Are your revenues produced through business to business (B2B) sales? That is, you aren't selling retail to the consumer market: your clients are other firms. If that is the case, we’ve produced a quick refresher of the key characteristics that are intrinsic to this particular sales process.
Motivation to purchase
The first and most critical difference between B2B and B2C is the variance in the key motivators that drive a buying decision. In business purchasing, buyers strive to be sure that their purchase is based as much as possible on rational, fact-based analysis. In business purchasing, all buy decisions need to satisfy logical and measurable ends. For example, will it increase profits? Will it aid measurable productivity? Does it improve the satisfaction of a specific stakeholder? Because of this, business purchasing is defined by a rigorous buying process that strives to ensure rational, profit-driven purchasing. The most structured example of this is the RFP process (Request for Proposal) used in government and industry. The RFP process, with its tightly defined specifications and strict product and service requirements, along with strict parameters for competitive bidding, is designed to create the most effective, rational purchasing process. Good business purchasing has little space for whimsy or impulse buying.
In contrast, consumer decision-making is not constrained by these narrow parameters. The singular motivation for increased profits that drives business decision-making is missing. There is no final “bottom line” criterion in the consumer decision-making process. Motivations are as varied as the individual.
Unlike most consumer purchases, the existence of multiple decision-makers almost always characterizes business purchasing, except in perhaps the most mundane areas.
There may be several layers of decision makers, all of which are bound by pre-determined parameters for the determination of value.
Consider a large firm buying a PBX (an internal, company-wide phone system.) Who might be involved?
a) A committee comprised of representatives from all the different types of end-users. These would be individuals who use the handsets at their desk, for example. They would determine which features are needed and which would add value, and then decide how well each vendor’s system meets those criteria.
b) Engineers who will have the ongoing job of configuring and programming the system might evaluate it for ease of use and flexibility.
c) A telecom engineer will have input to review each product’s telco interface to make sure any selection makes optimum use of available line services
In short, there will be an array of individuals who will have strictly defined and rational criteria to evaluate the product. Also, because decision-making is a group project, each person serves as a check against the other, in case anyone is tempted to stray toward non-relevant criteria.
In business, the sales relationship is primarily consultative. Vendors work closely with buyers to evaluate and inform. In many cases, there may be a series of site visits where vendors do nothing but learn corporate culture and the buyer’s needs before even beginning to develop a proposal. Compare that to the consumer process, which lends itself to “push” sales. The goal of most consumer sale efforts is a sale “now.” Granted some consumer purchases involve study by the buyer—cars and plasma TVs comes to mind---but the goal is always to get the buyer to leave today with a purchase, be it a car, TV, pack of gum, or new pair of jeans.
Why does this all matter? In the daily press to increase revenues, sales and marketing may find it easy to overlook these critical characteristics of B2B. Any failure to keep these issues in mind will mean that you lose control of the process. Business buyers will have less respect and patience for sales and marketing efforts that try to sidestep or overlook these critical process issues.