The Birds and the Bees Do It: Introducing the B2B Buyer Signals Model

  • Both animals and businesses make their livings in the world through the exchange of signals
  • Animals’ signal receptors finely tuned to take in the signals they need to solve life’s many challenges, but the same cannot be said for B2B organizations
  • The new SiriusDecisions Buyer Signals Model helps organizations understand what kinds of signals they need to fuel its success and the receptors they need to fashion to acquire them

We live in a world of signals. More precisely, we live in a world mediated by signals. Virtually everything that happens in the world happens as a result of signals being exchanged. This may seem like a bit of an overstatement, but hang with me for a minute. The reason signaling is so important in the natural world is that virtually all things we think of as being alive have boundaries. If it’s a living thing, there’s an inside to it, and there’s an outside of it (there may be a couple edge case exceptions, but that’s a conversation for another day). Businesses are like that, too: there’s an inside and an outside.

At the same time, every living thing — even one as small as a single-celled creature, just like every functioning business — has to somehow interact with the world around it to accomplish three tasks. For living things, those tasks are to identify and acquire nutrients; identify and attract mates and other social partners; and identify and avoid (or resist) rivals and direct threats. The parallels for businesses are to identify, acquire and retain customers; identify, acquire and retain employees and partners; and identify and successfully resist or avoid threats/competitors. Therefore, useful information from outside the boundaries of the living thing (or the business) has to get in. And information that is not helpful should be filtered out.

In the natural world, the mechanisms that enable this are what we think of as the senses. Whether receiving signals in the form of scents, visual signals, or even electrical signals, living things have mechanisms built in and tuned by nature to sense the kinds of signals that are most important to these three broad tasks. Every living species is alive because its sensing mechanisms are tuned well enough so that it is not continually chasing after the wrong kind of nutrients or partners (or failing to chasing after the right ones) and is also not failing to attend to threats. The kinds of sensors animals possess vary widely and differ from ours because the requirements for staying alive and mating are different for each species. For example, the information a bird needs is quite different from what I need (consider that many birds can sense the earth’s magnetic fields so that they can migrate). Bats famously sense the world through echolocation. Sharks and many other animals sense the tiny electrical fields generated by living bodies, which help them identify other creatures in the absence of light and sound.

Dogs have been our best friends for tens of thousands of years. One of the reasons we get along so well is that their sensory strengths complement our sensory deficiencies. In cases which our senses of smell and of hearing are relatively weak, dogs have massively better olfactory and auditory sensors. When humans domesticated dogs, we acquired the use of their keen senses without the cost of having to grow and maintain them in our own bodies (dogs, of course, got a pretty sweet deal, too).

So, like animals, businesses need their own finely tuned sensors — or need partners that can supply them. The requirements are continually changing. Those of us who have been in B2B for more than 15 years or so can remember the dark days when B2B providers had very few signals from their potential buyers. When I started in B2B, signals were limited to magazine bingo cards, incoming phone calls, and occasionally seeing prospects at trade shows. Otherwise, the current state and the needs of our prospects were hidden. Perhaps the biggest change accompanying the digital transformation of business is the abundance of signals available to B2B providers.

We are now at a crucial point where organizations must have an explicit, thoughtful approach to identifying and acquiring the signals they need to survive and thrive. This year at Summit EMEA, we are introducing our new B2B Buyer Signals Model. With it, we provide B2B organizations a structure for understanding the kinds of signals they need to identify and attract buyers, and what kinds of receptors they need to fashion to do so efficiently and effectively. We have also identified a new, vital category of buyer signal that B2B organizations must learn how to acquire and use, and we can’t wait to talk to you about it.