Two numbers sum up the changes that have been wrought in B2B marketing across the past 10 years: 57% and 37%.
The first – 57% – describes how far along in the purchase process a typical B2B customer is before they engage directly with any supplier. This is critical because, during that time, customers learn about products and decide on what product features they think they need for their business.
When sales reps used to be involved earlier in the process they could discuss the business problem with the buyer and either point them towards the right features or, sometimes, help them reframe the problem and end up buying a product which would be more beneficial than they thought possible. Now, sales teams are often confronted by a buyer contacting them to tell them what product they want.
This leaves a rep with little negotiation room other than over price and a race to the bottom against their competitors. And that rarely ends well for B2B sellers, or customers in the long term.
57 + 37 = Trouble
The second number compounds this problem. Not only are customers likely to be more than half the way through the purchase process when they speak to a supplier, but the point where the buying group at a customer company are most in conflict with one another – and where a skilled rep could help most in framing the problem and explaining the supplier’s solutions – is only 37% of the way through.
What makes this even harder is that this buying group (upon whom the purchase decision rests) has grown rapidly in the past decade. The average group is now 5.4 people, and often composed of those who barely know each other from widely different parts of the business and parts of the world too.
In a rep’s ideal world, those percentages would be flipped and they would have a great opportunity to shape debate and explain the value of their company’s products and services. But reps don’t have this control, and many deals may now stall and die before a supplier even knows an opportunity exists. For sales teams this is a galling state of affairs.
While many firms have embraced the idea of content marketing (and maybe the Challenger approach) to break into that sacred 57% of the purchase process, this spike in buying group conflict often requires companies to do more than create the right content. This doesn’t mean content marketing isn’t necessary – done well, it certainly is – but it is not sufficient.
Forward-thinking marketers have already started to find ways of helping buying groups find consensus. CEB work, that was summed up in the March edition of the Harvard Business Review, shows how successful suppliers prime buying groups with a common language, help groups share perspectives, motivate internal champions (known as “mobilizers”) to advocate solutions and help those mobilizers create consensus.
Critical to all of these approaches is the mobilizer. They are employed by the customer firm and help to build consensus about a purchase decision among his or her team. If sales reps can’t be there, marketers have no choice but to help customers create consensus or pay the price in lost deals.
Mobilizers are an inside source with potential advantages that reps can only dream about, but they also have limitations that must be addressed. The good news is that this will only require a little extra effort on behalf of most marketing teams.
This is because they have already invested heavily in exactly the types of tools that mobilizers need to build consensus during the “57%” discovery phase and before the seller is contacted. It turns out that mobilizers need almost exactly the same sales enablement tools marketers have already created for reps.
A simple example of the types of tools required is objection handling talking points. The mobilizer often needs to address concerns raised by any of the typical 5.4 stakeholders. This type of tool helps reduce the fear of reactions from the mobilizer’s colleagues that might prevent them from speaking up or taking action to foster consensus.
For more on this work, see “How to Motivate Buyers to Win Group Purchases”.
A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.