The conventional wisdom among B2B marketing and sales professionals is that the fastest and surest route to a closed sale is to identify and create engagement with the economic buyer - the individual who can actually make the decision to purchase your product or service. This perspective usually leads marketers and salespeople to focus their lead generation efforts on C-level executives. As marketers, we create content and design lead generation programs for CxO's. As salespeople, we try to get in front of high-level executives whenever we can.
As it turns out, however, taking a direct approach to the presumptive decision maker/economic buyer may not be the best lead generation strategy, at least if your company sells complex and/or expensive products or services. To start with, significant buying decisions are rarely made by a single individual. Buying by committee is now the norm, and while an individual executive may still have the authority to sign-off on a proposed purchase, the de facto buying decision is usually made by a group.
There's also a more subtle, but equally important, reason why the direct approach may not be best, and it relates to how senior executives make important business decisions. Research by CEB has shown that when decision makers (the people who actually sign the contract) are evaluating prospective purchases, the single most important criteria is widespread support for the proposed supplier/solution across the organization. In other words, what the decision maker really wants to know is that a proposed purchase has the strong backing of his or her team. Therefore, the real key to winning over the economic buyer is to win the support of the key buying influences.
While consensus buying is not a new phenomenon, it has now become the norm because senior decision makers recognize that stakeholder buy-in is critical for the successful implementation of most significant new initiatives.
For marketers, the emergence of consensus buying has three major implications. First, it makes it critical for marketers to identify all of the members of the "buying group" and understand what their interests and concerns are relating to your proposed solution.
Second, it means that marketing must develop content resources that speak to the needs and concerns of all the stakeholders who will influence the purchase decision. Both marketing and sales are responsible for creating engagement with all of the significant buying influences.
Finally, the emergence of consensus buying means that marketers should not target lead generation campaigns too narrowly. We now know that targeted, more relevant lead generation programs are more effective than the "spray and pray" campaigns of the past. At the same time, however, you shouldn't exclude influencers from your lead generation programs even if you have a good idea of who the ultimate decision maker will be. The likelihood is, you'll need those influencers to close the deal, and some of them could become your strongest advocates.