Bain Pyramid for B2B: How to Understand that Business Clients are Appreciated

By Thomas Bennett Financial expert at Priceva
Published on October 17, 2023
Differences in decision-making between choosing a business partner or vendor and end consumers are not as stark as they may seem at first glance. This was evidenced by Bain & Company's research, which identified 40 fundamental value elements crucial to B2B buyers, culminating in the Bain Value Pyramid. Today, let's delve into this framework.
There's an undeniable consensus that B2B sellers primarily need to optimize their prices, adhere to industry standards and regulations, and uphold ethical norms. Procurement departments, when assessing suppliers, typically factor in the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to ensure quantifiable criteria like quality, price, and efficiency underpin their vendor selection.

However, today, meeting these criteria is just the basic expectation. As competition intensifies in various B2B segments, the benchmarks for potential partner selection are becoming increasingly intricate. Alongside objective criteria, subjective and even deeply personal considerations now play a role in a business client's purchasing decision.

The Genesis of the Value Pyramid

Bain & Company's groundbreaking research, spanning three decades, pinpointed 40 foundational value elements vital for B2B buyers.

These can be categorized into five groups:

  • Basic necessities
  • Functional
  • Business-enabling
  • Personal
  • Inspirational

In Bain's model, all values deemed significant for B2B market buyers are structured in a pyramid format.
In constructing this, Bain's researchers drew inspiration from Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs", first introduced in 1943. Maslow proposed that human actions stem from an innate desire to fulfill needs, starting from rudimentary ones like safety, warmth, food, and rest, to more complex desires like self-actualization and altruism.
The experts at Bain expanded and deepened Maslow's pyramid, adapting it to reflect the needs of consumers concerning products and services.

Similarly, the B2B Value Model organizes elements across pyramid levels: those offering more tangible value are foundational, while those providing more subjective value sit higher.

B2B Value Pyramid Elements

Let's delve into the specifics of each of the five tiers.

Tier 1. Table Stakes

At the base of the pyramid lie the essentials: compliance with legal requirements and industry standards, competitive pricing, and adherence to ethical practices.

Tier 2. Functional Values

The second tier encompasses functional elements tied to economic and operational values. Economic values might include revenue enhancement and cost reduction, while operational values encompass product quality, scalability of the business, and the presence of innovative solutions. Manufacturers and trading companies targeting B2G and B2B segments view these values as top priorities.

Tier 3. Business Ease Elements

The third tier is designed to simplify the business process and can be split into three categories:

A. Values enhancing client efficiency and productivity: This involves time-saving, effort reduction, and transparency.

B. Values enhancing product convenience and accessibility: Readiness for use, a wide range of choices, high availability, and configurability.

C. Relationship-building values between entities such as industry expertise, cultural compatibility, stability, responsiveness, and loyalty.

Within this tier, distinctions are made between operational and strategic values:

Operational values comprise integration, systematization, simplification, and connectivity.
Strategic values encompass flexibility, risk reduction, fortification, and component quality.

These company and product attributes touch not only on rational considerations but also impact the emotional decision-making process. It's an open secret that even in large corporations and conglomerates, decision-makers' emotions play a role in vendor selection. After all, decision-makers are humans, and being entirely impartial is a tall order.

If a product can be seamlessly and swiftly integrated into a company, smoothly meshes with other system components, and is supported by an empathetic and patient service team, then the likelihood of opting for such a product is extremely high.

Tier 4: Subjective Business Values

The next tier encompasses additional types of subjective value that cater to individual preferences of buyers, such as the need for peace of mind. On a personal level, a client assesses the aesthetic appeal of a specific product. They ponder if acquiring a product would boost their career or enhance their personal competitiveness. Will it strengthen interpersonal or business connections? Elevate their reputation? Offer anticipated perks?

Should a product address a client's emotional needs, it's destined for success. It's vital to alleviate the apprehension of failure for buyers who make significant financial commitments and decisions that could impact the well-being of others.

When a client invests in mission-critical software, embarks on a construction project, or seeks medical services, the stakes are high. In such situations, the fourth tier of values can be a deciding factor when selecting a vendor or service provider. Companies that provide a clear risk mitigation plan and convincing guarantees emerge victorious, safeguarding the reputations of those responsible for the purchase.

Tier 5: Inspirational Values

At the pinnacle of the pyramid lie the inspiring or motivational elements. These are values that enhance a client's vision for the future, help a company anticipate market shifts, inspire hope for success, or elevate the social stature of the client. In a broader sense, they contribute to fulfilling a purpose or realizing a company's mission.

Steps to Craft a Value-Driven Proposition

Any B2B entity can leverage element analysis to scrutinize and bolster its value proposition. To pinpoint the elements your clients cherish the most and strategize on amplifying your offer, follow these five steps:

1. Gauge your company's value proposition against your competitors' by surveying customers on how your products and services compare to rivals' offerings in non-pricing areas. A comprehensive survey with a sizable sample can provide illuminating insights and pivotal conclusions.

2. Engage with your clients to understand their past experiences and expectations. Conduct interviews to delve into their needs, discern what satisfies or frustrates them. Grasp the potential compromises they might make when utilizing your products or services.

3. As purchase decisions in sizable organizations are typically collective endeavors, identify who comprises the buying team and who influences them. It's advisable to elucidate the priorities and values of each member.

4.Strategize to Elevate Client Value: Once you've identified the critical value elements that demand attention, determine which ones should be prioritized. Construct a mapping to visualize the central buyers and highlight the value sources for each. This will provide a clearer understanding of the varying needs and preferences among different stakeholders.

5. Refine, Test, and Learn: Assemble a team of experts from within your company for a brainstorming session. Discuss how to persuade every member of the buyer's team using the knowledge of their prioritized values. This collaborative effort will ensure you're catering to the nuanced needs of the entire purchasing committee.

6. Assess Top Ideas: From your brainstorming session, shortlist the best propositions. Engage loyal clients to gauge their appeal, and evaluate your company's capability to actualize these ideas. This exercise will help recalibrate your company's core value concepts, understand how they fit into the overall customer experience, and discern the tangible results clients anticipate from your offerings.

7. Post-Implementation Analysis: After rolling out the revamped value proposition, measure its efficacy. A subsequent objective analysis is essential to ensure that your initiatives have genuinely met the clients' expectations.


B2B marketers are perpetually faced with choices, grappling with where to focus when promoting their products to enhance the likelihood of clinching a deal. Crafting a commercial proposition necessitates balancing a plethora of objective and subjective priorities, which often clash within a single corporate client.

For some decision-makers in the purchasing team, verified product quality reigns supreme, while others prioritize experience and successful case studies. Yet others value the flexibility and responsiveness of a team.

The value elements developed by Bain provide a roadmap to navigate the intricate values of B2B buyers. By conducting surveys and in-depth interviews, it becomes possible to extract the values deemed most vital for each group on the buyer's side. This concentrated approach on the most salient values can refine the emphasis in your proposal, aligning with the expectations of all decision-makers. Naturally, this not only distinguishes your company from competitors but also solidifies your market presence.

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