Information asymmetry: why you need to watch out for a B2B power imbalance

When you first meet, potential customers will probably know much more about you than you do about them. If you don’t address that, you'll lose business, time and money.

There’s never been more information asymmetry in business, and we need to start talking about it; Simon Marshall, founder of TBD Marketing, answers the questions we should all be asking…

What does information asymmetry mean in the buying process?

There’s an imbalance of information when it comes to initial meetings in the B2B world, this happens because the buyer has much more knowledge of the seller than the seller has of the buyer. In the digital-first world clients have done their research, whether that’s from social media, press pieces or your website, and they already believe your business aligns with them when they enquire. 

As a result of this in the first meeting, expectations are almost certainly not aligned, because the buyer may be warm and the seller may still be in discovery mode, assuming they need to pitch and switch on their broadcast mode to share more information about themselves.

An imbalance of information can be grounds for a cold, unproductive initial conversation. Fee earners may even risk agreeing to work they aren’t completely on board with, making false promises or turning a warm client off because they are talking and not listening. 

Failing to respond properly taints the buyer’s first impression of the seller as being someone who doesn’t listen or value their needs. Not only does the buyer then hold all of the power, but they leave feeling annoyed by this experience. In fact, both parties can be left feeling frustrated. 

How can I help fee-earners address the imbalance?

Addressing the imbalance isn’t about sharing less, it’s about asking more questions and taking time to respond. Acting savvier from the start will not only relieve the pressure of the initial first meeting, but it is beneficial for the whole team’s mental health and wellbeing too.

You should be training fee earners in what open-ended questions to ask in the first initial contact. To put it simply, it’s not about the fee earner, it’s about the client. The client is already warm because they have picked up the phone or emailed after seeing the marketing material. But at this point, the fee-earner knows nothing about them. 

Encourage fee-earners to ask:

  • What’s the real problem you’re trying to solve?
  • What happens when you’ve solved this issue – how does it benefit you and your organisation? 
  • How much is solving it worth to you?
  • Who needs to buy into this internally?

Other questions business leaders and professionals regret not asking include:

  • Who else is recommended/ are you looking at anyone else?
  • Is it a question of me just giving you a price and then let’s talk more?
  • Do you have a budget?
  • What are your plans and deadlines?

A key piece of advice to give fee-earners is to avoid being lured into giving answers on the spot and encourage them to slow down and give themselves breathing space. Yes, they’re a professional who’s likely been trained to give fast answers and demonstrate their expertise, but it’s not always the most effective way to respond. Arranging another time to call back the buyer once they’ve looked at the imbalance of background information will help them reach out to a prepared place, meaning a better deal can be made. 

Why do fee-earners react in the initial meeting the way that they do?

If there’s one thing for certain about human beings, it’s that we’re weird. We spend our lives wanting to be recognised for our skills, expertise and profession, but then when it comes we dodge away or minimise it. We need to make a conscious effort to break this cycle. If a new client is referred to your business, someone has seen the fee-earner as expert enough to help them, and it’s their opinion about our skills that matters most. There’s enough against us without throwing self-sabotage into the mix. 

How can I use the asymmetry of information to my advantage?

The first thing you need to do is to become aware of the information mismatch, so you can start to evolve your marketing strategy to make it work in your favour. The first step is to look at your existing favourite client and the traits they have; by marketing to their met and unmet needs you will thread up your new ‘ideal’ client before they even need your help and you’ll get more of the work you love.

The more information you put out there about your services and why you’re different from your competitors, the more leads will flow your way and the less you’ll have to take price cuts or attend endless networking events.

Then all you need to do is get fee-earners comfortable with how to react when the leads arrive.