Is the B2B Buying Process Different or is the Content Different?
We see little variation in the basic B2B buying process for most “considered purchases” where two or more stakeholders have a vote in what is purchased. However, while the process is fairly stable, the content varies dramatically.
1. B2B Buying Process Content Addresses Either Peripheral or Central Cues
Peripheral Cues are product attributes like brand, color, display, etc. that help people choose when they cannot easily discern what makes one product different from another. Many restaurants, for example, have a wonderful setting, amazing service but just average tasting food.
Central Cues are the actual feature-function-benefit of a product. An expert might be able to evaluate the relative merits based on experience, training and education.
The Default Decision is Based Upon Peripheral Cues
Peripheral cues are often emotional rather than logical. They are “gut feeling” or impulses that can’t necessarily be backed up with data.
Only after the prospect is driven to want a product based on the peripheral or emotional cues will he focus on the central cues. Event then, if the decision is his alone he will often bypass the central cues entirely.
In the absence of educational content people will make decisions based upon peripheral cues that are outside of your control.
2. The Complexity of the Buying Process Drives the Content
One of the first things we do is to determine the scrutiny level of a product — the amount of time, energy, and thought a buyer puts into making a purchase decision. We look at things like the number of decision makers required, the risk associated with buying or not buying the product, and the overall complexity of the decision.
When given the opportunity to make our lives easier, we will do just that. Thus, we’ll generally focus on the peripheral cues and spend as little time on the central cues.
Most marketers, however, focus on the central cues – the product specifications and facts about the product. They treat the buying process as if it is fairly simple, even when the decision is clearly more involved.
The assumption many marketers make is that “facts don’t lie.” Unfortunately, facts lie more often than they tell the truth. For example, if I said that a package of chicken was “farm fresh”, “100% Natural”, and “Free Range”, it would sound like a good deal. What if I then told you that your chicken was crammed into a pen with 5,000 other chickens and that it was fed a diet consisting of 50% antibiotics?
The challenge faced by many marketers is that they must provide factual information AND take control of the peripheral cues that actually drive the sale.
3. The Marketer Can Control Buying Process Peripheral Cues
The right B2B buying process content will educate AND facilitate peripheral cues. You take control of the process by providing useful information that, like the “farm fresh” chicken above, creates an emotional and visual image that tells your prospect, “This is a good choice.”
A good way to create content that drives peripheral cues is to tweak the content for each key player. For example, a CMO might require completely different peripheral cues than the CFO or CEO.
Create Content for Sticking Points
All buying processes have sticking points. No matter if the decision is made on a set of peripheral cues or central cues, buyers will encounter sticking points. A sticking point could be something like “how can we pay for this” or “Should we try to do this on our own or do we need to get help to be successful.” There can be dozens of sticking points in any complex purchase buying process.
The more sticking points or stall points your content can address and help the buyer move through the more likely the buyer will complete the buying process and buy.
If content is needed to complete the buying process and it is not available many potential buying cycles will be lost to the dreaded competitor called No Decision Incorporated.
Summary of B2B Buying Process Content
Figure out what educational information each key player in your buying process needs, and then tie the content to specific peripheral (emotional) cues. Then, discover their key sticking points and address those as well, again focusing on the peripheral (emotional) cues. Build the content to educate and facilitate transition through the sticking points.