B2B tech purchases seem like objective decisions – if you take the decision-maker’s word at face value.

Most market researchers in B2B tech have been there: you’re 40 minutes into an in-depth interview with a CISO, and it’s going in circles. You’re trying to understand why they made their latest cybersecurity purchase, and you keep hearing the same thing: “it just comes down to cost and functionality.” No matter what part of the discovery, evaluation, or sales cycle you ask about, the conversation keeps going back to those concrete factors, and you’re left wondering how a solution in this space could possibly differentiate.

The CISO’s responses aren’t surprising: making a B2B purchase is high stakes and requires careful consideration of objective factors. And yet, the famous saying, “No one ever got fired for choosing IBM,” speaks to something deeper.

There’s more to the story: subjective, personal, and relational factors also motivate B2B purchases.

Considerations like price and features are table stakes and don’t explain the full picture of B2B technology purchasing drivers. Despite what buyers may claim, the cheapest and most feature-rich product is not the default market leader. We’ve seen this in our research, and it’s been evidenced in a study from Bain & Company (link). When asked directly about the most important factor when making an IT infrastructure purchase, most buyers cited “cost reduction.” However, deeper analysis revealed other elements at play. When looking at drivers behind NPS scores for various companies, researchers found that expertise, responsiveness, and product quality emerged as the strongest predictors of customer loyalty.

Something like “expertise” is quite a bit more subjective than “cost reduction.” The latter is a concrete number, but the former poses questions like: Based on our meeting, how confident was I in the solution architect’s knowledge? Did they understand and could they answer my questions to my satisfaction? What type of guidance might I expect if I purchase this product? While deeper analysis made it clear that these more personal and relational factors were of the highest importance, cost reduction was not even in the top 10 purchase drivers. So how can you determine the true ‘why behind the buy’ considerations when your interviewee may not even be able to articulate them?

Uncover powerful and hidden B2B purchase drivers with projective interviewing techniques.

To get rich insights from B2B buyers, we must go beyond face-value, surface-level statements. Projective techniques can access deeply held and even subconscious thoughts and feelings, and lead to a better understanding of underlying motivators and beliefs. These techniques also allow us to understand the emotional or behavioral impact on considerations.

For B2B technology buyers, a few methodological categories of projective interview work best:

Method 1: It’s not you, it’s your colleague.

Putting participants in someone else’s shoes is a great way to get beyond surface thinking. Encouraging projection of thoughts and feelings onto another person can help break down rigid thought patterns and get at the true opinions of the buyer. It also circumvents any social stigma: as an interviewee, it’s hard to admit you don’t like the messaging you’re being presented with, or that you have knowledge gaps around a given technology, or that you haven’t gotten the ROI you expected. It’s much easier to assign these qualities to a hypothetical third party.

Traditional interviewing: Does the language in this email appeal to you?

Projective interviewing: If you forwarded this email to a colleague, how would it impact their impression of you?

Traditional interviewing: What parts of this website do you like / dislike?

Projective interviewing: What parts of this web site would your boss get excited about or scoff at?

Traditional interviewing: What parts of onboarding this new technology did your team struggle with the most?

Projective interviewing: If a peer in your industry were about to onboard this technology, what would you warn them about?

Method 2: You’re the expert.

B2B tech buyers aren’t participating in market research just for the honorarium or incentive. They rely on the solutions we’re researching to help them do their jobs – and many know that the information they give us will help others. They often reach out to peer networks for advice and want to share their own insights and expertise with colleagues facing similar situations. We can tap into these traits to elicit deeper insights.

By granting the interviewee a hypothetical platform to share their expertise, we can ask respondents what advice they’d give to a company or colleague in the category being researched.

Traditional interviewing: What type of content do you prefer?

Projective interviewing: Imagine you’re a marketing consultant for [company]; what advice would you give on the kind of content they should produce?

Traditional interviewing: What could be better about the solution you’re using / its purchasing process?

Projective interviewing: Imagine you’re their most important client. How would you tell [company] to fix your frustrations with the product / purchasing process / sales cycle?

Traditional interviewing: What types of challenges do you run into in your role, and how do you address them?

Projective interviewing: Imagine you won the lottery and are retiring. You have one day to spend with your replacement. What advice would you give them?

Method 3: Ensure the scenario and tone is appropriate for the technology buyer.

Projective techniques used in clinical psychology can be imaginative, creative, and incredibly useful – but may not all work for the B2B technology buyer. Asking a CISO which emoji best represents their latest anti-malware purchase is probably not going to go over well. However, with a more serious tone and industry knowledge, we can craft credible, yet thought provoking questions.

Projective interviewing (non-B2B tech audience): If this product were a type of animal, what would it be?

Projective interviewing (B2B tech audience): Imagine this product is a co-worker. How would you describe them? What are they like? How helpful are they in your day-to-day? How do you feel when you see them each morning?

Projective interviewing (non-B2B tech audience): Imagine you’re standing in front of an audience at a wedding celebration. Instead of delivering a toast to the newlyweds, your task is to toast [company’s] new software product. What accolades would you include in your speech?

Projective interviewing (B2B tech audience): Imagine you are a Gartner analyst, and [company’s] new software product made the Magic Quadrant. Do you see the product as a leader, visionary, niche player, or challenger? Why? What qualities cause you to put them in that quadrant?

A case study in projective techniques: CMO perspectives on generative AI.

In a recent study by Shapiro+Raj, we dug into marketing leaders’ perspectives on generative AI. Early interviews revealed a common theme: a tension between excitement and caution. Marketing leaders were hopeful about the innovation and efficiency advantages generative AI could offer, but also concerned about accuracy, security and compliance, and job replacement.

We wanted to go deeper to understand what emotions, fears, and subconscious perceptions motivate these marketing leaders’ use of generative AI. To do this, we added a projective technique: asking our audience to describe generative AI as if it were a coworker. While there’s still an element of imagination and projection, it feels anchored in the real-world, day-to-day experience of marketing leaders.

Responses ranged from ‘smart but green’ to a ‘high-valued asset to senior management’ to a ‘medium performer with high potential.’ That’s all very interesting… but why should Marketing Execs care? The common theme was that GenAI needs guidance and oversight, but many marketing leaders reported limited organizational policy guiding its usage. With this deeper understanding, it was clear that marketing leaders need to think about setting guidelines that encourage usage of GenAI while still exercising caution.

At Shapiro+Raj, we have the expertise to maximize engagement with B2B technology audiences. Reach out to us today at [email protected] to learn more about crafting the right projective techniques for your audience.