Myth Busted: B2B Buyers Aren’t “Rational” — But They Should Be

November 8, 2017 Ari Soffer

One of the received wisdoms in marketing is that B2B buyers are more rational than consumers.

On a certain level that’s true: it’s hard to buy on impulse when the average B2B buying cycle takes several months from start to finish. More pertinently of course, businesses buy things in order to fulfill quantifiable objectives, like solving a specific problem, or reaching defined targets; they don’t make purchasing decisions on the basis of passing fads or fashions like consumers do.


Well, it turns out this might not be completely accurate. That was one of the surprising facts uncovered by a study conducted earlier this year by the Marketing Technology Industry Council. Among other revealing statistics, a poll of nearly 300 senior B2B marketing executives revealed that just 12% saw significant value in their MarTech. Significantly, the frustrations most commonly cited by marketers vis-a-vis their MarTech were a lack of integration between their different technologies (49%), and simply having too many technologies to begin with (50%).

Let’s consider those two facts for a moment. Why are marketing organizations buying technologies without checking whether they actually integrate with one another? And how on earth are marketers getting to the point of buying too many(!) technologies? We aren’t talking about pairs of shoes here, but investments which add up to thousands of dollars, or in some cases much more!

It seems like when we’re on the buying end, marketers aren’t buying rationally at all.

Busting the Myth of the “Rational” B2B Buyer

The truth is, B2B buyers are no more “rational” or objective in their buying decisions than their B2C counterparts. While the context and kinds of things they are buying are different, the same human decision-making factors are at play.

A “company” doesn’t purchase anything; people (i.e. the decision-makers) within that company do. And they do so to alleviate problems which are as much personal (if professional) as they are about the objective bottom-line of their business — for example, at the most basic level, to get promoted, to avoid getting fired, or just to make their lives easier. It’s no coincidence that SiriusDecisions recently coined the term “Demand Units” to describe these buying centers within a company: ultimately it is they who create and drive the company’s demand by virtue of their buying power.

So a content marketing or social media enablement platform may well help increase customer engagement and ultimately conversions — but the person buying it is probably more immediately concerned with how it will help them automate the boring aspects of their job, make an impression on senior management, and maybe even get a promotion. And an analytics platform may provide genuine value by measuring Marketing’s efforts and helping inform future campaigns, but equally important for the executive actually buying that solution could be his or her need to clearly demonstrate their personal value to the company Board.

This explains the gap, revealed in the survey, between the rapid rate of MarTech adoption (suggesting demand) and the contrastingly low ROI seen by many marketers (suggesting this demand may not always be aligned to objective business needs). B2B marketers are buying technologies in a similar way to consumers — i.e. to satisfy immediate personal needs or wants — as opposed to genuinely measuring every potential purpose against the strategic objectives of their business.

It’s not hard to see how things can get out of hand in this way, particularly when you consider that Marketing often uses technologies which were initially adopted by other departments (according to the survey, the most popular technology among B2B marketers is CRM, traditionally a Sales tool). If different individuals from different departments — or even decision-makers within the same marketing department — are making these personal technology purchases without coordinating, the result will inevitably be a hodge-podge of point-solutions, some or many of which overlap in functionality, and much of which isn’t integratable.

The Case for a MarTech Strategy

But while it may not be true in practice that B2B MarTech buyers are always more rational than B2C consumers, there’s no question that they should be. In the long-term, buying technologies you don’t need or which don’t provide sufficient value in their context isn’t just a slight hole in your pocket — it’s bad for business, and can cause long-term problems throughout your company.

With that in mind, and based on the findings of its survey, the Marketing Technology Industry Council has released a step-by-step guide for marketers to build and manage their technology stacks in a strategic way.

Some of the recommendations (the full list can be downloaded here) relate to age-old problems like Sales-Marketing alignment, or how to construct a “single source of truth” without overhauling existing Sales and Marketing stacks. It also calls for an end to ad hoc adoption, noting that coordinating technology adoption throughout the company will minimize or even avoid perennial problems such as silos other issues that come with poor integration between platforms.

But more fundamentally, the report is a call for B2B marketers to change the way they think about technology entirely. Instead of viewing MarTech as a band-aid to soothe specific pain points, the time has come for marketers to embrace it as an integral part of what they do.

This approach, if executed correctly, will only benefit marketers. For example, one recommendation includes a call to move towards automating the tedious aspects of modern marketing by prioritizing emerging technologies like AI and machine learning. These technologies can empower marketers to focus on what they do best, and enjoy the most: creating powerful, original campaigns. Equally, fostering technological competency across Marketing — as the Council recommends — has become an unavoidable necessity, and will help all aspects of Marketing to be more effective at their jobs.

From a wider business point of view, the Council’s call for MarTech adoption to align completely with strategic business needs will avoid waste, decrease inter- and intra-departmental friction and increase productivity. It will also provide a long-elusive focus of alignment for Marketing and Sales.

From its humble beginnings, the marketing technology ecosystem has swelled to eye-watering proportions. At the San Francisco MarTech Conference earlier this year, chairman Scott Brinker listed over 5,000 MarTech vendors currently vying for marketers’ attention. With that blistering pace of innovation showing little sign of slowing down just yet, marketers have no choice but to adapt, and fast.

Get the Marketing Technology Industry Council’s free guide to building an effective marketing stack:

The Modern Marketer's Guide to Building an Effective MarTech Stack

Image credit: Pixabay

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