The 4 Motivations Behind B2B Purchases – Part 1

Published by Bret Kinsella on

Buyer motivation is typically seen as a mystery or is incorrectly attributed in B2B technology purchases. This is a problem. If you don’t know what motivates a purchase, growth becomes elusive. Or if you make the wrong assumptions, you cannot effectively market and sell your product. Get this wrong at your peril. Typically, these issues arise because you are going about the process incorrectly.

Marketers often spend too much time creating activity and not enough on helping drive the sales process to a purchase. Recently, I pointed out The Three Questions Standing Between You and a Sale. I know a few people thought this was just about sales strategy based on the title. But in reality it should also be foundational to your marketing strategy. Are you answering the questions: Why do it? Why do it now? Why do it with you? This is a great way to audit your marketing content and programs and to align them with your sales process. However, these questions speak to the buyer’s intent and not the substance of the message. That substance is what drives buyer motivation.

Four Motivations That Drive Action

Over the past 25 years I have had a front row seat to more than a hundred B2B technology purchases from both a sales and marketing perspective. These deals ranged from the low thousands of dollars to double-digit millions. But no matter the deal size, all of the purchase decisions were driven by just four categories of buyer motivation: Fears, Peers, Pains, or Gains.

You can see in the table below that these are segmented into motivation categories of logic and emotion. They are then cross referenced against whether the buyer intent is to reduce a negative or enhance a positive situation. These are the levers that drive a buyer to transition from an answer to an action when considering the “Why?”, “Why now?”, and “Why with You?” questions. At least one of these motivations must be strong enough to overcome the friction of no action, which is the primary obstacle in most B2B sales.

motivation-sales-table

Pains – The Gold Standard

painsLet’s start with the logic category. By far the most powerful buyer motivation is the presence of pain. Humans will do just about anything to remove pain. This is also true of companies because the organizational pain impacts individuals directly. Someone must deal with quality control complaints. Someone must be accountable for financial losses. Someone must put out the fire when things go wrong. These are uncomfortable situations for any business and particularly for the people that must deal with them on a daily basis.

If you have a solution that addresses a well-defined pain point, you need to lead with it and reinforce it throughout the sales cycle. While the pain may not be sufficient for the buyer to select you, it is the most powerful point of leverage for turning the “Why do it?” and “Why do it now?” questions into tangible action.

This still leaves the question of “Why do it with you?” It depends on your adversary. Is it status quo or a direct competitor? If the former, the presence of the pain point makes it obvious that your solution is better that living with the problem for the foreseeable future. If the latter, then it depends on how your competitor addresses that pain point. Most technology solutions address more than a single problem or benefit. By optimizing your solution features and messaging around the known pain point, you can appear to be the superior solution to the problem. Identify the pain, quantify it and reinforce it to gain maximum sales cycle leverage.

Gains – Have it, but Don’t Count on it

gainsMost technology companies are dominated by engineers and other logical thinkers. They understand the pain sell. They embrace the gain sell even more readily. Too often I hear from founders and the sales team something along the lines: “If I just had a proven, rifle shot business case that applied to everyone, the contracts would start pouring in.” First of all, everyone sells a first product. By definition that first sale doesn’t come with a proven business case. At best, you have well-reasoned conjecture. More likely you have a hunch. So we know that you don’t require a business case to win a sale. No more excuses.

Now that we have dispensed with the business case requirement myth, there is no doubt that being able to quantify gains is very helpful in two ways. First, people like to think they make decisions based on rational arguments. If you have a well-documented business case, it makes them feel comfortable that they are following logic. There are a few buyers that are most persuaded by a quantified rationale. For the rest, its presence provides a cover for buying based on emotional factors whether consciously or unconsciously. Second, many buyers simply need a business case to get their colleagues or superiors on board. These other influencers in the sales process will not be impacted regularly by the solution so the dispassionate persuasion of quantified benefits is often essential to achieving their support or least their agreement not to block the purchase.

However, there is real problem with selling based on gains. Buyers can put off benefits indefinitely. I have colleagues and clients that are incredulous that prospects just don’t buy even when there is a rock solid gain to be realized. There are good psychological and business reasons for this. For example, in many cases the gains don’t accrue to the buyer individually. The benefits are shared by the organization. This is different than pains that affect them directly.

The motivation calculus is simply different, as the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) quantified in its 2013 research. Organizations can also become accustomed to living with pain or using their pain killer of choice such as overtime or accommodating customers. Change is hard. It requires known inputs and involves uncertainty around gains.

You may also be in the “below the line” trap. How often has your product solution landed at number three on a customer’s priority list, but they only funded the top two? The key marketing strategy here is to either determine how you attach to the top two objectives in the industry or move up in priority. This is exactly the type of air cover that sales needs from marketing.

One other point worth noting is your effort to persuade influencers. These may be industry analysts, journalist or other well-known experts. In general, they will look for a quantifiable list of gains before they recommend your solution. This is true because in many cases they more closely resemble the dispassionate colleagues and gatekeepers in procurement or finance that can block the purchase. They don’t live with the problems or aspirations of the people they advise. They also bias toward quantified benefits because they have no incentive to put their reputation on the line for something that is uncertain.

Messaging around gains is critical for your buyers, their colleagues and key influencers. The key is to not put all of your eggs in the gain basket. Put together a strong value proposition and use your marketing materials to promote it heavily, but don’t be surprised if your sales team needs more than this to help close the sale.

From Logic to Emotion

The logic elements are the easiest to employ, but they have their limits. CEB data show that buyers have trouble differentiating the value of leading solution providers. Only 14% of buyers agreed that they could effectively evaluate unique benefits of different suppliers. If buyers admit they are unable to determine differences from a logical perspective, then how are they deciding? The emotions have it. More on that tomorrow.


Bret Kinsella

Bret Kinsella founded Act with Edge to help tech companies build growth engines based on their own audience, inbound content marketing and premium brand positioning.