Marketers spend a lot of time building and analysing buyer journeys. The goal? Engaging, nurturing and winning new business. Its complex, and buyers are people too, who want to drive their own journey – one that suits them.

If you’re operating in a B2B (Business-to-Business) transactions, decision making is far from straightforward. Unlike the linear progression we often see in individual consumer choices (B2C), B2B decision making is a convoluted journey, often characterized by its non-linear, emotional, and messy nature. This article delves into the intricacies of this process, highlighting the role of digital tools in navigating this labyrinth.

The non-linear trajectory

B2B decision making rarely follows a predictable path. Businesses often circle back to previous stages, re-evaluate their options, or change direction entirely based on new information or changing circumstances. Unlike the B2C (Business-to-Consumer) model, where decisions might follow a more linear path from awareness to purchase, B2B decisions involve multiple stakeholders, each with their unique concerns and priorities. This multitude of voices contributes to a decision-making journey that zigs and zags unpredictably, as shown here in the model created by Forrester.

Forrester's Zig Zag buyer journey
Zig Zag buyer journey

The emotional component

Contrary to the popular belief that B2B decisions are purely rational and data-driven, emotions play a significant role. Even though we describe it a Busines to Business, its still people and their behaviour and emotions we need to consider. Decision-makers are human and are influenced by their perceptions, experiences, and emotional responses. Trust and confidence in a supplier, the fear of making a costly mistake, and the desire to innovate or lead in the industry can all sway decisions. This emotional aspect adds another layer of complexity to the B2B decision-making process.

The messiness of decision making

The messiness of B2B decision making stems from various factors. The involvement of multiple decision-makers brings diverse opinions and conflicting priorities. Often there are high stakes involved in B2B transactions, such as significant financial investments and long-term partnerships, which add to the pressure and complexity. This can lead to procrastinated and prolonged decision cycles, indecision, or even a complete overhaul of the decision-making process. And the fear of making the right or wrong decision can delay decisions considerable.

The complexity of B2B decision making can often make it seem messy and unstructured. This messiness is largely due to the following factors:

  1. Multiple decision makers: B2B transactions usually involve a group of people with differing roles, perspectives, and goals. The presence of a buying centre, procurement team or committee means that decisions are rarely made by a single individual. This can happen, even when working with a budget holder. This can lead to conflicting opinions, varied priorities, and extended discussions, making the process seem disorganized or chaotic. It can often be an indication that internal stakeholders are not aligned.
  2. Long decision cycles: Due to the significant financial and strategic implications, B2B decisions often undergo lengthy evaluation and approval processes. This protraction can add to the perceived messiness, as during the elapsed time, there can be changes in market conditions, change to company strategy, or personnel, which can all redirect or delay the decision process.
  3. Complex requirements and specifications: B2B purchases can often be highly technical or customised. Navigating through intricate product specifications, compliance requirements, and service agreements adds layers of complexity, requiring extensive due diligence and often leading to back-and-forth negotiations that can seem disorderly and ill planned.
  4. Information overload: With the abundance of information available, decision-makers can feel overwhelmed. Differentiating between essential and non-essential information, and the fear of missing out on critical data, can further complicate the process.

Role of digital in B2B decision making

In today’s highly digital environment, we have access to more information. The use of digital platforms for research and information gathering is crucial. Decision-makers leverage online resources to educate themselves about products, services, and suppliers. This includes browsing websites, reading online reviews, participating in forums, and utilising social media to gauge market trends and opinions.

This is an incredibly important part of the buying process or buying journey, as much prefer to drive their own journey, often using these tools to shortlist, before having an conversation with a potential supplier or vendor.

Digital tools also facilitate collaboration among the various stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. Platforms that allow for sharing information, discussing options, and even voting on decisions can streamline the process, making it more manageable despite its inherent complexity.

The role of data and analytics in the decision making process

Advancements in analytics have further transformed and enabled the B2B decision making. Businesses can now tap into vast amounts of data to inform their decisions, predict market trends, and understand customer behaviour.

This data-driven approach can help mitigate some of the messiness and emotional biases inherent in the decision-making process, allowing for more informed and strategic choices.

  1. Data-driven insights: Advanced analytics and big data technologies enable businesses to sift through large volumes of data to uncover actionable insights. These insights can guide decision-makers in identifying market trends, understanding customer needs, and evaluating competitive landscapes.
  2. Predictive analytics: By using predictive models, businesses can forecast future market conditions, customer behavior, and product performance. This foresight allows for more informed and strategic decisions, reducing the likelihood of costly mistakes or oversights.
  3. Customisation through data: Data allows for a deeper understanding of each stakeholder’s specific needs and preferences. This knowledge enables businesses to tailor their offerings, communications, and negotiations more effectively, aligning more closely with the diverse requirements of the decision-making group.
  4. Reducing information overload: By utilising data analytics, businesses can filter out irrelevant information, focusing only on the data that is critical to their decision-making process. This not only saves time but can better enable decision-makers, providing them with facts, which can be used to balance the emotional part of the process. This can make the decision making process more efficient and less chaotic.
  5. Enhancing collaboration: Data-driven tools can also facilitate better collaboration among stakeholders. Platforms that offer real-time data access, visualization, and collaborative features ensure that all parties are on the same page, reducing misunderstandings and streamlining the decision process.

B2B decision making is not linear and it is emotional

B2B decision making is a nuanced and multifaceted process. It’s a journey fraught with twists and turns, influenced by a blend of rational analysis, emotional responses, and the messy reality of managing diverse stakeholder interests. If you are marketing your business to other businesses, its important to understand this, rather than become frustrated by a ‘zig zag’ process.

Digital tools emerge as crucial allies, helping businesses navigate this complex terrain by providing valuable information and offer data-driven insights. Understanding and embracing the non-linear, emotional, and messy nature of B2B decision making is key to being successful in a B2B environment.