Selling B2B Decision Makers

  |  April 15, 2005   |  Comments

Tips for making online B2B communications less stiff, more human -- and more persuasive.

You sell business-to-business (B2B). Whether you sell paper clips or a highly complex, high-dollar solution, you must reach out to a decision maker. These elusive decision makers hold your transaction's fate in their hands. And contrary to popular practice, selling B2B isn't a mechanical, unemotional, linear, logical process.

To reach out and persuade decision makers, remember: decision makers are people. Treat them that way. Sell them that way.

They have identifiable motives, needs, and preferences. They have hopes, dreams, and goals. Their buying habits as consumers compared with their buying preferences as business decision makers may not be as different as you think.

Here are a few practical tips for making your B2B online communication efforts less stiff, more human, and a lot more persuasive.

Ask Three Essential Questions

There are three essential questions to ask regarding every page on your site:

  • Whom must you persuade?

  • What actions must they take to satisfy their (and your) objectives? Not just the ultimate conversion goal, but every action these people take on your site.

  • How will you most effectively persuade them to take those actions? How will you motivate them to make conscious decisions to click on the hyperlinks that take them deeper into your persuasive process?

Whom Must You Persuade?

Business decision makers fall into one of four preference categories:

  • Methodical decision makers. Most B2B sales efforts are designed for these people. They're concerned with how things work, organization, rules, and methods. They can be too rigid. They're practical, analytical, and conservative, and they devour information. We all know decision makers like this.

  • Spontaneous decision makers. These folks are high-energy, poised business people. They're concerned with activity, flexibility, and authenticity. Often, they're too impatient. They're adventure seekers. They are responsive and seek individual expression and attention.

  • Humanistic decision makers. These are people-oriented business people. These folks are concerned with relationships, harmony, principles, and big-picture outlooks. They can be perfectionists and slow to make decisions. They're listeners, creative types, and easy going. They seek possibilities and meaning in their work.

  • Competitive decision makers. The driven, success-oriented business people. They're independent, enthusiastic, and controlling. They are willing to take risks and can be a dominating. They're logical, seek competence, set higher goals, have clear visions, and make quick, smart decisions.

No one truly fits completely into a mold. Yet there are established behavior patterns; when we make decisions, we typically strongly favor one of the above styles.

What Actions Must They Take?

When a business person lands on a page, she can take one of a handful of actions: bail; participate in a form (usually a conversion); or click. There are two types of links: action and points of resolution.

Evaluate each page's content against the preferences of the decision maker types. Determine which link each decision maker will follow or if there's no clear action for a specific decision maker.

How Will You Persuade Them?

Some Web pages and hyperlinks can be used to help decision makers purchase their way:

  • Methodical. From a need to make an educated choice and devour information, methodicals usually read to the bottom of the page. On iProspect's site, scroll to the very bottom. A link leads to a page that educates users about the service category in a very logical, detailed manner. Note the page's focus is education, it's not a self-serving sell. Yet iProspect injects its services' benefits where appropriate.

  • Spontaneous. These activity-oriented types want to know about the experience they'll have with your product or service. On Volvo's construction equipment site, the wheel loader page's first headers jump out and tell users exactly what they do, how fast they do it, and how it feels to do it. A spontaneous decision maker knows the value of comfort in a tough construction environment; putting him in the driver's seat is personal, tactile, and the most effective way to sell to this type.

  • Humanistic. The humanist values people and relationships above all. Client testimonials are the best way to communicate a product's or service's value. IProspect's client testimonial page instills resolve in the user and links to page with the big-picture view of a business relationship with iProspect. Again, observe how the copy focuses on the decision maker, not the company and its features.

  • Competitive. Competitive decision makers are aggressive. The only thing that excites them more than getting something done is getting more done. The Get More Done page on Volvo's construction equipment site speaks to the heart of the competitive. The page is saturated with aggressive language ("turbocharged," "torque," "power," "rim pull") and backed up with bullets that explain why the wheel loader gets more done.

Benefits First, Features Second

When you sell anything, to other businesses or to consumers, lead with the benefits that are relevant to the buyers. They're not interested in product features until they're convinced that product is relevant.

Meet Bryan at Search Engine Strategies in Toronto, Canada, May 4-5, 2005.

ClickZ Live New York Want to learn more?
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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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