Planned Behavior in B2B: How What People Think Affects What They Buy

As a B2B marketing agency, we’’re always learning about ways to motivate buying behavior for our clients. And though much of that learning may occur on the job, there are also social and behavioral scientific theories we use to guide our strategies and help us develop successful campaigns. One is the Theory of Planned Behavior, which was developed as an extension of The Theory of Reasoned Action.

Planned Behavior in B2B: How What People Think Affects What They BuyThe Theory of Reasoned Action posits that people often make decisions based on their personal attitudes, as well as social attitudes, related to that behavior. The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) extends beyond TRA to suggest those two components aren’’t the only things at play in behavioral change, and that a third predictor,– a person’s perceived ability to perform the behavior,– may also be important.

The crux of TPB is that even though personal or social attitudes regarding a behavior change are important, it’’s just as, or perhaps even more important whether or not a person thinks he or she can perform that behavior.

Take exercise, for example: Our society promotes exercise as a healthy behavior, so personally, we know we should. Social attitudes regarding exercise are generally positive as well. But perhaps that isn’’t enough. According to TPB, someone’s perceived inability to exercise (e.g. not having enough time to do it) may cause them to avoid it altogether. Therefore, perceived ability (or inability) to perform a behavior may be just as salient as the attitudes regarding it,– if not more so.

Unfortunately, no guidelines currently exist that can be helpful in deciding which instances this predictor will be more salient than others. So, as with everything, you must first research your target audience. Learn about how your product or service fits within their current worlds. What do they think of it personally? Have they heard anything about it socially from their friends or perhaps the media? Have they considered purchasing it? Why or why not (e.g., are there any obstacles that may inhibit their perceived ability)?

So the next time you are talking with your target audience, be sure and ask questions about personal and social attitudes – as well as their perceived ability to buy the product or service. Asking these questions will help you identify any potential obstacles and either remove them or at least discuss them in your messaging. By speaking to the needs of your target audience, you’ll have a greater chance of getting them to listen and, thus, encouraging them to buy.