Reduce the Risk in B2B Purchasing

Karen Gedney

Updated · Dec 15, 2004

Could your prospect's job be on the line when they buy your business-to-business (B2B) product?

The question wouldn't be relevant with a business-to-consumer (B2C) product. If you buy the wrong ketchup, your kids may go into an uproar at the dinner table. But chances are, you'll retain your title of mom or dad for a few more decades.

If you invest in a multimillion dollar information system, or select an ad agency, the wrong decision could have a life-changing effect on your career.

That's why I found the book, “Business-to-Business Marketing: Relationships, Systems and Communications,” by Chris and Karen E. Fill, so illuminating. It lays out a number of key B2B-buying principles. They're worth thinking about when you write your next B2B e-mail as part of the lead-generation or sales process.

Six B2B Decision-Making Risks

When a prospect decides whether to buy your product, these questions are probably running through her mind, consciously or unconsciously:

  • Technical risk. Will the product or service perform as expected?

    How to ease the risk: Use service guarantees, product review reprints, client testimonials, technical information, product demonstrations, personal referrals, white papers, and exhibits at trade shows.

  • Financial risk. Does this represent value for the money? Could we have bought it cheaper?

    How to ease the risk: Guarantee the lowest price, demonstrate return on investment (ROI), add value with extra services, earn a leadership position in your industry, and offer installment payments.

  • Delivery risk. Will delivery be on time, complete, and in good order? Or will our production schedule be disrupted?

    How to ease the risk: Guarantee delivery and tracking, manage expectations, and offer client testimonials and references.

  • Service risk. Will the product be supported properly and within agreed time parameters?

    How to ease the risk: Use service-level agreements, client testimonials, and references.

  • Relationship risk. How will working with this new supplier affect my other supplier relationships?

    How to ease the risk: Offer a trial period to test the product or service; show head-to-head service comparisons; get on approved supplier lists; partner with current suppliers or create strategic alliances; and offer volume discounts.

  • Professional risk. How will this decision affect my professional standing in the eyes of others, and how might my career and personal development be affected?

    How to ease the risk: Offer client testimonials and references, offer a high degree of information for decision-making, “coach” prospects on how to sell your solution to upper management, and meet with all key influencers and decision-makers.

At-Risk Purchasers

Below, the six types of people who are most at risk when making purchasing decisions:

  • The Initiator. The initiator requests the purchase and propels the decision process. She risks sticking her neck out for making the request.
  • The User. The user will actually use the product and will continually evaluate its performance. She may be afraid the new product will actually detract from her performance, temporarily slow down production, and make her work harder for a time. She may be afraid she'll look bad if she doesn't learn to use the product fast enough, or if the product will make her job function obsolete.
  • The Influencer. The influencer can be a consultant or an IT person who helps set the technical specifications for the purchase and assists with alternative offerings by potential suppliers. Influencers must be 100 percent sure the purchases they recommend are technically correct, will solve the challenge at hand in the most cost-effective and efficient way, and won't cause more problems.
  • The Decider. This can be almost anyone. But if it's a high-ticket item, the decider may be a senior manager. She must be sure the solution will show ROI and will achieve key business objectives, such as profits, growth, market share, and competitive advantage.
  • The Buyer. This can be any of the people listed above or a purchasing manager. A purchasing manager needs to know she's getting the best deal, the seller is financially sound and can deliver product in the long term, and delivery and service guarantees are met.
  • The Gatekeeper. This person controls how your information gets to those involved in the purchasing decisions. This can be an assistant, secretary, or technical personnel. The gatekeeper must identify whether the seller is desirable from her bosses' point of view — and not a time-waster.

You probably won't segment your e-mail to each person involved in the decision-making process. But keeping in mind their fears, issues, and worries can help overcome stated (and unstated) objections to the sale and move the buying process along. The more you remove risk, the closer you'll get to a sale.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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