HomeBlog What B-to-B Buyers Really Want

What B-to-B Buyers Really Want

January 30, 2013 | By Jeff Lash

You’ve probably heard the saying, "No one wants a drill, they want a hole in the wall." The idea behind this quote is that what customers say they want – a drill – is just a means to the end; namely, a hole in the wall.

Unfortunately, this is only part of the story. If a drill is used to create a hole in the wall, the hole in the wall itself is just a means to a bigger end. The hole will be used to put a bolt in the wall. The bolt will be used to hang a picture. The picture will be used to decorate a room. The room will be used for entertaining guests. Entertaining guests will help the homeowners enjoy their house and lifestyle.

So, what does this mean for marketers? Obviously, the tagline "help entertain guests with our power drill" is a bit of a stretch. However, these underlying emotional drivers are a major part of business-to-consumer marketing, so it’s only reasonable that they will be present in the b-to-b decisionmaking process. After all, businesses don't buy products – people working within those businesses do. And those decisionmakers have needs, some which they express as business-related and some which aren't as explicit, or even business-related.

Years ago, a colleague and I were conducting market research with physicians. Speaking with one young physician, my colleague was inquiring about the problems and challenges he faced that our company's products could potentially solve. However, the physician didn't care to talk about our product or his business challenges – he wanted to talk about gardening. He was incredibly busy at work and had a young family at home. Overworked and stressed, his needs were anything that could make him more productive at work. This would allow him to leave the hospital sooner, get home to see his family and spend time gardening, which was one of his passions and also helped to reduce the job-related stress.

That conversation has stayed with me because it serves as a reminder that the products we sell are not just a means to an immediate end, but that there are underlying needs within every buyer. Yes, b-to-b buyers want hardware to better manage their data center, or a service to help them track accounts receivables more easily, or to increase the chances of hitting their revenue goal this quarter. But they also have other, more personal needs – to appear competent to their new boss, to reduce the frustration of constantly fighting with IT, or to spend less time on a part of the job they hate. And, yes, sometimes that need is to save time at work so they can get home to their families – and/or gardens.

While b-to-b marketing should still be mainly focused on buyers’ expressed needs, it should also be open to uncovering their unexpressed and underlying needs. After all, you’ve probably heard the saying that people buy emotionally and justify rationally. If that’s true, effective b-to-b marketing needs to convince buyers that your solution is right for their personal emotional needs as well as their business-related rational ones.

Jeff Lash

Jeff Lash is Vice President and Group Director, Product Management, where he leads the Product Management Research and Advisory Service. A recognized thought leader in product management, he has over 15 years of experience in product management, product development, product marketing, and user experience design. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jefflash.
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