Demand Generation

“Leaning in” to Drive Behavioral Change in B2B Buyers

By June 10, 2015 No Comments

Changing an ingrained behavior can be difficult—it takes time, effort, and readiness, both emotional and rational.

Individual habits generally take between 18 days and six months to solidify. Magnify that a hundredfold to impact behavioral change for small groups of people, organizations, and entire cultures.

Let’s say your business is trying to sell a product in a new product category. Usually there are four steps you need to take in order to sell a product to a prospective buyer:

  1. Make sure the buyer understands what you’re selling
  2. Show them how the product benefits them
  3. Anticipate what the buyer will have to do to reorient their thinking and priorities in order to make a purchase (especially if they weren’t already considering this product)
  4. Know if the buyer will also be the end user of the product, and adjust your sales pitch accordingly (offering employee training packages, onboarding help, etc.)

This list comprises the rational parts of behavioral change, and most businesses do a decent job of working through it. Rational thinking is only a small part of the decision-making process, however—emotion plays a bigger role in behavioral change than we may care to admit.

The Role of Emotion in Decision-Making

In my line of work as a behavioral change expert, I’ve helped hundreds of individuals (and small groups) envision and create change. Over the years, I’ve learned that highly intelligent, rational people—despite all the checklists, cost/benefit spreadsheets, and comparison costs—ultimately make decisions with the emotional brain, not the rational one.

This is because people are innately motivated by four key emotions: self-acceptance, fear, empathy, and trust. If you get them to move through these four emotional states, they will make a behavioral change.

Combine that with rational facts to validate and assure, and you will elicit the kind of behavioral change you need to sell your product. Guaranteed!

Here are four techniques I‘ve used successfully in getting individuals (and groups) to make behavioral changes:

  1. Leaning in
  2. Forcing a choice
  3. Stepping into another’s shoes
  4. Disrupting and redirecting

In this post, I’d like to talk about the first item in this list, “leaning in.” (The other three techniques will be discussed in upcoming posts, so stay tuned!)

“Leaning in” to Elicit Behavioral Change in B2B Buyers

Thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, the term “lean in” is in our vernacular. In this case, “leaning in” is about the B2B buyer moving through fear, gaining trust, and accepting that his or her choices need not be perfect.

Acknowledging Fears

First, ask the prospective customer what their worst fears or concerns are about buying and using a new product. Listen carefully. Make a detailed list of their fears.

Deepen the learning by asking: “Tell me more about that?” “What do you think will happen if…?” Then acknowledge the fears, one by one.

Your job is to completely understand all the fears of the customer. Give these fears a voice; don’t try to change them. Fears are fears. Everybody has them. In fact, the more fear, the greater opportunity your company has to innovate and lead.

“Lean in” to the buyer’s fears. Reassure them that this is an innovative product and there are always risks when trying something new. Validate their fears by saying, “Trying something new always has an element of fear.” Use examples or share case studies of businesses that took great risks with new products that no one understood the value of at first.

Building Trust

Next, get the buyer to trust his or her own decision-making (despite their team or team leader’s opinions). Ask the person, “Look at a business decision you made that involved taking great risks, but that you still trusted your judgment with.”

Remind them of the outcome of a decision that moved the organization forward in some way. Have them tell the story to build their confidence. Help them see that they can trust their judgment, and that they always explore every alternative, even when others have a different point of view.

Encouraging Self-Acceptance

Even if the buyer’s decision in the last step didn’t lead to a perfect outcome, it moved the organization to change and reevaluate. Show the buyer how they were part of an important process.

Help them with self-acceptance, and reiterate the fact that change and decision-making don’t need to be perfect in order to have value. Use examples of businesses that had some starts and stops. (Apple always comes to mind.)

Show the buyer how they were part of an important process.

This “leaning in” technique will allow the buyer to move past their fears, trust their own judgment, know that you acknowledge their concerns, and accept that the road to change isn’t 100% perfect, and they don’t have to be perfect either.

Try this technique in your next B2B sales opportunity and tell me how it goes. And be sure to stay tuned for my upcoming posts that will cover the other three techniques for eliciting B2B behavioral change.

A. Pirot

About A. Pirot

Amanda writes for Kapost, illuminating readers on the intersection of marketing practices and human behavior. She has developed marketing strategies for global CPG, B2B, and digital brands combined with unique training in behavioral psychology. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.