What’s the greatest hurdle you face when trying to sell your products and services?
For B2B sellers, grasping the thought process behind a customer’s purchasing decisions can be particularly challenging, as that thought process isn’t strictly governed by logical elements.
Contrary to some commonly held sales beliefs of the past, there’s a good deal of subjectivity and value-judgment mixed in with just about every prospect and their eventual decision to buy.
Understanding this will help you get a leg up on your competitors when you’re connecting with new customers.
This article will shed some light on some of the emotion that goes into purchasing decisions, while also providing some tips on how to establish a strong value-selling framework that speaks to your prospects and the things that they care about.
Introducing the B2B Elements of Value
Today, any talk of potential B2B customers and what they hold dear bears a mention of the “B2B Elements of Value”.
This clever bit of research, performed by members of American management consultancy Bain & Company, then published in the Harvard Business Review, lists the “40 distinct kinds of value that B2B offerings provide customers” into a visual pyramid.
This pyramid is divided into five tiers: table stakes, functional value, ease of doing business value, individual value, and inspirational value.
Laid out like this, it shows the hierarchy of what’s important to B2B buyers – with objective elements like “pricing” forming the base, and more subjective elements, such as “social responsibility” falling near the top.
According to the minds behind this research, it’s the elements at the base, the table stakes, and functional value, that have “long been a priority in old-line industries”.
These are all of the “easy-to-measure” and “rational” elements of a business deal: acceptable pricing, quality standards, regulatory compliance, meeting times and specifications, etc.
Even in the B2B realm, massive amounts of time are spent, by sellers, tending to these seemingly all-important facets of negotiation.
Yet there’s much more to this pyramid of value, and the concerns of potential buyers go far beyond what sellers traditionally try to cover.
In the middle of the value, the pyramid is all sorts of elements that make it easier for customers to do business with you, and so are of great value to you and your prospective clients alike.
These may be objective in nature – such as saving time for your customer or making a process more convenient – but it’s here that we also notice subjective values coming into play.
Whether or not your organization is a good cultural match for a prospective client, for instance, is something that’s difficult to quantify but can still have a significant impact on the relationship between your business and a potential prospect’s business.
When these types of subjective qualifications are met, customers may feel more at ease and be easier to guide to purchase.
Ascending the pyramid yet again, we find customer values becoming even more subjective. There are personal values they may hold that influence their choice, such as preferences on design and aesthetics, or how a decision affects their anxiety levels.
Subjective elements at this fourth level of the pyramid could also encompass career-related aspects as well.
Emotion is woven into the very fabric of these elements, researchers explain, highlighting how fear, for example, can make prospects hesitant to spend large sums, and how risk reduction and assurances on the part of sellers can help assuage those fears so buyers will be more likely to purchase. So it goes with many of the points of value here, up to the top of the pyramid.
Speaking of which, the elements at the top of the pyramid are what researchers refer to as “inspirational.” These are the things that “improve a customer’s vision of the future,” while also “providing hope for the future of the organization/individuals”.
Improving their company’s perceived social responsibility, for instance, falls under this umbrella, as does anything else your prospects can believe will give them a leg up in the future.
Understanding these elements individually is straightforward, and it’s easy to see that the base elements of B2B buyer value are more readily measured, and thus simpler for sellers to adapt to and target.
The subjective elements of value are more difficult to get a pulse on, however, and there’s still the question of which of these elements sellers should be prioritizing if any.
Next, let’s take a look at where you should place your focus and how.
Which Element Matters The Most?
This is a question that the authors of the B2B value pyramid also considered, and what they discovered, via a survey of “2,300 corporate decision-makers,” was that focusing and delivering on multiple elements of value yielded the best results for sellers.
Providing greater value across the board, it seems, is a dependable strategy for building customer loyalty.
So, what’s the best way to deliver so that prospects and current customers will take notice?
More than anything else, you’ll want to keep in mind that when it comes to the B2B buying process, there are multiple personalities you’ll need to deal with in order to get to a sale.
According to Forbes, “there are between one and six people involved in the purchase process at 79% of companies,” and “44% have formal buying groups or committees” to go through. This means you’ll have to be adept at catering to multiple value sets.
The more you can learn about the players involved in the decision, the better you can tailor your offerings to present the most value (and hopefully get to that eventual sale).
If you were thinking that B2B buyers were one-dimensional – with only a limited range of concerns affecting their purchasing decisions – it may be time to reevaluate your approach to doing business.
Buyers are an array of complexities, and their concerns, when it comes to making a purchase, go far beyond what can be neatly measured and quantified.
To be a more effective seller, you’ll need to take the subjective into account, then balance the rational elements of your business dealings with the emotional ones your customers hold dear.