. While it is true that the ‘buyer’ in a B2B sales interaction is the business, with its own agenda or challenges that it may need to be solved, it would be a grave oversight to assume that the human representative of that business does not play an equal or even more important role as the target audience for marketing. It is, after all, an individual who’ll be deciding whether to (or not to) sign that deal. 

It is crucial, then, to understand who you’re marketing to, what drives them, and how to optimize your marketing campaign for your target audience. Fortunately, psychology research has shown that there are three fundamental and distinguishable types of buyers in B2B marketing whose unique motivations give us insights into which approaches will most effectively speak to them. 

Buyer Types and their Unique Motivations: Why this Matters

Decision-makers are people first and decision-makers second. That’s why, when creating campaigns in B2B marketing, it’s essential to keep the individual一 specifically, their unique needs and driving factors一 in mind. What psychology tells us is that there are set motivations that drive people to act; whether it be the need for achievement, the feeling of belonging, or even the desire for security. As Will Leach demonstrates in his book, Marketing to Mindstates, these motivations and others are deep-set driving factors that psychologically incentivize people to act, and it’s been shown that different people respond the most dramatically to different motivations. 

On the other hand, as Geoffrey A. Moore illustrates in his best-selling book, Crossing the Chasm, there exists three fundamental buyer types in B2B marketing who each consider unique priorities in their decision-making process. When we merge these two theoretical frameworks (that is, the psychological motivations that incentivize people to act, paired with the archetypal breakdown of the three buyer types), we can create a powerful, multi-faceted approach to typifying and understanding the major demographics we market to in B2B marketing. Further, we can apply these ideas to ultimately optimize the marketing approaches we use for each of the groups.

Type 1: Visionaries 

As their name suggests, Visionaries are incentivized to work in large part for the pursuit of an often-lofty dream. They’re the ones who are willing to take a risk with an unproven start-up where others won’t一if they think it could result in an innovative, brand-new advancement that’ll make them and their company stand out in their industry. They are looking for “game-changers,” for order-of-magnitude improvements, not measurable, repeatable results that have already been implemented by competitors. Visionaries will take risks, and cost is not generally an issue if the product falls in line with their desire for innovation and cutting-edge advancement. 

As such, the key psychological motivations we can associate with Visionaries will be achievement, autonomy, and engagement. What this means in the context of marketing is that they will be motivated by messages that highlight how a given product will (respectively):

  1. Promise to give them a sense of accomplishment or ingenuity, preferably connected to how innovative and unprecedented the product is. 
  2. Allow them the feeling of independence from the pack, or the feeling of being unique due to their singular willingness to back a newer technology. 
  3. Give them a sense of engagement with the newer product. It has to be something that excites their interest, particularly because of its novelty. 

Type 2: Pragmatists 

As somewhat of a counter to Visionaries, Pragmatists form the largest group of the three and inhabit the more neutral center ground. They understand that change is inevitable, but they do not go out of their way to quicken it or to beat it to the chase. In business, Pragmatists prioritize dependability and realistic growth; they want to see proof of the product working well in the past and a presence of it in other businesses in their industry. Flashy insinuations like products being “game-changers” or “cutting-edge” won’t impress them, but proven, incremental improvement and reasonable promises will. Pragmatists will take risks when they see fit, but they measure and manage them heavily. 

Pragmatists are most generally associated with motivations for competence and empowerment. Accordingly, the marketing that speaks the most strongly to their incentives will: 

  1. Give them the feeling of having made a rational decision that will ultimately make them feel qualified and prepared in their decision-making role. This can be assured through the case studies and quantifiable ROIs they’ll use to come to a decision. 
  2. Make them feel in control of the outcome of their decision; they want to feel empowered when deciding on a product and want the sense of being authorized to make strategic decisions for their company based on their solid, pragmatic decision-making skills. 

Type 3: Conservatives

As a polar opposite to Visionaries, Conservatives resent and fear change or innovation; they view it as solely negative and do not believe things can get any better than they already are. Additionally, they tend to reject new technology if it requires personal change or growth on their part. They’d much prefer to stick with what they already know than have to step into a new way of doing things. As such, they generally buy what they already use, what is simple, and what costs the least. Cost, in fact, is likely the only way a Conservative will be willing to switch to a different product. 

Given these ideas, we can most reasonably associate Conservatives with the motivation for belonging and security. The marketing that will most likely incentivize them to act will be that which: 

  1. Assures them that the products they’re interested in are trusted and used by their peers, particularly other Conservative types in their industry. This is best paired with the idea that the product has also been used and trusted by those before them.
  2. Assures them that the onboarding process is simple, painless, and risk-free. They crave the security of an easy, low-adaptive transition (if there must be one at all). Additionally, products that solve all the issues in a given domain or that come with all the necessary infrastructure appeal to them as it simplifies the integration process. 

Recapping

Once we understand the psychology of these fundamental buyer types and their motivations, we can optimize marketing tactics to speak to them in the ways they’ll find the most engaging or persuasive. Studies cited in Marketing to Mindstates suggest that optimizing marketing in this way increases consumer engagement, brand recognition, and memorability of the product. With these effects in mind, it’s beneficial to learn how to use psychology to tailor your marketing approach to each of these buyer groups in order to increase the efficacy of campaigns. Click here to learn more. 

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