Blog | Mike O'Toole 12.07.17

Breaking through to the B2B buyer: Offer change, not the status quo

Do buyers want to be challenged, or just get what they want? Do they buy on perceived need or pain point? Why does the buying process stall?

To answer these questions, PJA Advertising and our research partner Aberdeen surveyed more than 250 BtoB buyers across a range of industries, including technology, professional services, and manufacturing. Matt Grant, Aberdeen research director, and Mike O’Toole, PJA President will discuss highlights from the research. We looked at companies from under $50 million in revenue to over $5 billion, across the globe. More than a third of respondents were CEOs or Presidents, with Managers, Directors, and Vice Presidents making up 41% of the rest. We called our survey “Breaking Through to The B2B Buyer: Offer A Vision for Change.”

To get answers to these questions about what makes buyers tick, take a listen.

 

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Mike O'Toole:
Google had this campaign a few years back. It was for their AdWords product, and it went something like this. "What if advertising was just an answer to a question?" And it's kind of cool. It's always stuck out to me, because it's elegant and simple, and actually seems to make a lot of sense. But I would say in complex B2B industries, it's kind of bullshit.


I'm Mike O'Toole, president of PJ Advertising, and I'm joined by Matt Grant, director of content strategy at Aberdine. Today we're looking at B2B buying trends.


In the B2B world, a lot of time buyers don't know what they need and they don't know what questions to ask. And so we know that, and there's actually a fair amount of conventional wisdom that is like that Google line, which is marketing is really a series of "if then" statements. If somebody needs something, you respond to it and you're gonna move your way merrily through the purchase process and make a sale. But we know reality's a lot different from that. Buying is a very messy process, involves lots of different people. In innovation driven industries, technology, life science, healthcare, financial services, the needs are often unknown and changing.


There's also the fact that most B2B buyers perceive B2B solutions as commodities. So, we actually went out and decided to find our own answers. So, PJA went out and partnered with Aberdine, the research company. We interviewed 250 buyers, and this was in a series of a range of industries, technology, professional services, manufacturing. Companies that rang from 50 million up to 5 billion. Mostly senior decision makers. A third were CEOs or presidents. 40% were VPs and directors. So, Matt, welcome.

Matt Grant:
Thanks.

Mike O'Toole:
What's the money slide here? What did we learn that was most surprising?

Matt Grant:
That's a good question, and I'm gonna say we asked them, we asked survey respondents, "Are you more likely to work with a vendor who challenges your current way of doing business by, for example, highlighting a pain point or organizational weakness that you weren't aware of?" 65% of the people said yes, they're more likely to do that. And I think that shows two things. And to your initial point.


It shows that buyers know that they don't know everything. That there's different ways of doing things and that other companies are doing things differently, and in fact, they're even willing, they are even willing to view a vendor as someone who, like an anthropologist, who's actually been in different organizations and knows what they're doing, like a source of information who might be able to give them new insights into how they're doing things.


And I think as a followup to that one, we also found that around 53% of people said they were more likely to change their purchasing criteria based on the information that the vendor's giving them. Now, that first of all gives the lie to this whole notion of buyers have needs and you just need to be answering their questions.

Mike O'Toole:
And you should just give them what they are asking for, yeah.

Matt Grant:
Exactly. And in fact says no, you as a vendor have actually a very important role to play and in fact, buyers want you to play this role of an informed source of information that's actually gonna help them rethink their business and ultimately help them make this decision.

Mike O'Toole:
Yeah, no, that's good. And I think so much of it is about reframing a decision as opposed to expecting that they've got it baked, right? Hey, Matt. We also asked people why they buy, which is what are they looking for in return for their investment, and we heard some of the things you always hear in these surveys, but also, there were some surprises.

Matt Grant:
Yeah. When we asked them about primary considerations, zero surprise there. Number one, total cost of ownership, "What's this gonna cost me?" And number two ROI, "What am I gonna get for this?" And that's not surprising.

Mike O'Toole:
Makes sense.

Matt Grant:
Now the third one there was, "Is this going to help me meet my, is it gonna support my company's goals?" The interesting thing about that is when we asked them what are your secondary considerations, which to my mind are actually the real considerations and the ones we should be addressing as marketers or vendors, that became the number one secondary consideration. 77% want to know, "Is this going to help me support my company's goals?" And then 66% want to know, "Is this going to help me sharpen my competitive differentiation?" And I think that is something that a lot of marketers have not, it hasn't even occurred to them that that's what the buyer's thinking, on any level.


They want, me as a buyer, I want to know are you going to help me sharpen my competitive differentiation, or is it just a numbers game and I'm gonna choose you just 'cause you're cheaper than everybody else or whatever?

Mike O'Toole:
Yeah, which is the same argument that every other vendor's making. On that same question, there were a couple of other pretty highly rated responses that I found interesting. One is 53% of people said, "I'm more likely to consider a vendor who has a vision for making the category better". It's not about like fastest and cheapest, it's a vision for making the category better. There's an understanding that these categories are constantly changing and you're looking for partners who can help show you the way.


We also, oftentimes think about how brands themselves are underlevereaged assets for change. Like, they can help drive better change in a market, and I think this is a suggestion that buyers are actually looking for that. The other one that's really close to that is 58% of respondents said they'll choose somebody who shows them new possibilities for revenue, how to grow their business in ways they weren't thinking about, which is not something you typically think of your software vendor providing you, right? There's a real hunger for it.

Matt Grant:
Yeah. I think this goes back to this, first of all, company goals, business strategy. When we asked, "What is the main trigger when you know you need to make a purchase?" Far and away, around 70% of people said, "Our business strategy calls for it". Any of the other things we say, "The boss told me to," "Everyone's doing it," or whatever. It was less than 20% of people said that. Everyone wants to be strategic in how they're making purchases.

Mike O'Toole:
By the way, nobody does what I tell them to do, so I'm not surprised that that was only five percent.

Matt Grant:
Fair enough. Fair enough. But the other thing, something sparked, you sparked a thought before with what you said around innovation, and this idea of companies or buyers preferring vendors that have a new vision for the category. I think, first of all, innovation is the buzzword. It's, that's what everyone wants to do. We want to be innovative. We've got to innovate our way out of this.

Mike O'Toole:
Disrupt.

Matt Grant:
Disrupt, right. Everyone realizes that you're not gonna innovate doing things the way you've been doing them up to now, or else you'd be an innovator already.

Mike O'Toole:
Right.

Matt Grant:
And if what you're doing now isn't innovative, then innovation's off the table. And yet, everyone in their company, you're trapped in your kind of company way of looking at things and you have these company colored spectacles, and you're looking ... A vendor actually represents an opportunity to think about things in a new way. And actually offer a path to actual, real innovation.

Mike O'Toole:
Well, in fact we saw some survey results that reinforced that, right? I mean, I think we've seen over the years research that we've done together or research that we've consumed which is there is a legitimate role for vendors in a purchase decision process, and it isn't just about promoting our own versions of feeds and speeds, right? And we heard some other things, right?

Matt Grant:
When we asked, obviously, people are trying to buy things all the time, and it's quite common that you end up not buying anything. You've got an existing ERP system, you know some other ones that are better. Maybe there's more automated-

Mike O'Toole:
Well, in fact, Corporate Visions does this research, something like 60% of B2B purchases or purchase decisions end up in no decision.

Matt Grant:
Right. Exactly. 60%. And it's 'cause people, decisions are hard, and people want to stay with the status quo. Especially if you're gonna make a purchase that the vendors convinced you is gonna change the way you do business. So, you're actually, innovation, if something's truly new, it's actually injecting a lot of uncertainty and a certain amount of risk into what you're trying to do.

Mike O'Toole:
So, I also think there's another, almost an opposite point you could take away from it is that the more that you sell in a way that sounds like it's the same as you already have, just five percent better, why spend the money? Why go through it?

Matt Grant:
Exactly.

Mike O'Toole:
So, Matt, I think that another thing we looked at that was interesting was barriers. What gets in the way of the purchase decision? So, what are some of the things we learned, barriers on the buyer's side?

Matt Grant:
So, when we looked at it, the top reasons that purchases don't get approved, several of them too many stakeholders involved in the process, budget concerns, whatever, are internal. They're things that vendors strictly speaking probably can't do anything about. But the two leading reasons that they don't get approved were first and foremost, lack of clarity around what we need, and then what you kind of just touched upon, indecision. We just don't, we have a corporate policy of being indecisive.

Mike O'Toole:
Yeah. That's right.

Matt Grant:
And so-

Mike O'Toole:
Those are almost givens. When you're selling, you're like, "Okay, they have criteria and they want to make this decision, so let's just respond to that". This is saying-

Matt Grant:
Yeah. If we meet their criteria and we do it in the most compelling way, they're gonna buy. But in fact, what we're finding out is the leading reason people don't make a decision is they have lack of clarity around what they need. And that's, I think, if vendors have any role, it's helping people, actually helping buyers actually think through what they need and providing them clarity. It's interesting. When we asked about, "What bothers you about vendors when they're trying to sell you something?"


The things that bothers people, there were different flavors of it in the survey, but far and away, it's "The vendor acts too much like a vendor".

Mike O'Toole:
Talks about themselves.

Matt Grant:
They're too transactional. They're just, that was far and away, that was the thing that really bugs people.

Mike O'Toole:
Which makes sense, and we all know it as marketers, but we also all make that mistake.

Matt Grant:
Well, some of us. But the thing is that for example, if you just go back to it, their secondary consideration was, 77% wanted to know if the vendor's actually going to help them achieve their corporate goals. If you're not spending any time talking about them, you're never going to be able to position your product. Just in those simple terms.


But even beyond that, one of the interesting things, about 18% of people said, "The vendor fails to provide me with objective information to help me frame my decision". And this goes back to the indecision stats. Again, two thirds, 60% of the purchases don't happen. Two thirds of the reason it doesn't happen is because of lack of clarity plus indecision.

Mike O'Toole:
So, provide me with a little objective, fact-based information that actually helps me move forward.

Matt Grant:
A new perspective, like we said before, new way of doing business. Highlight pain points to me about things I don't know. Help me understand what I need. Provide me with some objective information to frame my decision. Like, this is really just, if you go back to the original dream of content marketing, that's what content marketing should do.


New perspectives, new information, all this other stuff. But the thing, and this is where the marketing piece comes into it, I think, is that you need to be able to frame ... You need to make the decision to purchase your product seem both urgent and necessary. If you can't articulate how it's gonna provide competitive differentiation, then it doesn't seem necessary at all.

Mike O'Toole:
Right. And that's another way to say change how I'm thinking about this.

Matt Grant:
Yes.

Mike O'Toole:
Give me new insight about how I'm thinking about solving my problems. And the other thing I would say that stood out to me is if people believe a solution will provide competitive advantage, they're willing to pay a premium, so they'll, I think there was that stat, the last time somebody paid a premium was when ...

Matt Grant:
We had 44, when we asked, "When was the last time you paid a premium for a purchase?" 44% said, this was a plurality, they said, "When we thought it could give us some kind of competitive advantage". So, companies will pay. They're so desperate for it, and they want it so badly, and they're looking to you as a vendor to provide it. And frankly, when you do, then they'll pay.

Mike O'Toole:
Right. And that doesn't sound like commodity to me.

Matt Grant:
No. No.

Mike O'Toole:
So, what else did we learn, Matt? What else stood out or surprised you?

Matt Grant:
I guess on the final point, it's funny. I'm like a word guy a lot, and when a certain metaphor sort of takes over in an industry, I'm automatically thinking it's wrong, how are they, are we blinded by the metaphor, we're getting it wrong.


So, of course, we've talked about this. Buyer's journey. The buyer's on a journey. You've got to align content to the buyer's journey. In fact, I remember from page AA, about eight or nine years ago, you had a really beautiful infographic of how different content types function as part of the-

Mike O'Toole:
And that was before it became tired, by the way.

Matt Grant:
No, no. You guys, I'm pretty sure you invented it. But the thing was, I just wanted to prove it wrong. I wanted to have a stat. Everyone talks about the buyer journey, that's BS, really buyers don't think of it that way.

Mike O'Toole:
So, you asked the question.

Matt Grant:
We asked them literally, "When you're making a purchase, do you feel like you're on a journey?" And it was something like, I'd have to look it up, but 58% or 60%, it was the clear majority said either "yes" or "sort of".

Mike O'Toole:
It's a journey. Get over it.

Matt Grant:
Gosh darn it. Gosh darn it all. It's not a darn journey.

Mike O'Toole:
It's a journey. The buyers have spoken here.

Matt Grant:
They sure have.

Mike O'Toole:
Listen to the buyers here. Anyway, if you want, this is just a couple of highlights. There's a lot more in that survey. If you're interested, go to agencyPJA.com. Look for the research, which we call Breaking Through to the B2B Buyer.


So, this is Mike O'Toole, I'm president of PJA. I'm here with Matt Grant, head of content strategy for Aberdine. Thanks for listening.

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