Seeing through the "Window of Discontent"

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 21-Aug-2008

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Most of our clients come from B2B markets, with complex sales environments and are selling a discretionary product or service - in other words the prospect’s business could survive, even if not very well, without their offering.

Many of them complain about more people being involved in the decision making process, of a growing number of deals are ending in “no decision” - and of receiving RFPs which have another vendor’s fingerprints all over it.

And it’s not uncommon to hear them complain that sales cycles are lengthening - so some have decided to focus their prospecting efforts on organisations which are already in an active buying cycle. It a short-termist strategy, in more ways than one.

Here’s the problem: most B2B buying processes follow a fairly predictable pattern -

- At first, the prospect is untroubled and unaware they may have an issue
- Then something happens – we call them trigger events – to cause the prospect to become aware and concerned
- Someone then usually proceeds to informally investigate the problem and their options
- They may then decide to formally evaluate potential solutions, usually forming some sort of project team
- Having evaluated the available options they may move to shortlist potential vendors, ask for proposals and select their preferred solution
- They may then proceed to negotiate contracts
- And eventually become a customer

Of course, the prospect can choose to abandon the process at any stage.

Most sales cycles are perceived to start at the investigating or evaluating stages, but the most critical opportunity for vendor influence is actually during what we call the “window of discontent” - the period between being unaware and having made a decision to investigate the problem.

Vendors who can observe – or, even better, cause – the trigger event have a much better chance of seizing the initiative, shaping the agenda and creating clear and lasting competitive advantage - and creating momentum in the deal that can have the effect of establishing urgency and shortening the buying cycle.

The “window of discontent” can be triggered by internal or external events - for example, changes in key legislation, mergers and acquisitions, or competitive actions that reshape the market landscape.

We coach our clients to identify key trigger events at both the market and company level, and to carefully focus their marketing efforts so as to align the prospect’s likely challenges and concerns with the vendor’s most useful and relevant capabilities.

The results have been impressive. By applying these principles, and focusing on the “window of discontent”, one such vendor managed to increase the number of qualified meetings their demand generation activities were creating by a factor of 5 - and the figure is still rising.

Topics: B2B Buying Process