The Chewing Gum Dilemma of B2B Marketing

“Wait! Are you sure you want to buy that pack of gum? Did you research it? Ask the company that made it and its top competitors to present why it’s the best gum for you? Did you call three references to see if that gum was indeed successful at providing chewing satisfaction?” – said no one ever.

You know why no one has ever said this? It’s because buying a pack of gum is low risk to the buyer. It’s cheap and widely available. If you don’t like the Trident, then buy Orbit tomorrow (and you should buy Orbit Sweet Mint next time because it’s the best). Imagine if the scenario were different, though: You are five years old, and your dad gives you one dollar to buy any candy you want while he is filling up on gas. You see the aisle of sugary goodness, and you know you only have one shot at this and the clock is ticking. I have seen kids melt down in this scenario because they have limited budget and few chances to make a different choice. They could be stuck with orange circus peanuts, and that’s just a travesty.

Every purchase ever made was a result of a brand or seller successfully clearing “risk hurdles” for that particular buyer. This is what I call the Buyer Risk Progression. The purchase process comes down to this order of risk hurdles:

1.  Can this theoretically solve my problem?

2.  Does it look appealing?

3.  Does it have the things I think I need from it?

4.  Can I trust it?

5.  Have I heard of this helping peers in my situation?

6.  Would I feel comfortable telling people I respect that I bought this?

7.  Can I try it?

I like it. Sold.

Not every hurdle has to be crossed to get to the final step, but just like the hurdles in the Olympics, you have to clear the majority of them.

After spending nearly a decade in professional services marketing and business development, I have a great deal of respect for the risk clients face when choosing an agency or firm. I heard a stat a few years ago at a Mirren business development conference – CMOs at large companies have, on average, an 18-month tenure. That’s because they either make great decisions and get the attention of other companies, or conversely, they make poor decisions and get let go. Choosing a professional services firm, be it an accounting firm, law firm or marketing agency, is a huge risk to decision makers. After all, if they spend $500,000 on the wrong agency, they could be fired.

But, if we acknowledge this, we can lower the risk hurdles for buyers so they don’t get tripped up and choose a competitor. We as business development leaders must make our potential clients feel comfortable and confident in hiring us. In the end, they will hire the marketing agency, advertising agency, PR agency, law firm or accounting firm that carries the least amount of risk to them, not necessarily the one that’s best. Because, to the buyer, the one that will deliver good work and won’t get them fired is the best one.

So, before you design your next new business pitch, think of what you can do to help a potential client clear those risk hurdles instead of only sharing what you want them to know. It’s a subtle difference in perspective, but will make a big difference in your sales funnel.