Business-to-Business Markets often miss the importance of opinion and perception among B2B stakeholders.

Understanding perception is crucial as it impacts investment decisions, the willingness of supply chain stakeholders to work together and countless daily activities dependent on having consistent perceptions.  In today’s B2B markets, perceptions are enhanced, developed and sustained through the following channels.

  • B2B Trade and News Sites
  • Trips & conferences
  • B2B Blogs & Boards
  • B2B Social networking
  • Viral media
  • Conformity
  • Culture
  • Influencers, Key Opinion Leaders & Referential leaders

Referential leaders are stakeholders with significant relevance on an individual’s evaluations, aspirations or behavior.

In B2B markets, this could consist of key opinion leaders, superiors at work, industry authors and others.  They have potent forms of persuasion and “power”, including

  • Information Power: a person who has access to elusive information can influence
  • Expert Power: an expert’s recommendation can influence
  • Reward Power: a person’s ability to reward (such as a promotion or social approval) can influence
  • Referent Power: a mere recommendation can influence

The referential leaders’ degree of influence varies along with those leaders’ impacts on stakeholders that influence perceptions on a brand. In determining the impact of influencers, SIS International typically explores the following:

  • Market Reach – the number of people an individual has the ability to connect with.
  • Quality of Impact – the esteem in which an individual’s view and opinions are held.
  • Frequency of Impact – the number of opportunities an individual has to influence buying decisions.
  • Closeness to Decision – how near an individual is to the decision-maker.
  • Source Credibility – how much doubt remains in the mind.

Cultural Differences

When dealing with perception, it is often helpful for companies to understand not only what the perceptions are, but also what are they based on.  Building on this idea, it is further helpful to understand how perceptions are diffused within a group of stakeholders. Depending on the culture, perceptions are derived from the following forms of knowledge:

  • Influence from respected source
  • Personal Experience
  • Intuition
  • Empirical Evidence

While for example Germans and US Americans tend to culturally regard empirical knowledge as the most important form of insight, Brazilians may attribute more credibility to a “referential leader” such as a respected person.  Applying this insight to a market research study, it could mean crafting a flexible research design that can elicit core insights on how perceptions are diffused within each country.  For example in Mexico, a market research firm can focus on how stakeholders build perceptions, be it through intuition, personal experience, influencers or empirical information.  Research firms can incorporate into their data gathering approach how the 4 forms of knowledge contribute to the diffusion of perceptions.

Ultimately, key opinion leaders who can shape perceptions would be expected to share the following qualities:

  • Involved
  • Connected
  • Influential
  • Trusted by others
  • Trendsetters

By understanding and harnessing these notions, marketers can better interact with their B2B stakeholders.