Why Business Value Messaging Doesn’t Win

Why Business Value Messaging Doesn’t Win:

from Wide Angle 
If you’ve been following the B2B work of CEB Marketing (or CEB Sales) even remotely over the past couple of years, you’ll know our most popular statistic: the B2B customer has, on average, completed 57% of the purchase process before they contact Sales.  Our recent annual research topics have focused on how Marketing can help fill the no-man’s-land that traditionally belonged to Sales.  The key term for success here: commercial insight.
But in the past few months, we on the B2B research team have been wondering: is commercial insight enough?  As customer organizations started facing the effects of the economic slowdown, their buying decisions faced every more scrutiny.  Consequently, more independent research was being conducted, and buying groups became larger.  And despite suppliers’ successes at convincing customers of their business value, most of them are still struggling to close deals.
So does that mean that teaching the customer something new about their business does NOT drive their willingness to buy?  Well, that’s not true either.
We recently conducted a joint quantitative research project with Motista and Google, surveying 1000 buyers currently involved in a large B2B purchase.  The study assessed the importance of about 100 sentiments  those customers felt towards a specific supplier in driving forward the purchase process.  About half of those variables were business value related (e.g., “X provides the functionality we need”, “X will improve the effectiveness of our business.”), while the other half were softer elements (e.g., “Having X will make me a better leader”, “X makes our business more exciting”).  The results were eye-opening, to say the least.
The first major finding was that proving business value is now table stakes – and only table stakes – for driving purchase.  When we plotted those 100 elements against outcome variables (e.g., willingness to consider, recommend, buy), we found that convincing buyers of business values only created a 30% lift over base buyer preference.  Intuitively, this makes sense.  Over the past few years, marketers have been surprisingly nimble in their shift from product-selling to solution- and insight-selling.  And because they’ve been quick in the uptake, the margin for differentiation here has decreased.
The bigger driver of preference was much more surprising.  Conveying personal value generated TWICE the lift that business value did.  That’s right: the emotional and social benefits that a supplier or product could offer created a 65% lift over base buyer preference.  All this time, marketers were insisting that larger purchase groups meant more rational, business-oriented purchases, when in reality, that’s not the case at all (our most loyal readers will already know that academic research has already shown otherwise).
But with all the safeguards that buying organizations put into place (think: Procurement matrices, intricate RFP processes), how does personal value still dominate?  We hypothesize that this has something to do with the growing number of influencers and decision-makers in a buying group.  As more people get involved, more opinions have to be shared in front of more (important) people.  Consequently, more political risk begins to be felt by each individual involved, particularly those who influence but don’t actually make the final decision.
Worry not – we’ve got the data to back this up too!  Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog post that dives deeper on this issue.  In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if your marketing organization has already begun tackling these issues!

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