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Call us for a chat on +44 (0)20 7836 3678 or email Amanda Francis


The dynamics of B2B buying groups and decision making

 

How do you target the mobilisers in B2B decision making?

It used to be fairly straightforward. You’d find a senior decision maker, identify current activities, challenges and goals, construct a pitch around that and arrange a meeting. Follow that up with a proposal and business could be done.

Over simplified, probably, but in fact, within marketing and certain disciplines, if you find the right person, you have the right proposition and a good sales person, this model still works effectively.

However, generally within organisations, buying decisions are becoming more complex. Rarely is there an individual “buyer”. More often than not, there is more than one influencer or decision maker involved in any purchase process. Each stakeholder will have different agendas and drivers and each will be concerned with how your product or service will affect them personally within their job.

Ian Dainty of Maximize Business Marketing writes there are probably 4 types of influencers within any buying cycle.

  • The user influencers – As it sounds, they will use the product or service and as such will exert the greatest influence
  • The financial influencers – the cheque signers. This could be an FD/Procurement contact or a combination of the two. They will be interested in ROI and what your service can bring to the bottom line
  • The Gatekeepers – They may only dip in and out and may include finance, HR, IT, Legal, Operations and they are hard to build a relationship with, but it is important to try and understand who they are and their role
  • The Champion – this may be the financial influencer or buying influencer, but this is the key driver within the organisation for this particular purchase. Without them on board a sale is unlikely

Within the research paper by CEB, Patrick Spenner, (Head of Strategic Projects in CEBs marketing practice) states that “the average B2B decision-making group includes 5.4 buyers, but more concerning is that the likelihood of a purchase decision being made drops by 30% with that dynamic”.

He goes on to explain that this is because buying groups tend to be composed of people from a variety of roles, teams and locations. This means they have different perspectives and potentially different goals.

This is certainly the case in the agency world. This is partly due to the increasing complexity of agency offers. They often touch more than just one decision maker or department within a company. To give an example, the proposition for a PR agency is rarely pure PR and will include social and content marketing and all of this feeds into performance and search marketing, so it is possible that 4 or 5 individuals would have a vested interest in the selection of a new PR agency, but all have different focuses and viewpoints.

The same can be said of the more technical or software driven agencies. A data management or marketing automation platform could be utilised or managed by a number of different departments and individuals within a business (marketing, e-commerce, analytics, insight) and hence, decisions will be made by committee.

CEB undertook a survey into B2B buying-groups and it was found that the average buying group is “57% through a buying decision when they engage with a potential supplier, but it is 37% of the way through when group conflict peaks and is most likely to kill or stall a deal”. Hence often agencies don’t even get a chance to promote their services, but even if they do and they are engaged in a pitch process, it is often too late and the buying group is less receptive to any option other than the lowest cost, or simply not open to buying from a supplier at all.

We regularly hear about clients answering a brief with a proposal, or being in a pitch process, but the budget or the project/campaign is suddenly pulled altogether.

One Senior Sales Manager within this research quoted, “More often than I care to admit, we live in a world where each person says “yes” but then the group ultimately says “no”. It’s like I live in a world where 1+1+1=0.”

This poses a real issue for new business and agency new business, so what is the solution?

The article goes on to explain that a key to unlocking the group buying dynamic is to identify quickly what they call the “mobiliser” (the equivalent of Ian Dainty’s “Champion”). This is typically, the most sceptical prospect in the group. However, once they are won over, they have the credibility to build and create consensus among their colleagues. They “mobilise” others to firstly agree on what problem they need a supplier to solve and secondly, that there is only one product, service or solution that makes sense.

If you can convince the mobilisers, then they may often want you to help them sell in to the other decision makers. In the CEB survey, “80% of the mobilisers surveyed said they wanted support from suppliers in communicating the value of the solutions they champion”.

If you are able to identify these mobilisers early in the buying cycle and before the process is 37% of the way through, then you significantly increase the chance of a sale, but how do you do this when a sales person may not be brought in until a buying decision is 57% of the way through the process?

This is where smart targeting, phone calls and marketing can really work well together. You want to understand the dynamic, key players and build a relationship almost before the buying process starts.

Step one is to identify the buying process for your product or service. You could second guess on job titles and use LinkedIn, or you could take more positive action and something that is often feared and pick up the phone. Only by having real conversations with someone can you ascertain:

  • Who is involved
  • What personal interests and responsibilities each stakeholder has
  • What stage in any buying or review cycle are they at
  • If they are content with current suppliers and whether courting them is of potential value. The opportunity cost of chasing someone who will probably never use you versus someone who might could be significant.

Just getting in front of one of the key stakeholders/decision makers is a great way to build rapport and if approached the right way, you can use that forum to get a good idea of the different stakeholders and what they may be looking for.

This is when the phone activity can be brought into other forms of marketing.

Once you know the key people and their roles you can use emails, content marketing and social media to get highly targeted messages across. These will be different for each buyer depending on their role and responsibilities and how the product or service will affect them or their part of the business directly. For example procurement may be interested in examples of ROI or how you may be able to save time, resource or money. The users will want to know why you are better than the competition and their current supplier/solution.

These messages need to be consistent across all communications inclusive of phone calls and marketing.

It all sounds very easy, but it really isn’t and stage one is the hardest – identifying the buying group in the first instance. It may be that you aren’t able to influence everyone, but it is important to give yourself the best chance of success by understanding as much as you can and getting the sales messages right. It is not a case of one size fits all!!

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