Better B2B Marketing 11 – How Businesses Decide What to Buy and Google's 'Messy Middle'
Better B2B Marketing 11 – How Businesses Decide What to Buy and Google’s ‘Messy Middle’

When selling to other businesses, organisations or professionals, it’s helpful to understand the journey they go on to identify, compare and select products and services. That way, you can maximise the effectiveness of your marketing.

Though still made up of individuals, businesses tend to be driven by different priorities and behaviours than consumers. However, as search engine giants Google recently wrote, there is a ‘messy middle’ between identifying that they need something and making the buying decision.

So, we thought we’d explore those differences, the factors which effect business’s buying behaviour, the ‘messy middle’ of the buying process and the marketing tactics which can help your business bypass it to more sales. 

What Motivates Businesses When Buying?

First, let’s think about what motivates and drives businesses when they make buying decisions.

  • Businesses tend to make buying decisions which are more rational, logical and longer-term than consumers (e.g. choosing a trusted digital marketing agency!)
  • Buying decisions are often long and typically includes a number of stakeholders, influencers and decision makers
  • Those who make business decisions want to be seen to be making good decisions
  • Businesses typically like to have a close and lasting relationship with the brands they choose – particularly suppliers of goods or services

So, for context, how does that differ from individuals and consumers (B2C):

  • Consumers and individuals tend to use more emotion in their buying decisions and often buy things which make them feel good or satisfy an emotional need (e.g. I’m hungry!)
  • Consumers typically make much quicker decisions on their own or are influenced only by those close to them
  • Consumers simply want to be happy with their purchases and thus generally expect less interaction with the brands they choose

What is Google’s ‘Messy Middle’?

As Google themselves recently hypothesised, the way people (and businesses) make buying decisions is messy and getting messier.

People and business don’t distinguish between marketing messages and methods, so there can be multiple touchpoints between identifying a need and ultimately making a purchase.

To get the maximum number of businesses or individuals from the start of the process (looking) to the end (buying) you need to walk in their shoes and improve those touch-points you can influence.

Google suggest that between the trigger to buy a product or service and the actual act of purchase are two tandem steps – exploration and evaluation.

This ‘messy middle’ is particularly relevant online but exists offline and in businesses behaviour too.

Exploration is an expansive activity where businesses and individuals look for all the products, services and suppliers who fit their need. Imagine a business looking for a suitable accountant, the places they might look, the people they might ask and the information they might consider.

Evaluation is then a reductive activity where the various options are compared or contrasted to find the best. It could be based on experience, online reviews, who responds quickest to their enquiry or gives them the most confidence.

How Can Your Business Bridge the ‘Messy Middle’?

Fortunately, there are a few guiding principles to ensure your part of the exploration and evaluation process.

  1. Ensure your business or brand is present so your products or service are discovered. If nobody finds your business when they search online – or hears your name when they ask others for recommendations – you won’t enter the ‘messy middle’!
  2. Understand the evaluation process so your proposition is compelling. This is where it pays to ask customers why they chose you over a competitor and what swung it for them!
  3. Shrink the gap between businesses identifying a need for something and making the buying decision. This means making what you deliver readily available, providing all the information they need and presenting a compelling reason to buy from your business.
  4. Respond quickly and effectively to buying signs. If someone wants information, a sample or a meeting, don’t delay! The longer they have to explore and evaluate, the greater the likelihood of a competitor sneaking in.

Using Marketing to Bridge the ‘Messy Middle’

As with all knowledge, it’s not just what you know but how you use it!

Firstly, you need to ensure your name and brand is evident when businesses are looking. This means both being known before people start searching and being found when they do.

Burst marketing is a persuasive marketing message or promotion made over a short period of time using a single marketing channel. It works great when selling ice creams on a hot day – but less effectively when businesses are looking for a reliable supplier.

Drip marketing is on-going marketing, using several different marketing channels and a consistent message, sustained over the longer period. As the middle is messy – and businesses do not distinguish between events, adverts, websites or recommendations etc – sustained drip marketing is much more effective for businesses hoping to be the one other organisations and professionals turn to.

Now, if what you do, make or deliver is new or particularly innovative, you may need to use push marketing to educate businesses about your great idea.

However, for most B2B businesses, what you deliver is likely well understand and sought after. That means you need to ensure you’re the one business’s find find when they begin to search. Common pull marketing channels include PPC, SEO, media advertising and networking.

Where consumer brands are often aspirational, the strongest B2B brands tend to mirror their customers more closely. Businesses generally prefer to work with others who look and feel like them.

Information is key when bridging the ‘messy middle’ for businesses. They want to quickly understand what you deliver, what makes it good and why they should choose it. Business-to-business branding and messaging needs to be clear and consistent over time. Above all, your potential customers should be in no doubt of the features, benefits and differences of what you deliver.

Which Marketing Channels Work Best for B2B in the ‘Messy Middle’?

Direct marketing works particularly well for B2B where the number of potential customers is often small but well defined. This can include mailers, email and social media, plus adverts or press releases in sector or business press. If you can identify likely businesses who may buy what you offer, go direct to the decision makers, introduce your business and cut out the ‘messy middle’!

If businesses are actively seeking what you deliver – or competition is high – SEO will ensure those searching find your website. PPC (Google Ads) can accelerate these results and target others with digital display or remarketing ads.

Your website is potentially critical to the evaluation process in the ’messy middle’, so ensure it quickly and concisely communicates what you do, what makes it better and how they can skip to enquiring or buying.

Be Responsive to Avoid the ‘Messy Middle’

In B2B marketing, how you respond to an email or call can be just as important as your website or latest brochure. If you do not act quickly and courteously, another business in the ‘messy middle’ may pip you to the sale.

Make sure your sales and marketing efforts are joined up and working hand in hand. Keep your sales force aware of your marketing initiatives and ensure they appreciate the efforts expended to create each lead or sale. Ensure your marketing department (or expert agency) get timely feedback so they can modify their approach to create the biggest impact on your bottom line.

Get the Full Mix of Marketing

As Google state, the messy middle is messy and getting messier.

It’s complicated, that’s why we make it easy for our clients. We’re a full-service Norfolk-based marketing agency, specialising in helping businesses get the best results from strategic, digital and creative marketing. We help companies in sectors including IT & technology, manufacturing & engineering, B2B & business services and retail, leisure & tourism.

If you need helping to get more potential clients from looking to buying, get in touch:

Read Google’s “How People Decide What to Buy Lies in the “Messy Middle” of the Purchase Journey”