Key concepts of the BuyerSphere Project: How business buys from business

In 2010, Mediative (formerly Enquiro) published “The BuyerSphere Project” – B2B marketing research investigating how business buys from business in a digital marketplace. Written by Mediative’s SVP, Gord Hotchkiss (who at the time was CEO of Enquiro), the book has been widely talked about and referenced in the digital marketing and search world.

This refresher will serve to remind you of the key concepts covered in the BuyerSphere Project (some of which go against common wisdom and assumptions), and how these concepts can be used in your B2B marketing strategy. This post is a compilation of previous posts written by Gord Hotchkiss, and Mediative employees.

What is The BuyerSphere?

The BuyerSphere has three dimensions: the product, the market, and the buyer. The intersection of the three circles (or spheres) defines your marketplace.

BuyerSphereMapping Your BuyerSphere

In a B2B environment, two things make a purchase risky. The first is related to the product or service being purchased. The second element is related to the market. Add into the mix the different personas of the people involved (Doer vs. Buyer) and the decision making process becomes far more complex, and not the linear process often assumed.

B2B buying behaviour is all about risk avoidance. Mapping your product or service against a Risk Matrix will allow you to see how the buyer views risk as it relates to your business, putting you in a stronger position to plan your sales and marketing approach effectively. The more a seller can do to lower that risk barrier, the less friction they encounter in closing the sale.

Product factors

Product factors that can affect risk can include:

  • Price – if price is a “high consideration” factor in selling your product or service, you will need a strategy to minimize the buyer’s perceived risk e.g. lease and finance options.
  • Differentiation/Commoditization – are you offering something that’s pretty uncommon therefore requires more research and consideration from the buyer?
  • Disruption – the more disruption that results from purchasing your product or service, the higher the risk and the greater the friction you’ll need to overcome.
  • Repeat Modified – you’re buying something similar to what you’ve bought before, but some parameters have changed to the point where you need to do a little more research and give the purchase a little more attention.
  • Critical/Non-critical – a product or service critical to the operation of a business is a more risky purchase because there’s too much at stake if they get it wrong.

Market factors that can affect risk include:

  • Brand Domination – generally buyers are more comfortable buying from well known brands that are dominant players.
  • Thought leadership – this can be an effective way to steal mindshare (the first company or brand that comes to mind when you think of a product type e.g. “computer”) from market leaders and can lead to consumer trust and confidence in your brand.
  • Physical Presence – in high-risk purchase scenarios, it’s hard to refute the power of face-to-face. The fastest way to build trust is to do it in person.
  • Established Relationships – the vast majority of B2B purchases will go to a vendor where there’s an existing relationship and much less perceived risk.
  • Value Position – if a product is in a league of its own, buyers will learn to live with a substantial degree of vendor risk.
  • Brand Value Reputation – better reputation equals less risk. If you’re not confident you know what other people really think about your company, find out.

Using the BuyerSphere in your digital strategy

The risk matrix

Once you understand where you fall in the Risk Matrix, start building out a B2B marketing strategy that reflects the perceived level of risk associated with your product or service by the buyer. Here we will just look at the higher risk purchase situations.

  • High Risk/Low Reward– These types of purchases are usually triggered by either a non-negotiable need, or the greater perceived risk of doing nothing. If there wasn’t some impending reason to buy, we never would. The lack of positive emotion and reward means our consumer research is all aimed at one thing and one thing only: the elimination of risk.
    • Websites that allow buyers to compare several alternatives tend to be very popular, especially if they offer some type of rating. Online aggregators, quick comparison charts and directories tend to thrive in this quadrant, as they focus on quantifying pricing-based risk. As a vendor, you’ll need to really demonstrate that you understand their business thoroughly, and show that your product or service is exactly the solution they need.
    • Social media engagement is restricted to verifying you don’t get burned in the purchase.
  • High Risk/High Reward– These highly engaged purchases leave a vast and deep online footprint. We spend hours online, theoretically researching a purchase, but in many cases, we’re pre-rewarding ourselves through envisioning the acquisition of the reward. Fantasizing begins online, and we have to allow for this in our marketing strategy.
    • When your product falls into this category, you want to support the fantasy as much as possible on your website, utilizing digital media that encourages an emotional connection. Video and interactivity are a key part of the mix.
    • We reach out on social media sites not just to manage risk by getting the opinions of others, but also to live vicariously through capturing the experiences of those that have bought before us.
    • Search will be used repeatedly through the purchase process and for differing intents. There is no “one size fits all” approach here. In these purchase scenarios, a deep qualitative understanding of prospect behaviors will separate the great marketers from the herd.

Your company’s website

Our research has shown that a company’s website is its most important digital asset and is the biggest factor in influencing purchases. It’s essential to understand what people are looking for on it.

But different people in the buying process require different information and have different priorities, fears and doubts:

  • Doers (the people who typically first recognize the need for your product and will be using it) are looking for product information. Think of all the features and benefits your product can offer and if applicable, consider offering a free trial. You can build trust with doers by building your reputation as an industry thought leader through downloadable white papers or webinars.
  • Buyers (the people who make the purchasing decision) are concerned not only with the cost of your product, but also in eliminating the risk from the purchase. Buyers need to know you are a trustworthy vendor – established, dependable and reliable. They will be swayed by company information, references, case studies of success stories and testimonials.

If you map your Buyersphere, you’ll understand the role of additional digital assets such as blogs, videos, flash demos etc.  in risk mitigation of your prospects. Then evaluate their place in your strategy.

As a company engages with prospects, there are numerous ways to leverage online marketing, digital correspondence, and face-to-face meetings. Some parts of the process are much more effective in person, while others aren’t. Plan a persuasion strategy so you’re using each channel to its advantage. Use online to get the right information in the hands of the right people, and face-to-face to persuade, and build trust.

Social media

The key to B2B marketing using social media lies in knowing who you want to reach (doer or buyer) before you can know where to reach them. The two different target audiences can have differing demographics, visit different social networks, and have differing levels of participation online.

In the case of the buyer, they are looking to ensure that you are a trustworthy vendor. Reputation management will be important in successfully reaching this persona. This speaks to the need to listen to what people are saying about your brand online. And while you can’t control what people say about your business, you can demonstrate that you respond to your customers’ concerns. If you have a high risk product (very expensive or if you an unestablished brand in the marketplace), showcasing your company as a thought leader in the industry can be persuasive for the buyer.


Mapping your BuyerSphere will allow you to better get to know your target audience and their perceived level of risk in buying your product or service. Through this process, B2B marketers can use knowledge to decide what technology, platforms, assets and information will best help a digital marketing strategy to succeed.

Get the BuyerSphere

The BuyerSphere Project book is available in full for free download online, or for hard copy purchase on Amazon.