George Anderson


Harvard Business Review recently published an incredible article outlining a B2B Values Pyramid. Riffing on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the authors came up with a brilliant pyramid to help B2B executives prioritize the value they’ll get from potential vendors and partners. This article put words (and diagrams) to ideas that I’ve been mulling over for years.

If you work in IT for a B2B company, HBR’s B2B Values Pyramid could very well revolutionize your career.

Why? Because it helps you to plot the offerings of IT vendors and discriminate between complex value propositions.

In other words, it cuts through the smoke and mirrors and helps you determine which partners are best for your business. And it does that by breaking B2B values into a 5-level pyramid, moving from bare necessities like adequate specifications and legality all the way to inspirational value like social responsibility.

Go read the article now so you have an understanding of the pyramid. Then come back here, and we’ll explain how it applies to B2B IT decisions (particularly ecommerce). We have 4 takeaways for you.

1. Look beyond technology

We’ve seen this more times than we can count. When people evaluate an IT solution like B2B ecommerce, they evaluate technology as if it’s going to solve the problem. In fact, while it’s absolutely critical to evaluate ecommerce technology and capability, that only covers the first level of the pyramid (table stakes).  

In fact, the real decisions in B2B IT are made on trust. When you sign off on B2B ecommerce software as an IT executive, to some degree or another, you’re putting your career on the line. You ultimately have to trust the people you’re doing business with.

When you learn to move beyond basic table stakes, you’ll revolutionize your career.

2. Force yourself to evaluate intangibles

Obviously, IT vendor evaluation starts with questions that are easy to answer. A vendor either meets your specifications “on paper,” or they don’t. Yes, you should absolutely go ahead through the clinical process of evaluating specifications.

But be honest with yourself. Are you prepared to evaluate vendors based on the higher levels of the pyramid? As the authors of the article found through statistical analysis, respondents to their survey claimed that cost reduction was the most important factor, yet statistical analysis revealed that product quality, and expertise, and responsiveness were actually “the strongest predictors of customer loyalty.”

Keep that in mind as you evaluate technical specifications from IT vendors.

3. Decide what constitutes a dealbreaker

Once you’ve made the first cut in evaluating B2B IT solutions, we can assume that the remaining vendors under consideration will have adequate table stakes and functional value. Otherwise, you would’ve cut them right away.

Now we’re moving into the third tier of the pyramid—ease-of-doing-business value. You can’t evaluate these kinds of things with a yes/no checkbox. For example, a value like risk reduction is difficult to quantify. Some values, like cultural fit, you’ll have to evaluate almost entirely by intuition.

In all these areas, it’s good to plan out what you’re looking for. If an IT vendor isn’t a cultural fit for your organization, is that a dealbreaker? Decide now so you’re equipped to make intelligent, authoritative decisions as you advance your career.

4. If necessary, make hard decisions based on intangibles

Yes, intangibles are the hard things to evaluate in the sales process. You can’t touch them, feel them, or see them like you can a feature or a capability. Product attributes are so much easier—you can define what OS it runs on. You can say, yes, this B2B ecommerce platform does checkout. Yes, it integrates SAP, or no, it doesn’t. And of course, you can quantify the prices.

But the most important things are the hardest. That’s why we love hearing how our clients appreciate our culture and our commitment. We recently hosted a webinar with one of our clients, Bioventus. They shared how they really appreciated doing business with us, because we effectively shared in the risk of introducing new technology (ours) into their organization. That made them feel as if we were taking part ownership in their success, not just selling technology. It’s a huge factor in the ongoing health of our relationship with Bioventus.

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