Overcoming B2B Buyer Bias

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We know that B2B buying decisions have become increasingly complex, with more people involved in the buying process. SiriusDecisions has been researching and reporting on this and has created a manifesto: “the B2B buyer is a group, not an individual.” We also know that the individuals within these groups don’t act as rationally as we might suppose.

As I’ve discussed in a previous post about using behavioral principles in B2B, a Gallup report notes that some experts believe as much as 70% of our economic decision-making is emotional and only 30% is rational.

When these individuals participate in a buying group to make a purchase decision, that irrational thinking can become magnified. I believe that understanding human behavior, especially when it comes to making buying decisions, is essential to good content marketing. With that in mind, I recently read an article that addresses four types of bias that buyers have and how they affect group buying decisions.

“Simple Strategies for S.H.A.R.P.E.R. Decision-Making in Groups,” written by Torben Emmerling and Duncan Rooders and included in The Behavioral Economics Guide 2020, explains the psychology behind buyer bias in individuals and how it extends to groups. It begins with the premise that decisions are made around uncertainty.

When we can’t be sure of future outcomes, especially when the purchase decision is complex, we fall back on often faulty ways of thinking to support a decision. We also like consistency and familiar processes—another tendency that makes us stick with decisions even when evidence proves them to be questionable.

Put into as concrete terms as possible, here are four of the most dominant biases to which we are prone.

Availability Bias

In this instance, we are likely to seek information from our memory and experiences that is most recent. As the authors say, “The more recent, vivid and salient a past experience may be, the more likely it is to come to mind and present itself as an anchor in a given decision challenge.”

Base Rate Neglect

With this bias, we tend to extrapolate that the results of a small sample will apply to a larger sample, failing to take into account other information. When this happens, buyers can make decisions based on unreliable or incomplete information—or based on stereotypes.

I have a personal story to illustrate this. My in-laws owned a Volvo that had lots of problems; it was a lemon. From this, they believed that all Volvos were likely to be unreliable, a fact contradicted by the actual data that shows them to be extraordinarily reliable. Incidentally, my husband and I finally traded in our first Volvo (for another Volvo) after nearly 250,000 miles with no major repairs.

Confirmation Bias

I’m often guilty as charged on this one. I can’t believe there is anyone who’s not. With confirmation bias, we only look for facts that support our preconceptions. Many of us do this without ever realizing it. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economic sciences,  describes this phenomenon as “what we see is all there is.”

Emmerling and Rooders point to a study in which U.S. voters rated polls as more trustworthy if the results corresponded to their own expectations. Personally, I believe that the Internet adds to this problem, because we can selectively choose to find information only on sites that conform to our own views. As B2B buyers, this can definitely lead us down a wrong path.

Overconfidence Bias

This final bias is one in which we overrate our own ability to perform a task or predict an outcome. Emmerling and Rooders cite a classic example here. Researcher Ola Svenson found that 93% of American drivers rated their driving abilities as better than average. We know, of course, that it’s statistically impossible for the vast majority of drivers to be better than average.

This is often the final step, i.e., the final bias we apply in a decision process to attempt to add certainty to an uncertain outcome. 

Groups Exacerbate These Biases

As individuals, we bring these biases (and others) to our decision-making. When each member of a buying group brings his or her biases to the table, their faulty reasoning can take hold with the entire team. In other words, we fall into groupthink.

The ideal solution to this problem is to set up decision-making situations that help groups overcome these biases.

Overcome Groupthink

As B2B marketers, we can’t be in the room setting the parameters for decision-making. However, simply being aware of these biases can help us create messaging that takes them into consideration.

Here’s how I think you might counter these four dominant biases. Be sure to test and see how they work for you.

Availability bias. Give buyers additional information that helps them consider factors beyond their most recent experience.

Base rate neglect. Cite actual, verifiable statistics and emphasize the validity of those statistics.

Confirmation bias. Provide information that supports opposing views. Help buyers weigh the information more objectively.

Overconfidence bias. Use testimonials to show how others were surprised by the results they experienced.

For more insight into the B2B buyer’s mindset and how it impacts the buyers journey, check out “Emotions in B2B Content? The Science Says Yes!”

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