The View from the Top: Exploring the Five Levels of the B2B Book Selling Pyramid

by Brian


PyramidsHave you heard of Abraham Maslow’s Need Hierarchy? It describes a pyramid of needs through which people move as they are motivated to fulfill unmet needs. The foundation is made up of the very basic needs (security, food, etc) and people advance ultimately to self-actualization.

Have you ever thought about how this same concept applies to the business-to-business (B2B) book buying process in which you can make large, corporate sales of your book? B2B buyers begin the purchasing process with objective criteria (prices and specification), but quickly move through underlying, subjective influences on the decisions. These levels of influence on the buying decision can be demonstrated in The Value Pyramid.

The Value Pyramid

The Value Pyramid portrays the objective and subjective influences on the B2B buying-decision process. Recognizing the full range of both rational and emotional factors behind the choice – and customizing your presentation accordingly – is critical to making the sale.

Expected Value

At the base of the Pyramid are the requisite quantifiable requirements – quality of production, size of the book, price, number of pages, plot, or the information in the book. Many authors and publishers fail when selling in the B2B segment because they focus on these criteria. However, they are assumed to exist, and are prerequisites for being in the running for a corporate order. But they are not areas of differentiation or of motivation for buying. A successful selling strategy moves beyond these and addresses underlying, unspoken, and personal qualitative factors further up the Pyramid.

Augmented Value

You enter the sales process as you move your prospect up to the creative elements that enhance the value of your products. You probe into their real reasons for buying, typically the need to solve their problems. You might ask, “If you were to hire an assistant today, what would you want him or her to accomplish in the first 90 days?” The answers give you the prospect’s “pain points,” such as increased sales (Marketing Managers), or increased motivation of employees (Human Resource Managers). Then you focus your presentation on how your content can address them.

Operational Value

As buyers move to the third level, the sales discussion considers subjective criteria, but includes topics that enhance the relationships between parties, such as personal trust and the seller’s commitment to meeting the prospective customers’ needs. Trust is not something you discuss, but something you develop over time. For example, you may ask for a token order to demonstrate your flexibility in negotiating and your determination to deliver on your promises.

Individual Value

The elements at the fourth level address the buyer’s priorities, whether they are personal (appealing aesthetics) or career related. If buyers are contemplating purchasing 50,000 or more of your books, they may think, “What will happen to my career if this buying decision does not solve the problem, or actually makes it worse?” Maybe I should just go with the tried-and-true coffee mugs?

At this point, these concealed emotions can overwhelm rational considerations. A fear of failure often nags at buyers who spend relatively large amounts of money on decisions that could affect other employees and company profits. Your efforts providing reputational assurance to the corporate buyer act as a form of risk reduction. Use case histories, testimonials and other examples to demonstrate your ability to consummate the sale professionally.

Inspirational Value

Once you have brought your prospective buyers up through the first four levels of The Value Pyramid, they reach the inspirational elements of the decision, stemming from the vision of the future you help create. Discuss follow-up campaigns and other customers’ success stories. Ask a question like, “If you could wave your magic wand, what would the perfect campaign look like?” Then describe how you –together–can help make that happen.

Talk with prospects instead of selling to them. Ask questions that give insight into secreted motives and divulge information on which you may act. Look at the sales process from the buyer’s perspective, knowing that each prospect’s criteria are different from others. Judiciously create customized bundles of value that will relieve the buyers’ qualms if they are concerned about your ability to deliver on your promises.

Potential book buyers are more likely to make large and repeat purchases from the people who performed stronger at the upper levels of the Pyramid. Your efforts to satisfy the emotional and rational aspects of the transaction differentiate you in a positive way, and are rewarded with a signature on the agreement.

Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales and author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books and Beyond the Bookstore.