Helping buyers understand "how" to buy - beyond simply "what" and "why"

Ed Marsh | May 22, 2018

Today's Complex Sales Buying Journey

Actually....this was the simple version. You're selling to a team - most of whom you'll never have the chance to meet, to know, to question, to guage, much less to sell.

Any of them can say "No." All must say "Yes." 

Today's B2B buying journey is the chaotic product of consensus management. A topic for in depth exploration in the future, this approach, though designed to minimize conflict, actually encourages it by allowing departmental and personal agendas to supplant what's best for the business.

It's a recipe for mediocrity. After all, even if a company hires well, the distribution of participants in a consensus decision will include several who are below average - at least in their ability to assess a certain decision.

And so the status quo prevails with alarming regularity.

In complex B2B sales we can't easily counter the trend toward team buying and consensus decision making. But we can substantially improve our chances AND their outcomes by providing guidelines for "how" to buy instead of focusing on the "what" and "why" to buy that characterizes most marketing and sales.

It's probably their first rodeo

b2b buying journey is complex

If you're selling copier paper and urinal cakes you've got a tough job differentiating your offerings or changing how a decision is made. That's a low consideration B2B sale that follows a routine process which is well understood and often documented.

In contrast, high consideration decisions are made infrequently - often only once in seven to ten years. Companies try to overlay some common template (three competing bids, a matrix of features, some form of ROI calculation) on them, but the buying team is often accumulating on the job training through the process.

They will experience conflict! Not only are we all subject to the foibles of human personality, but the common consensus decision making approach incents obstructionist behavior from some participants. While they may be stumbling through the process (although they'll feel like they've got an air-tight framework) you've observed many others take this B2B buying journey.

Not only do you have a preferred outcome, you also have insight into how the 6.8 members of the average buying team (according to CEB) can reach the best decision for their company.

Yet amazingly, most B2B marketing and sales focuses on specifications, features and benefits - the "what" and "why" to buy. This throws gasoline on the fire of consensus mediocrity and squanders an opportunity to provide real value - sharing your expertise to help companies make the best choice for their circumstances - "how" to buy.

Outcomes, drawbacks and insights

An insidious cycle pervades most complex B2B buying. I refer to it as the Curse of Information Abundance.

  1. Buyers ask about features because that's what they've been conditioned to focus upon.
  2. Sellers dump volumes of information about features on buyers because they want to answer the common questions they "know buyers have." 
  3. Reassured that they're asking the important questions, buyers proceed to make their decisions based on often unimportant information.

In a world of functional parity among many products, personal agendas and price become determining factors. What's missing from this cycle is only everything that's important to making a good decision!

  • How will this change their business?
  • What outcomes can they expect?
  • What pain will it alleviate and what costs will it eliminate?
  • How can it be creatively adapted to their circumstances?
  • What is the nature of their challenge or opportunity that the members of the buying team might not have perspective to see? Remember, they're being reassured by other vendors that specs and features are where they should focus.
  • What are the appealing and unappealing aspects from the perspectives of each department / function represented by the buying team?
  • And what complications might they encounter with the purchase and implementation of the product/service? (This last one is possibly the easiest way to differentiate yourself in a world where everyone is selling miracle solutions!!)

We all know there are many of each - and yet they're never discussed, much less laid out on websites or in buying guides and other sales enablement and lead generation offer content. And yet these questions, or the related insights, lay out a roadmap by which buyers can be shown "how" to buy - the important factors to consider and how to weigh them against their circumstances and goals.

Build credibility and counter agendas

Bad sales - those that you shouldn't have made because the fit wasn't right - are resource hogs. Dollars, management energy and service resources are squandered. So avoid them.

You know what constitutes a bad fit. Articulate that on your site. This isn't simply whining about companies that aren't concerned with quality and make their decision based on price. Rather it's an open acknowledgment of operational conflicts. For instance, companies with high turnover or inadequate internal maintenance procedures might never be able to successfully optimize complex capital equipment.

You also know why different departments and personalities will be attracted to your solution or repelled by it. You can bet that they'll often avoid being frank and straightforward internally, relying instead on red herring arguments or passive aggressive participation such as "being too busy" to do their analysis.

So provide that information preemptively for the consideration of other buying team members. Operations, HR, finance, maintenance, and IT are part of almost every buying team. Present a simple list, and brief rationale / response for each pro & con from an empathetic perspective for that function.

This allows other members of the buying team to understand legitimate concerns and address selfish ones. Smokescreens aside, often colleagues don't make time, succumb to silo frictions, or simply can't extract enough context from asynchronous (email) communication to really empathize with their peers.

And if someone's being flushes them out.

Buyers will value substance on how to buy

The other reason the status quo often wins is that companies fear making a mistake - the kind of mistake they make when they focus on what & why to buy. Laying out the process for them (not simply creating an exclusionary list of minor feature differences) will give them confidence in their methodology and the outcome.

When the B2B buying journey is clearly mapped, teams can work productively and collaboratively toward the best outcome for the business.

And if you're really the best solution for your target buyers, then that means you'll win more deals AND earn trust and respect from buyers.

I dare you to put a "How to Buy" point in your main navigation. Populate it with the following:

  • Where you're not a good fit
  • Pricing (approximate), IRR estimates, finance options, and implementation timelines
  • Competitive comparisons (objectively!)
  • Likely complications/considerations
  • Outcomes
  • Information for each common buying team discipline

Ensure that your sales team is trained on when and how to use these elements of enablement content and how to observe buyer behaviors to see who's consumed what content for the insights they can extract.

And by the way - watch who in the company looks pained and starts to perspire when you suggest this. They standing between you and success. We can debate how much to reveal in each of these points, but if you have weaknesses you can rest assured that your competitors and your prospects will know about them. The only folks deluded enough to believe you can hide them are traditionalists within your business who yearn for the days of selling through faxes and data sheets!