The conventional wisdom on demand generation is wrongheaded. It suggests B2B marketers improve the relationship between their firm and individual stakeholders at customer organizations if they want them to make a purchase.
Instead what marketers should do is improve relationships among stakeholders at customer organizations. This is because B2B purchase decisions are now made by an often disparate group of colleagues from multiple functions and regions, some of whom rarely come into contact and many of whom don’t share the same business goals or objectives.
B2B suppliers must navigate a dizzying array of group dynamics to encourage consensus among a buying group before they can sell anything (see chart 1).
Chart 1: Milestones in the customer purchase process n=590 Source: 2013 B2B Global Buyer Survey; CEB analysis
Why Group Dynamics Prevent Purchase Decisions
Marketing support therefore must encourage consensus among a buying group. To produce “consensus marketing” B2B marketing teams must first unpack the group dynamics that make customer buying groups so dysfunctional. CEB Marketing’s review of the scientific literature on group decision-making dysfunction shows that it boils down to:
Disparate perspectives: Competing goals; misunderstandings; different worldviews and vocabularies among stakeholders.
Fear: Individual uncertainty over how others in the group will react to one’s point-of-view; professional and political risk; and the common need to avoid conflict.
Resistance: Organizational inertia; an unwillingness to compromise; typical power struggles
These are all powerful elemental human forces, and have a huge bearing on B2B purchases, especially among a typical disparate buying group. Of course, Marketing should do all it can to get sales reps in early to encourage consensus that their product is the one to buy but, with the wealth of information now available to customers, sales reps tend to arrive much later in the sales process (see chart 1) than they once did.
The Three Elements of Consensus Marketing
CEB’s work with marketing organizations showed us that different firms were doing component pieces of this consensus marketing approach. Stitching them together provided a template for consensus marketing that is comprised of three elements, each lined up against the sources of group dysfunction above.
Solution Element #1: Prime for consensus (lines up against “disparate perspectives”): Marketing should first of all prime stakeholders to focus on shared needs by emphasizing under-appreciated areas of common ground.
This requires Marketing to create insights about the interpersonal aspects of buyer personas. Most marketers who are doing persona-based work today stop at characterizing an individual’s business challenges and the psychology of their persona. Marketers fail to go further and identify how stakeholders’ personas interrelate, and what common ground they share. Another way of thinking about this is for Marketing to build not just personas, but “interpersonal personas.”
Companies like Kimberly-Clark Professional and Cisco have done great things here. The best marketing teams identify and prove with new evidence where there is cause for disparate stakeholders to rally around new common ground, and connect interpersonally.
Solution Element #2: Make personal returns overshadow personal risks (lines up against an individual’s “fear”): Marketers must understand that individual stakeholders in buying groups deeply fear losing personal credibility in front of their co-workers, and even their jobs. And this fear grows as buying groups get larger.
About half of a typical large B2B firm’s purchase stakeholders fear losing respect and credibility by speaking up and advocating a point-of-view in front of a buying group.
To overcome that fear, stakeholders need courage. The stakeholder’s outlook must shift beyond “I’m willing to buy” to “I’m willing to fight.” Those two sentiments are not the same. Even when customer stakeholders say they are willing to buy, only half of those are actually then willing to fight to defend their point of view that the firm should buy from a particular supplier (see chart 2). And suppliers desperately need that willingness to fight in a consensus decision-making environment.
Chart 2: Individual risk perceptions By buying team size; n=3000 Source: CEB/Motista 2013 B2B Brand Survey; CEB analysis
The best marketing teams push their brand, messaging and communications beyond business value and all that comes with it (calculations of return on investment, total cost of ownership, or a quantification of benefits), and into a realm of “personal value.”
Great examples of this come from brands like Xerox, Deere and Grainger. Marketing leaders like Leah Quesada at Xerox, Mike Blonski at Deere, and Deb Oler at Grainger deserve a lot of credit for figuring out how to move the conversation on to personal value in a B2B context. CEB Marketing’s “From Promotion to Emotion” has a lot more on this.
Solution Element #3: Equip mobilizers (lines up against “resistance”): Once you have found and fired-up “mobilizers” to persuade their colleagues that your firm is the one to buy from, they still need to be shown how to win the fight.
Marketing must equip those mobilizers with specific persuasion tips, tools and coaching that uses the other stakeholders’ language to engage them and produce consensus. Encouragingly, most marketing teams are halfway there with many of the sales enablement tools they’ve created to help their sales reps speak to potential customers. It only takes a tweak to turn these toolkits into a format that mobilizers can make really effective use of.
Marketo’s “Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation” is a great example of this. Chapters 5 and 7 in particular show the level of granularity, guidance and ease of use that Marketo provides to mobilizers, who are typically marketers (since the firm provides marketing automation solutions). The guide teaches marketers how how to talk to IT, Sales and Finance about marketing automation, and even provides the kinds of terms and language to use.
Notice how much of the toolkit doesn’t even reference Marketo as the supplier. Marketo realises the main aim is to help marketers win consensus on the nature of the problem and nature of the solution first, since that’s where consensus gets most contentious.
To learn more about this emerging practice of consensus marketing, download the takeaways from our latest research.
A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.