Chicken Biryani and B2B Marketing

Paul Hague this week reflects on how an understanding of the decision making process in everyday life helps us to better understand and influence the decision making process of our prospective customers.

I was out for dinner the other evening with a colleague and we were eating in an Indian restaurant. The restaurant had the usual extensive menu we have come to expect in such places. Now I’ve got to thinking that restaurants would be an excellent place to segment people. Who takes the lead and calls the waiter? What do people look for when choosing a meal? How influenced are they by price, the specialties and variety? How much information do they need to make their choice? How decisive are they? Do they stick to their choice or does it get changed at the last minute?

My colleague sat happily chatting and would never have looked at the menu if I hadn’t suggested that we take a couple of minutes to look it over and place our order. After a good five minutes of puzzling she quizzed the waiter about every type of rice on the menu, enquired how the sauces were served, and queried the provenance of just about every meat and fish dish. Then, just as I thought we had game, set and match, she called the waiter back and chose something completely different. A man from Mars would, without hesitation, have put her into the bucket of ditherers.

And the man from Mars would have been completely wrong. I know this person well and she is a high-flying consultant in human resources. She commands a daily rate that makes my eyes water and is courted by some of the largest corporates in the country for her decisive advice. With her considerable riches she has recently moved into a palatial new home, bought a sizeable Mercedes as her main car and a little Citroën as a runabout. How is it that a powerful woman who can instruct a board of directors on what they should do to avoid mass disruption in a workforce and who can readily invest thousands of pounds in bricks, mortar and metal, cannot order a chicken biryani?

This paradox got me thinking about decision making. How do we choose things? How do we decide what actions to take from something as simple as a meal in a restaurant to an investment in a company?

Every decision is driven by a need – an objective, if you like. Somehow our brains synthesise the available information and guide the best course of action; the decision. It may appear strange that the decision to buy a house, the biggest investment most of us ever will make, is often based on a couple of visits to the house, an hour or two walking round it and some dodgy advice from an estate agent. If we analyse the cost per minute of the house investment decision versus the cost per minute of the chicken tikka masala decision, we see a difference of at least 1,000 to 1. It is clearly out of proportion.

So what is going on? When we buy a house or a car, we very quickly narrow the options down to just five or six choices with our final selection based on a critical issue. In the case of the Indian meal, there is an overload of information. There may be little to choose between the different meals and, let’s face it, any of the options would be reasonably acceptable. There is too much choice and too much information to synthesise for a very modest return.

I am reminded of a story that I heard years ago about Tootal, who used to be one of the largest manufacturers of ties in the UK. Tootal had a range of ties that was so large it would have embarrassed Sainsbury’s toothpaste display. They reduced it to the 35 best sellers and lo and behold, sales increased and profits rocketed. They made decision making easier; they simplified choice.

The insight I share with you is one of the most crucial in b2b marketing. We need to help customers make their choice – and we need to make sure it is in our direction. To do this we need to understand how our customers are different, we need to recognise their different needs and, now the difficult bit – we must be strong in simplifying our offer so that it resonates better than any others with what they are looking for. If we do this, our products will stand out, they will be snapped up by those who like them and, of equal importance, they will be rejected by those who are looking for something else. And we will all get home earlier.

Read more about the subjects touched in today’s Thursday Night Insight in our following white papers:

Why Is Business-To-Business Marketing Special?
Market Segmentation in B2B Markets

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