The past 18 months have been highly disruptive to say the very least, and the world of business-to-business (B2B) is no exception. The needs of business customers have changed significantly. As a result, the strategies and tactics you relied upon even 12 months ago may no longer apply.
Nevertheless, significant opportunities exist within B2B for Small and Medium businesses (SMEs) to grow as companies across many industries look to expand their operations and move to the next level. However, to take advantage of such opportunities, you must understand the five “secrets” which underpin the “playing field” of B2B.
WHO IS AT THE HELM?
When selling solutions to another business, you need to know who really makes the decision to buy.
According to the Corporate Executive Board, the average number of people required to make a B2B purchase decision has increased from five to seven people. Input is also sought from various functional departments across the business, including Finance, Risk and Compliance as buyers seek certainty and confidence about how to proceed particularly during times of volatility and uncertainty.
In terms of a specific buying decision, the decision-makers are usually only a few members of the management team. In some small and medium-sized companies, it may be just the business owners.
As decision-makers seek clarity and confidence about how to take their businesses forward, they will listen to and highly regard the recommendations from their “inner circle.”
WHO IS IN THE BUYERS’ INNER CIRCLE?
B2B buyers will often rely upon numerous people to help them with their purchase decisions. These can include:
Staff members within the organisation who are highly knowledgeable and generally well regarded. They often evaluate and provide input as to which solution and supplier the company should be using.
An important internal influencer that you want to try to identify is the change agent.
Key characteristics of change agents include:
- They are highly effective at building consensus among their colleagues and decision-makers
- They drive change across the organisation and are highly knowledgeable
- They understand the informal organisation i.e. politics within the company and how things really get done including who the buyers really are and how they really buy.
Identifying a change agent is not easy. They are rarely C-level or a senior executive. You will need to research leveraging your business contacts to identify appropriate people who could serve as effective change agents.
Signals that you have identified as a change agent include:
- They talk about the needs and challenges in terms of the greater group, department or company as a whole as opposed to just talking about individual needs
- They are engaged with and may even challenge insights pertaining to topics such as industry and market trends
- They follow through and successfully complete requests such as setting up a meeting with specific attendees
B2B Buyers are increasingly looking to the “GO TO’s” within their industry that are highly knowledgeable and well regarded such as Industry associations, publications and subject matter experts, for their input and perspectives on product and service providers. Therefore, it is critical you identify who these “GO TO’s” are for your particular industry or niche and find ways you may be able to collaborate with them such as speaking at their events or creating content to gain visibility, awareness and credibility among your target buyers.
Buyers want “A-I-R”…not simply more content!!
Over the past 18 months, many B2B buyers have complained that they have been inundated with too much content. Studies conducted by Gartner Research found that while 89% of customers found the information they encountered during the purchase process to be of high quality, many struggled to make sense of this information which at times seemed contradictory or confusing.
B2B Decision-makers now are really seeking “A-I-R” – Advice, Insights and Recommendations, which will help them make sense of their current environment and provide the roadmap to make the appropriate decisions and take actions to meet their objectives.
Your company’s job is to provide decision-makers with the tools and resources they prefer to use to help them with this “sense-making” and road-mapping. These may include:
- Case studies
- Customer references
- Referrals-from peers, colleagues, micro-influencers
As a general rule in B2B purchase decisions, internal influencers will often use 5-7 sources as part of their “shopping” (i.e. purchase decision-making)
THE BUYERS’ MODUS OPERANDI
You must have an in-depth and current understanding of business buyers (decision-makers) in terms of their:
- Company’s business
- Key business issues
- Key priorities and objectives which should be considered in terms of:
- Company priorities such as meeting strategic, financial, operational or technical objectives
- Individual stakeholder goals such as seeking promotion, achieving bonuses, recognition among industry peers
The needs and priorities of business buyers are continually changing. Therefore, it is imperative that your company has mechanisms in place (such as workshops, forums) to “listen” to keep up to date and understand the problems, objectives and challenges from a BUYER perspective. These priorities will need to be the focus of any marketing content you are providing or discussions you are having with these stakeholders.
SILVER BULLETS TO MAKE BUSINESS BUYERS BUY
It is critical that you understand what specific criteria buyers and influencers are looking for from your product or service offering:
This may include:
- Specific performance statistics
- Meeting specific business outcomes and targets
- Certifications and/or accreditations
- Expertise and specialization in specific industries and/or capabilities
- Service level guarantees (e.g. answers to queries, fulfilling service requests)
By knowing what these five secrets are for your target B2B buyers, you will be able to answer three key questions to drive sales and business growth
- What to Deliver (such as products, customer service/support, advice)
- How to Deliver (such as hours of operation, preferred Channels, e.g. Self-Serve, Phone)
- How to Promote and Engage with your Business Customers