Business-to-business sales and marketing once seemed fairly straightforward.
Reps would find the “senior decision maker” (who was happy to take a call because of the marketing department’s good work) and construct a sales pitch that matched the customer’s business challenge. With a following wind, a good pitch, and a happy executive, the deal could be signed there and then.
Well maybe it was never quite that easy but, soft-focus reminiscences aside, marketing and selling products to B2B customers has become far more complex in recent years; some might even say frightening.
Rarely now is there an individual “buyer” at all, but rather an entire group of individuals all with the ability to torpedo a deal if it doesn’t meet their specific needs or align with their particular priorities. These groups – on average made up of 5.4 people – turn what were once tried and tested approaches into mush.
B2B Buying Has Changed
CEB’s work on B2B buying (as covered in the March edition of the Harvard Business Review) found that buyers find making a group decision almost twice as hard as making an individual one. Simply put, B2B selling is becoming harder because B2B buying is becoming harder. For example, if you’re a sales rep selling marketing automation solutions, you’ll most likely be dealing with at least the CMO, the CIO, the CFO and Procurement, who all have distinct and sometimes conflicting interests.
The difficulties behind group buying decisions are complicated by the fact that it’s hardest to find consensus early in the overall purchase decision process, on average at 37% of the way through.
This is roughly when the group of 5.4 is working to determine the type of solution they want to pursue in the first place, irrespective of supplier, and long before they are willing to talk to a sales rep (something that happens, on average, 57% of the way through the purchase).
What this Means for the Marketing Function
To help customers resolve these buying challenges, marketing organizations, therefore, cannot wait for sales to “fix it” when the customer finally seeks them out.
Instead, Marketing must learn to anticipate potential disconnections across the 5.4 and prime buying groups in advance to help them find consensus through messages, campaigns, and tools designed to better connect members of the group more closely to each other. Note, Marketing doesn’t need to make the group better connected to the product, brand or company they’re marketing, just help them achieve consensus on the type of solution they’re looking for.
Look for a Mobilizer
Crucially, Marketing will also need someone inside the customer organization able to encourage change and build consensus. CEB’s work labels that individual a “mobilizer.” And in a world of consensus-buying their role is absolutely crucial.
The best mobilizers are far less motivated by supplier capabilities, however, than by insight, which is an idea that they believe can significantly improve the performance of their business. Ultimately, they’re mobilizing for consensus on a particular course of action they think the business should take, not that the company should buy a particular product or service.
And it’s up to Marketing to lay out that course as clearly as possible, identify potential stumbling points, and equip mobilizers with the tools, language, and evidence necessary to win over their colleagues. Indeed, 80% of the mobilizers CEB surveyed said they wanted support from suppliers in communicating the value of the solutions they champion.
The best B2B marketing teams are already converting sales-enablement materials to “mobilizer enablement tools” — making those materials freely available early in the consensus process, and distributing them in lead-nurturing e-mails, through blogs, and via other content marketing channels.
Done effectively, when that purchase decision does end-up in the hands of the sales rep, the customer may not necessarily be ready to buy but they should be more likely to agree on what they’re trying to do in the first place and why it matters so much for their organization.
And while that might’ve seemed a small step in the old world, it has become a giant leap in the new one.