Business to Business (B2B) decision making is harder than it ever has been.
That’s according to research from Raconteur that states that B2B decision making has become increasingly complex over the years.
Why has it become so complex and what does it mean for your business?
The report suggests the number of stakeholders involved in the decision making process has nearly doubled since 2016.
The average number of stakeholders now involved in purchasing decisions is 11.4, up from 6.8 in 2016.
Source: Raconteur, Why making business decisions is harder than ever.
We’re not quite sure what 0.4 of a human looks like, but what we do know is there are a lot more people you need to convince that your product or service is the right choice.
In this guide to B2B decision making, we look at what has changed, and what proactive steps you can take to use these changes to your advantage.
Table of Contents
What is the B2B decision making process?
First, let’s look at what we mean when we talk about the B2B decision making process.
The B2B decision making process, or buying process as it’s also referred to, is summarised by Shopify as
“the decision-making exercise buyers go through when purchasing from another company. From recognising a problem to selecting a supplier’s product, every buyer goes through a decision-making process before investing their organization’s money into a new product.”
Source: Shopify, Understanding the B2B Buying Process: The Key Factors and Stages That Affect B2B Decisions
Simple enough to understand as an idea. But what does this look like for the businesses you are trying to build rapport with and sell services to?
B2B buying matrix
We all know that selling in B2B rarely means you’re just building a relationship with one person. Your key contact might be the IT Manager or CTO, but it’s unusual that they’ll be making the decision without wider business input. Consider every single person within your customer organisation, who’s involved in the purchase decision – that’s your buyer matrix.
It’s our job, as people selling to other businesses, to understand who makes up that buyer matrix. And to make it slightly more complicated, it will change depending on the business.
Let’s look at how we can break down who those people are and how we can get their buy-in.
Who makes buying decisions in B2B?
This will depend entirely on what you’re selling. But let’s take phone systems as an example.
You’re talking to a University, they’re a new customer. You’ve had the usual intro calls and now you’re talking to them about the cloud phone system you can offer to replace their outdated system. Your key contact is the IT Manager, you’ve built up good rapport and she likes the sound of your product. Things are going really well.
But suddenly she goes quiet on you.
What happened? Well as much as she might have thought your product was the perfect solution, the decision actually needed the buy-in from seven other people in the business. You’ve had zero contact with any of those seven people. They’ve not been bought in to it.
This situation is not uncommon. And it’s easy to see why B2B technology purchases need to involve the wider business. If we think about it, rolling out new tech has the potential to impact so many areas in the business: employees, customers and wider business operations. Bringing in something new with that much impact needs the backing of the people it will have an affect on.
But there’s no reason that this should dishearten you. If you have a great product and can communicate it well, then all you need to do is build that rapport with a wider network. You need to build out your buyer matrix.
Decision makers, influencers and sponsors
The buyer matrix might have made B2B decision making more complex, but many of the principles of selling in B2B are the same as they’ve always been.
The scenario given earlier can be avoided by identifying the decision makers, sponsors and influencers within that business.
In that scenario, the IT Manager was your sponsor. She wanted to work with you, she liked the product. How could the outcome have changed? By also understanding who the influencers and decision makers were.
This is the person waving your flag inside the business you want to work with. Sometimes this is one person, sometimes it’s a team. They’re the people inside the organisation who want to work with you. It could be because they already have a relationship with you and trust you, or they’ve used your product before and trust it. Either way, sponsors are like gold – hold onto them.
How do you find your ‘sponsors’?
So much of this industry is built on relationships. And thankfully, maintaining those relationships has become easier thanks to technology. More maintained relationships, means more sponsors.
LinkedIn is a great example of how to find and keep your sponsors. Generally speaking, in this industry people move around, so keeping your professional network strong is important for building your sponsors.
They’re colleagues you used to work with, they’re partners you sold a different product to, they’re university peers who’ve moved into the industry. They’re out there, go look for them and maintain those relationships.
The people who, as the name suggests, have an influence over the final decision. It’s not down to them entirely but what they think about your business, product and service matters a lot.
They might have an influence over the commercial aspects – they’re asking, how much will this cost and have we factored this into our budget. There are also people like the HR director who will need to look at it from an employee perspective, asking: is it easy to adopt, will it increase efficiency. Or the Head of Customer Service who will need be be reassured that it will improve customer experience and not hinder it.
All of these different influencers are part of your buyer matrix. This will change depending on the business structure, but take the time to figure out who the influencers are.
How can you do this? Look at how the leadership team is structured (check out their website and LinkedIn to find this info). Think about who else in the business would be impacted by your product. Maybe the customer service team, or HR. You need to map out who these people are that make up the buyer matrix and try to build rapport with them.
The person who’s going to make that final decision.
But, as hopefully demonstrated with the idea of sponsors and influencers, your focus needs to go wider than just purely the decision maker. Most decision makers today will rely on their closest allies to help them make informed decisions.
Has technology improved B2B decision making?
It’s hard to disagree with the Raconteur findings, B2B decision making has undoubtedly become more complex. But there are also ways that it’s got easier.
How many Teams calls have you sat on this week? Feels like a very normal part of the week doesn’t it. A few years ago it was a different story.
Modern communication makes everyone more accessible. We have more ways of getting hold of people – which for sales, is a blessing.
The shift in how we communicate means that when you start to establish those relationships, accessing people becomes easier. Coordinating diaries is suddenly much easier when it’s a 20-minute Teams call rather than an in-person meeting, sometimes hundreds of miles away. We can make decisions and build relationships faster through more frequent conversations.
Should we replace all physical meetings with a Teams call? Absolutely not. But a blended approach is far better.
Clarity of purpose
Identify who the customers are that you want – that always has to be the starting point. Who are your ideal customers, who do you want to trade with. When you’ve made that decision and you’ve got clarity around what your product looks like, it’s about coming up with really clear strategies on how to reach those people.
Identify your sponsors, but go further. Find out who makes up that buyer matrix. What do they care about? What objections might they have?
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