Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Least Understood Aspect of B2B Buying

At the most basic level, successful B2B marketing and sales depend largely on having solid answers to four questions:
  • Why do companies and businesspeople buy products or services like those we provide?
  • How do our products or services create value for our customers?
  • What differentiates our products or services from similar offerings provided by our competitors?
  • How do our prospects make buying decisions?
If you have accurate answers to these questions, you can develop relevant and compelling marketing content and have valuable sales conversations.

Of these four issues, most B2B marketers and salespeople have the least understanding of how prospects actually make buying decisions. In the 2012 Sales Performance Optimization survey by CSO Insights, only 12% of respondents said they have a thorough understanding of their customer's buying process. Understanding how your prospects buy is important because it directly impacts marketing and sales performance. CSO Insights says that a theoretical sales organization that moves from "needs improvement" to "exceeds expectations" in its understanding of the customer's buying process would increase its "win" rate from 42% to 58%.

The reality is, the B2B buying process is a complex thing, particularly when a major solution-type purchase is on the table. Most of the models we use make the decision-making process appear to be less complicated than it actually is. For example, the SiriusDecisions model that is shown below is a great high-level representation of the B2B buying process. I've used it several times in this blog to illustrate various points. However, the SiriusDecisions model doesn't really reveal the complexity of the process. There's a great deal going on in those steps called, "loosening of the status quo" and "committing to change."

What our models don't make clear is that the B2B buying process is really a change management process when a major solution-type purchase is involved. The buying process we are familiar with occurs within a change management process that is rarely understood well. The diagram below illustrates this point.

The issues involved in the change management process relate almost entirely to the prospect organization, and most have very little to do with the selling company or its products or services. However, unless these change management issues are resolved satisfactorily, no purchase will be made. Every prospect organization will have a unique set of change management issues, but there are four issues that arise in most buying organizations.
  • How will the proposed change affect the existing organizational "system" (people, processes, and technology)?
  • Who must be involved in the decision to change?
  • Can the problem or need that is driving the consideration of change be addressed using internal resources?
  • What issues or concerns must be addressed in order to get buy-in from all necessary parties?
Sharon Drew Morgen, the author of Dirty Little Secrets: Why Buyers Can't Buy and Sellers Can't Sell, and What You Can Do About It and Selling with Integrity: Reinventing Sales Through Collaboration, Respect, and Serving, has written extensively about the relationship between change management and the B2B buying process. If you want to learn about this topic in detail, get your hands on one of Ms. Morgen's books.

From a marketing perspective, the important point here is that you need to provide marketing content that helps prospects work through their change management issues. Some examples could include:
  • A white paper or calculator tool that helps prospects understand the true cost of their status quo
  • A white paper that describes the challenges involved in developing an internal solution
  • A case study that demonstrates how your solution can be implemented with minimal disruption of existing operations
For marketing and sales professionals, the important thing to remember is that helping B2B prospects buy is really about helping those prospects change.

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