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B2B Sales

B2B Buying is Now Personal

It's no longer good enough to show that a product is a good investment for a company, it must also appeal to the individuals buying it marketers, the B2B sector is often seen as the dry, dusty cousin to the celeb-endorsed glitz and glamor of B2C.

Creating campaigns to explain the finer points of an innovative photocopier range, say, must feel a million miles away from using Leo Messi or LeBron James to sell a new pair of sports shoes.

Although no firm is about to sign-up Messi to sell a multimillion-dollar CRM system (just imagine the tagline… actually, don’t), B2B marketing is certainly changing, and for good reason.

The poster child for all this is Volvo, and it’s probably no coincidence that it straddles the B2B and B2C sectors. Its B2B campaign to support Volvo Trucks featured a documentary feel (with minimal detail about the trucks themselves) and, in one episode, Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits while balanced between the wing mirrors of two trucks driving backwards down a runway at sunrise. That episode alone garnered nearly 80 million hits on YouTube and won many awards.

The Van Damme film aimed to show the precision of the trucks’ steering technology but what it aimed to tap into was the personal and professional pride of truck drivers the world over (“my work demands something this precise, this advanced”). Similar campaigns from Cateprillar (the world’s largest game of Jenga) and an impassioned manufacturing professional extolling why Grainger understands him and his work also pick up on the same feelings.

B2B Buying Has Changed

CEB data and research show that Volvo et al are on to something: the B2B buying process has changed and the role of personal and professional pride or “identity value,” as the CEB work terms it, is now crucial.

Imagine your firm is primed to make an investment in a CRM system and you’re asked for your input. But you’re not the only one; lots of people have been brought in from a range of regions, business lines, and corporate functions. CEB data show that the typical B2B buying group now involves an average of 5.4 people. And bigger groups, especially of unfamiliar people from different parts of the business and parts of the world, means a higher risk of disagreement and dysfunctional behavior (see this post for more on group decision-making dynamics).

While many B2B suppliers have now bought into the idea of content marketing and of providing useful information free to potential customers, they haven’t necessarily grasped the importance of identity value.

Take the CRM example. After being asked for your input, you may do some independent research and find suppliers’ content that helpfully provides the ins and outs of various software packages and the future of cloud-based technologies. Some even provide tools to estimate costs and build business cases. And the research makes you confident in what your company will get out of a CRM upgrade.

But, although all this content may help you decide which product you think is best for your firm, it isn’t likely to make you a strong advocate for it in the messy group discussions that now follow. For that we all need motivation that’s a little more personal.

The Power of Identity Value

Data from surveys of more than a thousand B2B buyers that tested what drives them to make purchase decisions shows that they derive 3 distinct types of value from business products (see chart 1).

  1. Company value: Benefits for their organization (e.g., ROI, business outcomes).

  2. Performance value: Benefits relating to their work experience (e.g., time savings, stress reduction).

  3. Identity value: Benefits for the individual buyer’s self-esteem (e.g., pride in work, sense of belonging).

Categories of B2B value

Chart 1: Categories of B2B value  Source: CEB analysis

All three value types matter, but for different reasons. Company value is most likely to make a professional interested in a business product but it won’t motivate them to advocate for the purchase of that product within their organization.

By contrast, both performance value and identity value motivate people to be advocates, especially identity value. In fact, identity value has twice the impact of performance value on advocacy.

While part of this discrepancy between the two is because identity value is still largely untapped by B2B suppliers, the main reason is that buyers simply care more about identify value than any other form of value. Something that Volvo, Caterpillar, and Grainger have already all realized.


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