Unconscious bias and B2B revenue growth

Ed Marsh | Mar 12, 2015


Focus on people

Lately there's been a lot of talk about the Implicit Association Test.  Numerous social media posts have encouraged people to take it and compare results.

If you haven't seen it, here's an interesting article from strategy&.  The author uncovers her own unexpected biases around the role of gender and perceptions for careers.

Much of the dialog around the test focus on the HR and interpersonal implications of bias.

Focus on the enterprise

But what can we learn from a business perspective?  What are the implications to B2B revenue growth?

If biases persist, even among those who are potentially harmed by them (e.g. the female champion of diversity and author of the strategy& article) then clearly the persistence and pervasiveness are significant - even in areas which receive attention to highlight them.

What about the myriad of biases we have in areas that don't get consistent public attention - in other words where we're less sensitized to them?  What is the impact of other biases on business success?  What biases detract from business growth and profitability?

Throttling B2B revenue growth

I spend my time working with B2B business to help them leverage the power of the internet to grow globally (often domestically first and then internationally.)  It seems that biases are even more widespread and stubbornly held in those business areas.

For instance:

  • IT needs to manage the website
  • foreign currency is too risky
  • twitter is inane
  • our price will be too high to sell overseas
  • we already have tools for email and analytics
  • we don't have the necessary foreign language skills
  • our industry is different - people don't use the internet the same way
  • we'll never get paid for our international sales
  • we've tried social media and wasted money
  • freight & logistics are too expensive and complicated
  • none of our buyers read blogs
  • our market is big enough here (while also complaining of margin compression)
  • nobody in this industry uses mobile search
  • exporting is for the big companies
  • that's what direct sales does
  • etc

You kind of have to wonder....what could the typical business achieve?  If a diversity expert can still harbor gender bias against herself, then what B2B revenue growth biases cripple the stressed out senior business exec whose professional focus is typically technology or finance?

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And then, a topic for thought and later exploration, how many of the cultural conflicts that frustrate global sales efforts, or the IT/Sales/Marketing/Finance silos are derived in those biases vs. actual facts?  My guess is most are bias (mutual) based.  That's good news, because if correct it means that the ability to self monitor for bias becomes a huge factor in success.

Discussion time

What biases do you encounter?

Which are particularly damaging to B2B revenue growth?

Is it possible to overcome them?

Or is the best we can hope for to become aware and filter our reactions through that awareness?

How do you help others recognize them without becoming defensive and intransigent?

The reality is that business is global, and increasingly the internet is the hub of all B2B buying research.  Identifying and overcoming these biases isn't an academic question but rather one of business vitality.