Goal-Directed Decision Making Drives B2B Buying And Selling


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Business-to-Business thrives on the simple basic principle of buying and selling. With all the hoopla over the past few years regarding digital technologies and social media, it is easy to lose sight of this most basic principle, which has existed for centuries.  The impact of digital and social technologies on the nature of buying and selling, however, cannot be understated.  They have changed how businesses interact and engage in the acts of buying and selling.

One constant, research in the social sciences have proven, is the acts of buying and selling are by and large goal-directed activities and behaviors.  These goal-directed behaviors and activities are powerful influences on decision-making in the world of B2B buying and selling.  So powerful, in fact, B2B decision makers often select strategies, short-term plans, and long-term plans based upon the personalized goals they may be striving for.

Buyer Personas Represent Goal-Directed Motivations

At the core of buyer persona development is the use of a goal-directed research and modeling methodology designed to move beyond just understanding the process of decision-making.  It is intended to identify and illuminate goal-directed motivations and emotions, which reveal insights into why and how decisions are made.  Personas, in general, originate from the concept of understanding goal-directed behaviors.   This concept is fundamental to buyer personas.

For business marketers, the goal-directed concept and methodology serves as a ready marker to distinguish authentic buyer personas from the glut of misinforming buyer profiling content masquerading as buyer personas.  These buyer profiles basically emphasize the traditional process-based and product requirement-based views of buyers.

B2B Is Too Fixated On Process And Journey

This is an important distinction for business marketers and sellers continue to seek understanding on the why and how of decision-making.  The game of guessing also continues as made evident by the various annual surveys showing 70% or more of content is found to be irrelevant by buyers.  As mentioned, the impact of digital and social technologies has made this need more urgent.   It has, in many ways, shown how fundamentally flawed the traditional approach of understanding buying behaviors entirely through the traditional staged buying process of Awareness-Consideration-Decision really is.

The current state of B2B marketing and sales is one of continued fixation on the process, funnel, or the new terminology of the same thing, journey.  This approach, in the modern digital world, is very inadequate in helping organizations to understand the underlying goals driving the why and how of decision-making.   Yet, the fixation continues as we try to “automate” these processes via sales automation and marketing automation.

To truly understand such processes and journeys, we must do so by understanding them through the context of goal-directed activities, behaviors, and choices.  Otherwise, they offer none to very little revelation to goal-directed decision-making.  (One such company I have had the pleasure of helping in making this important contextual connection is Thomson Reuters, as described by CMO Tobias Lee and interviewed by CMO Vala Afshar in this Huffington Post article: Avoid The Bermuda Triangle Of Leads.)

Deep Understanding Of Goals And Goal-Directed Behaviors

Understanding decision-making comes through attaining a deep understanding of the underlying goals, as well as, the goal-directed behaviors driving decisions.  When I refer to goals, I am not doing so superficially.  This has to be stated for I have seen a few profile-based templates, mislabeled as a buyer persona template, include a heading of, goals, but they do so confusing objectives with goals.  Nor do they do so with understanding of the research-based types of goals and their behavioral influence on decisions.

B2B buyers are making decisions within the context of both organizational and personal goals they may be striving to accomplish.  These goals often can reside both on the conscious and subconscious level.  They can also often go unarticulated directly by buyers.  This is what makes qualitative buyer research, conducted with the right research techniques to uncover underlying goals, so important to buyer persona development.

Gaining a deep understanding of goals and goal-directed behaviors are what B2B marketers and sellers need to make the connection to understanding decisions.  It helps to illuminate the path buyers are taking to accomplish goals and their relations to solutions under consideration.  Most importantly, it takes the guesswork out of how to communicate with buyers.  You do so by communicating and demonstrating how you and your organization help fulfill goals.

Goal-Directed Decision Making

Despite the tremendous forces of change occurring in the digital era, fundamental buying and selling in B2B remains largely predicated on goal-directed activities and behaviors.  These goal-directed activities and behaviors lead to outcomes.  Primarily B2B decisions are outcomes based on, as well as, driven by profound and meaningful goals.

The path for B2B marketers and sellers to be successful today is one, which leads to understanding goal-directed decision-making.   It is not the quick and easy path promised by erroneous profiling templates or online tools.   It is a path where the emphasis and responsibility becomes one of helping businesses and people to fulfill their goals.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.


  1. I think you’re complicating a pretty straightforward process.

    The goal of business is well understood. Forget the vision/mission statements; it’s to make money. Increasing sales, reducing costs, improving quality, getting to market faster, increasing market share — interest in those kinds of things isn’t likely to change for people in business. Products or services that help accomplish those things will be of interest. Evaluating those products for a buying decision would best be done on rational considerations. It’s almost a syllogism. So why would requirements-based views and Awareness-Consideration-Decision not apply?

    There are deeper, underlying goals and motivations? What might they be? (You don’t specify any in the article; I’ll have to conjecture.) If it’s furthering world peace, I defer to your argument. Is he angling for a kickback? We’re not going to go along with that! Otherwise — I have no training in psychology, so I’ll go lightly here — would they be things like career advancement or personal recognition? Wouldn’t increasing profits and beating the competition also be likely to accomplish those goals? If it’s desire for fame and image, creating a profitable business has been the pathway for some very visible people.

    Personal, non-business motivations may be there in the b2b situation, but it seems to me even they are likely to be best accomplished with rational business decisions. That 70% irrelevant score may be the result of trying too hard to find arcane motivations for contrived “personas.”

  2. Len,

    I disagree with you on several counts – of course, right? Why would I agree: 🙂

    In my experience, I see more complexity introduced as a result of the digital economy. What you refer to as a process, is not so straightforward as it was 30 years ago. Many businesses are struggling because their messaging and content continue to sound like the same beating drum of their competitors – improving quality, increasing market share, reducing costs, and etc. have become noise in a changing world. They are the expected. The 70% irrelevant refers to this problem – the inability to cut through the same loud noise and drum beat of increasing sales, profits, and etc.

    Uncovering deeper underlying goals can help reveal a means goals, such as assuring worker safety in a particular environment while on his or her watch. It takes in-depth qualitative interviews to identify. There is nothing arcane or contrived about goal-directed personas. And, this may be the only area I can agree with you, if buyer personas are developed without using a goal-directed methodology – then they are very much arcane and contrived.

    It may be unfortunate that these contrived profiles masquerading as personas may be the only exposure you have had to “personas”. If so, trust there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to understanding the underlying goals and goal-directed behaviors of buyers.

    Many thanks for commenting – enjoyed the exchange.


  3. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree — on three points, at least. This could get kind of long; I apologize in advance.

    1. So the digital economy has introduced new complexities — but I question whether it’s changed human nature. IMHO (my concession to that digital age) telling a businessman you can increase his profits would get his attention today as it would have 30 years ago (you have pegged me accurately). However, if you can’t back it up, then yes, it’s just noise. That’s why in the old — probably quaint-sounding — formula, Attention was to be followed by Interest, Desire, Conviction, and Action. If you have nothing real to offer after getting attention, you’re wasting everyone’s time. If you have a convincing story to tell and it looks like your product might deliver on your claims, you’re on your way to a sale. My argument presupposes a good product with real benefits, in a b2b environment.

    2. Personas? I have NO experience with them. I do recognize prospects in various buying capacities and, presupposing that I know my customers’ business (and my own), I can draw reasonable inferences about what I should offer each of them.
    I worked for a firm that retrofitted corporate jets. To the pilots we advertised the new engines’ improved performance and a state-of-the-art cockpit. To the CFOs it was fuel cost savings and ROI. Pretty straightforward.
    Once in a while we would be shocked — SHOCKED — to find that the CEO was really mostly interested in having the cabin luxuriously refurbished with all the bells and whistles. No in-depth interviewing, but we had allowed for that and had marshalled reasons to help him prove to himself that upgrading the cabin was an equally practical element in the investment. Yes, greater speed saved his valuable time. Sure, the increased range expanded his business opportunities. But it was also important that he arrive fresh and rested to negotiate well at that meeting at the other side of the continent, and imported leather for the seats, an entertainment center, and a full-service galley were part of that.

    3. I maintain that if he does have personal, emotional goals, the business buyer will still have to make rational decisions to fulfill them. Not sure what area of safety you were positing, but let’s say it’s physical safety on the job and that it requires hazmat gear. Won’t he still want to compare the performance of the equipment we and other advertisers have been beating our drums about so he can find what will protect his workers best?

    Believe me, we complained about the clutter years ago, too; it’s nothing new. I happen to think a lot of the clutter today is companies putting up “content” (even, gawdhelpus, “agnostic” content) trying to give people experiences instead of selling product. I wish I could remember her name, but I remember seeing this quote from an advertising exec in a direct mail industry magazine: “If I have a headache, I don’t want a relationship with the guy selling aspirin; I just want relief from the pain.” Maybe that’s all any business people want.

  4. Hi Len,

    No apologies needed! Good discussions always have good outcomes! So thank you for taking the time to put thought into a dialogue. And, yes, we will have to agree to disagree on a few points. But, it is all aimed at good critical thinking and learning.

    1. On this point, I have a different view. I do believe primary objectives of every business can remain constant – such as increasing profits. However, I do believe the influence of technological changes and new market dynamics change people’s goals and influence their behaviors. Hence, have some degree influence on their human nature. We’ve seen this occur, for example, in Awareness. Thirty years ago, businesses relied primarily on sales reps for information. Today, much of the early stage information gathering is self-directed and self-regulated. Simply stated, online has replaced the sales rep in the early stage of Awareness.

    2. I like your second point. Len, you make the case for Personas! What if you knew about the CEO’s goals and what he really was thinking beforehand? It may have changed how you communicated as well as how you may have designed the inner cabin. Virgin Airlines, as an example, didn’t focus on making a better and faster plane. They focused on the goals of business people traveling long distances and the experiences they desired.

    3. Rational decision-making will never go away. However, it will be accompanied to a much higher degree by subjective and emotional influence. A recent study by Forbes showed as much 65% of decisions made by executives today were reliant on subjective/emotional elements. In this example, by viewing the goal of the buyer, to assure safety, no injuries, and no painful family loss, we get more insight into the “why” whereas getting the best Hazmat suit in the market is the “how”.

    I do we agree with your final thoughts. We have too much bad content cluttering the Internet and physical. It is overwhelming and getting worse. So the challenge for companies today is how to rise above this noisy clutter and stand out. Using goal-directed research and thinking is one way they can attempt to do so. Basically, all this bad content and noise is giving many a “headache” indeed!

    Thanks Len!

  5. I appreciate your patience. When I get going on this I tend to keep going, but I’ll try to condense things.

    If salesmen have been replaced as the attention-getters, wouldn’t that argue for more (and louder) advertising rather than less? beating a drum rather than tiptoeing through the “content”?

    I guess I didn’t make my second point very well. We DID know what CEOs would be thinking, and that some would be most concerned with their own comfort. CEOs are privileged people, and some will really push it. We had our story ready for them; we didn’t need any interviewing. Sometimes a stereotype can work as well as a persona (at less cost).

    I’d be interested to know the methodology of that Forbes survey — how they judged what was subjective/emotional (and, more interestingly, how they elicited the information that an executive was deciding that way), Is safety/no injury/family pain subjective — or is it compliance with OSHA rules, reduction in turnover and subsequent training expense, and avoidance of bad PR? Not denying good intentions, but there are compelling rational reasons for attending to it, and other reasons why you don’t want to fail to do that. If I’ve biased the example, do pick another; I’m curious myself to see if my argument is as universal — b2b — as I think it is..

    Unless it’s a literally-in-the dictionary-sense unique, new product, advertising can concentrate on the “how” because — in a business environment, again — the buyer can be expected to know “why.” We didn’t have to tell pilots why they should want more powerful engines. We certainly didn’t have to tell CEOs why they should want comfortable cabins. True, we gave them “why” reasons, but that was to show them how to justify what they already wanted.

    Final thoughts: goal-directed research and thinking is one way to cut through. Here’s another: “YO, BUSINESSMAN; GOT SOMETHING HERE THAT’LL INCREASE YOUR PROFITS, Here’s how it works…”


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