In my previous article on the Buyer's Journey, I set out our latest thinking on the nature of the B2B Buying Process. In this article, I want to examine some of the implications of the Buyer's Journey for the B2B sales and marketing process.
If you recall, I described the B2B Buying Process in terms of consideration phases and decision gates.
Each consideration phase reflects an important step in the buying process. These phases are separated by decision gates.
Each decision gate represents vital evidence of commitment on the part of the prospect.
We've found the distinction between phases and gates to be significant when designing, measuring and managing sales and marketing processes.
Each consideration phase in the buying journey is marked by changing priorities, attitudes and behaviours on the part of the prospect. If they are to align their sales and marketing activities with the prospect's priorities, vendors need to consider:
- Which roles are likely to be involved at this phase in the process?
- What are likely to be their most important needs?
- What might cause our prospect to move forward to the next phase? How can we help?
- What might cause our prospect to hold back or abandon the journey? How might we reduce the risk?
- What tools do we need to facilitate this phase of the buying process?
- What could we be doing to requalify the prospect's interest and motivations?
- How long has the prospect been at the current phase of the process?
- What evidence of progress should we be looking for?
- How should we be prioritising and focusing our activities?
It should come as no surprise that the sales people - and sales organisations - that have been able to anticipate their prospects' most important needs at each stage in the process show consistently shorter sales cycles and higher win rates.
The correct identification and diagnosis of the status of decision gates is the critical factor in accurately placing prospects at the correct phase of their decision making journey. Decision gates offer tangible evidence of prospect commitment and progress.
Depending on the phase of the project, sales people need to consider:
- What evidence can we uncover about the buyer's current intent?
- Can we win? What would it take to win?
- Have we identified, and has the prospect acknowledged, a catalyst for change?
- Are we sure that someone in authority has committed the necessary resources?
- How many proposals has the prospect received, and what criteria are they using to evaluate them?
- Are we in the lead? How can we be sure? Have we been selected? Have all other options been rejected?
- What's the approval process? Who is involved? What do they have to do before placing an order?
When it comes to decision gates, in the words of sales trainer Rick Page, "hope is not a strategy". Sales people must be encouraged to look for tangible evidence of buyer behaviour and intent. Sales managers should not allow sales people to advance deals to the next stage in the sales process without it.
Diagnosing and Dealing with Bottlenecks
Focusing on the buyer's journey has another advantage - it enables vendors to anticipate, diagnose and deal with the bottlenecks and constraints that commonly delay or derail buying processes.
A determined effort to understand how prospects are moving through their buying journey usually throws up a handful of common choke points that - if systematically addressed - will enable opportunities to move from one phase to the next faster.
Timing is Everything
Getting involved early is a critical success factor for most opportunities. It's widely recognised that vendors who only get involved after an RFP is issued have a small chance of winning unless they can do something to reshape the propect's agenda.
The earlier vendors get involved in the buying process, the better. Recent studies confirm that sales people who connect with prospects in the "window of opportunity" between a catalyst for change being identified and the formal search for solutions being initiated - while the prospect is still assessing the impact of the change - enjoy win rates 4-5 times higher than the average together with significantly shorter sales cycles.
There's an important implication for marketing here: vendors need to position themselves as experienced change agents - and as experts in change management - when it comes to addressing the most common issues, trends and challenges in the markets they have chosen to serve.
Making the Economic Case for Change
Vendor marketing activities should focus on anticipating common catalysts for change and position themselves as the place to turn to for advice when they are recognised by the prospect. Once engaged with the prospect, the vendor should focus on establishing the economic case for change - and identifying the potential consequences of inaction.
In many early buying processes, it's more important - and ultimately more valuable - to concentrate on identifing the case for change (or qualifying out opportunities where this is weak) rather than prematurely diving into the details of the vendor's solution.
Facilitating the Buying Process
Have you established the typical buying processes, consideration phases and decision gates in your target market? Are your sales and marketing activities consciously targeted at facilitating your prospect's buying process? How are you helping to establish the economic case for change? And where are the typical choke points in the buying process, and what are you doing to deal with them?