Users, Influencers, and Buyers… OH MY!


For the past 8 years, all of my work has been with B2B firms. My mission is to help them grow by understanding and meeting their customers’ needs better than anyone else – but that’s trickier in B2B than in B2C.

B2B firms serve multiple roles within a single “customer” account. Understanding the needs, perceptions, and experiences of each one and how those perception shapes business decisions is a non-trivial challenge.

Many teams get tripped up by the debate over three roles – users, influencers, and buyers. All three “matter,” but the relative importance of each to new deals and renewals varies.

I created a framework to help myself and others think through the issue in a structured way. It starts by looking at the mind of a single person in the equation. What influences their thoughts about a company?

  1. Experiences. The strongest and most direct input is personal experience. The person has dealt with you directly and uses what they experienced to make judgements about what kind of a firm you are and what it would be like to work with you again.
  2. Anecdotes. In addition to their own experience, people may hear stories about what someone else went through dealing with your company. If you’re a boss you may hear anecdotes from your team about a vendor. If you’re at a conference, you may hear stories from peers in other companies. And unless you live under a rock, you’ll hear stories in the media. The anecdotes they hear get factored into their overall opinion of your firm. If the customer has never personally interacted with you, anecdotes may be all they have to go on.
  3. Associations. The third thing that impacts people’s perception of your firm is associations. You could also call these stereotypes. If you’re a pharmaceutical company, for example, people will project their beliefs about the pharma industry until they see differently. That can be good (halo effect) or bad (guilt by association).

Now that we have these three buckets of influence, let’s go back to the way various people come together to make business decisions. (Note that this framework makes the most sense for tech companies but you can generalize it to other industries).

If a decision maker is also a user, they have direct experience with your company’s product. They may hear stories from fellow users about things they haven’t experienced personally, but there is some first hand knowledge factoring into the decision.

If that person doesn’t use your product directly, the question is – how often do they talk to the people who do?

If the flow of stories from users to a decision maker is strong and steady, chances are UX will have a significant impact on what the buyer decides.

If executives rarely hear from users about what it’s like to use a tool, they won’t – can’t – consider UX in the renewal decision.

There is a culture variable in this equation, too. A decision maker might hear frequent complaints about a tool but chose to ignore them, focusing only on how much a given technology costs. In that case the impact of UX on business comes mostly from the cost to serve users, not a tie to retention or new business.

Feel like a lot to think about? It is. This is complex stuff. That’s why I recommend drawing your own version of the diagram on a whiteboard as you think through your own internal dynamics.**

You may never get to a mathematical formula or percent influences of user experience on decisions. That’s okay. Even a sense of whether the link is weak, medium, or strong can guide decisions about what to do and where to focus.

** If you want someone to facilitate your team’s conversation about who influences who, I can do that in a 90 minute custom consultation.

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