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Safety First: Cultivating Confidence in the B2B Buying Journey
May 10, 2023
One of the most basic human needs is a feeling of safety and security, sitting just above water, food, shelter, and the like on Maslow’s Hierarchy. While we typically think about safety in the context of physical protection and survival, it’s also a critically important emotion in a business context – security in one’s employment and confidence that one’s decisions will drive positive outcomes for themselves and the business.
We saw this unfold in Merkle’s 2023 Superpowers Index, the third edition of our annual survey that seeks to understand the experience and needs of today’s B2B buyers. We surveyed 3,600+ buyers and users of B2B products across the globe to capture 6,700+ B2B brand experiences, leading to critical insights on key decision drivers for B2B professionals.
Safety is the most important factor influencing brand success
Since 2020, the overall importance of a buyer being able to say “I feel safe signing a contract with them” when making a B2B purchase has increased steadily, and this year it topped the list of decision drivers for B2B buyers.
When we think about the broader business landscape, the timing of this trend makes a lot of sense. Economic uncertainty over the past several years has translated to job instability for many large businesses, meaning the need to perform at an individual level feels amplified. The decisions B2B buyers make on behalf of the business often include hefty investments of time and money that set the company on a specific multi-year path – and if it doesn’t pan out, the business will need to invest even more resources in finding a different partner and starting anew.
With that level of responsibility, B2B buyers want to feel confident that they’re choosing the right partner – that the relationship will prove successful and the buyer’s efforts will be lauded by their coworkers. The onus, then, is on B2B brands to create that sense of comfort and confidence by showing up as a true collaborator throughout the buying process. But what does safety and security actually look like in this context?
Four underlying decision drivers create a sense of safety
We revisited our data set to find the four decision drivers that correlated closely with “feeling safe”. Here’s what safety in decision making means to B2B buyers today:
1. Provides the information, expertise, and support we need. The operative phrase in this decision driver is “we need.” Sixty-two percent of buyers feel that B2B advertising is too vague to be relevant to their business, while 64% feel that ads don’t always demonstrate a good understanding of their organization’s problems. Too many B2B brands still have a product-centric mentality (“here’s what we offer”) instead of a solution-based approach (“here’s how we can solve your problems together”). The mindset needs to shift from being a supplier to being a partner.
To do that, understanding your buyer is critical. Dig into the challenges they face, both as a company and as an individual. Ask about the business’s five-year plan. Use what you know, along with first-party data, to create a full customer profile so your creative and content can be as tailored as possible. And remember, your communications can’t just lean on logic and specifications – they need to lean into emotional motivations as well. After all, B2B buyers are people.
2. Constantly delivers on time and as specified. Building trust in any relationship requires following through on what you say you’ll do. B2B relationships are no different.
Resist the urge to set hyper-aggressive timelines. In the short-term, you risk missing deadlines or delivering sub-par content by creating a self-imposed scramble. In the long-term, you may create an expectation that all work will be delivered at an unsustainably speedy pace – a recipe for burnout and future missed deadlines that can erode the trust you worked so hard to establish. Set reasonable deadlines that get the buyer what they need in a timely fashion and give your team adequate time to deliver on the ask in a polished, comprehensive way.
3. Approachable and transparent in their dealings with us. This is another area that’s foundational to building trust in any relationship – honesty and transparency.
How you, as a buyer, approach transparency should be self-explanatory. Don’t pretend to be able to do something just to appease the buyer – you’ll be found out in the long run and the relationship will quickly degrade. Be open with the buyer from the start, even in planning stages while scoping projects, to ensure realistic expectations are agreed upon before projects begin.
4. Quick to respond and adapt to changing plans. If the last several years have taught us anything, it’s that change is constant and the unexpected can quickly become reality. B2B buyers want reassurance that if the business or broader landscape make a sudden pivot, their partner can pivot in step.
Most brands should have several case studies in adapting to change as this point. Be ready to share those examples and talk not just about how you pivoted, but why. A glimpse into your rationale and process for adapting can create comfort that you’ll apply the same rigor to any future changes, whatever they may be. This is also a great time to reapply what you learned from the discovery conversations above to try to get ahead of potential future changes based on the business’s 5-year plan, current challenges, etc.
When the stakes are as high as a B2B buying decision, feelings of safety and confidence are paramount. A customer-centric approach that’s honest and helpful will go a long way in building trust with B2B buyers. But that’s just one part of the B2B buyer experience.
To understand more about what drives B2B buyer decisions and other insights from our research, read the full 2023 Superpowers Index.