In fact this is almost certainly the wrong lesson to draw from the science. While imperfect and non-rational decision-making is evident in both consumer and business purchasing, the actual causes – the balance of biases and instincts at play in each – is different in each.
In consumer markets, those beautiful adverts are targeting our known preference for products which we believe will impress those around us; items are already popular among our peers; or brands which aligns to our existing self-image and beliefs.
But this kind of signalling, herding and self-affirmation is far less a factor in b2b market (although by no means absent).
What is likely to be much more significant in the b2b environment is a cognitive bias known as risk aversion.
Cognitive biases are systematic errors in thinking and decision-making which everyone makes when people are processing and interpreting information. Dozens of biases been identified, tested, and documented, building on the pioneering work of behavioural economic Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tverskey (resulting in their Nobel Prize winning paper Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk, and Kahneman’s seminal book Thinking, Fast and Slow).
The bias of risk aversion means that people are generally more risk averse when considering a gain than they are when considering a loss.
This sounds simple, but it has profound implications in b2b purchase decision making.
In this context it means that buyers will be more risk averse than is strictly rational when considering whether to improve their current product or service outcomes.
(Conversely of course, it also makes them much more likely to risk a switch if faced with a loss of benefit or utility, which explains why maintaining the quality of the customer experience is critical for client retention – this is a subject for another day though).
In other words, all other things being equal, your sales prospect is much more likely to prefer the status quo – ‘the devil they know’ – than to taking a chance on something new – even if the logical argument for making the switch looks compelling on paper.
This tendency towards buyer inertia is a fundamental challenge for b2b sales and marketing professionals.