A seller’s role in B2B purchase decisions is akin to navigating the haunted house at your local theme park. You shuffle along in what feels like a smoky darkness during most of the process, with only a vague outline of who is involved in the evaluation. Surprise competitors enter the fray like those cob-webbed skeletons ready to pounce as you turn blind corners. And worst of all, you have only small indicators of when it will end; that sliver of light you saw up ahead felt promising until you were pushed unexpectedly left into the scary clown room.
As a marketing leader, it’s your responsibility to make sense of the mad house, charting a clearer path to success for your sales team whenever possible. Sometimes it’s a simple fix, like tweaking wording or cleaning up your pitch deck.
Other times, it’s about thinking bigger.
I’d recommend starting at the beginning. Before you decide how to navigate the buyer’s journey to a win, understand who is involved in the decision.
There are four primary roles you need to be aware of as you navigate buyers. For a given deal, there might be one person playing every role, or multiple people playing each role.
Who They Are
What They Care About
|The person with the authority to approve the purchase decision and sign the contract. They will typically have P&L responsibilities.||
|The person responsible for finding a solution that meets the needs of the organization. This evaluator will usually have domain expertise.||
|Typically a senior executive within the organization that champions the project, helps secure budget for the project, supports the evaluators, and accepts responsibility for the impact of the project. It is common for the Executive Sponsor to also be the Economic Buyer.||
|A person who is asked to provide input during specific points of the evaluation. This person may be a coach for the other purchases, such as a CEO, or the “end user” who will use the product or solution on a regular basis.||
Varies depending on who the influencer is
To be most effective, you need to know who is playing each of those roles in your deal. Ask your main point of contact to explain what their decision making process will look like and who will be involved.
Don’t Let Your Buyer Do the Selling
When you’re in a deal, it’s critical to uncover all of the buyers in an organization. Don’t stop at the person responding to your emails or signing the check.
Recently I evaluated two products. In both cases, I was the initial point of contact with the sales rep and listened to the pitches. With one, the seller politely checked in with me each week to see if I had made a decision, not understanding that different people were also evaluating the product. I was the technical buyer, while someone else was the economic buyer, and two more people were influencers.
In the other evaluation, the seller asked about my decision making process and who would be involved. He then requested I invite the other key buyers onto a demo call so that he could explain the value to their directly and answer any concerns. He was not going to let me do his job, and for good reason. As we talked, I realized I had misunderstood a key product feature. Imagine if I had explained that incorrectly to the other buyers?
Uncover Hidden Buyers to Find Real Success
Take this experience I had with an electronic medical records (EMR) software vendor and Primary Intelligence client.
My client was targeting hospital administrators (similar to a CEO). They were winning 41% of their deals and came to Primary Intelligence to find ways to increase the win rate. I implemented a Win Loss Analysis program to help deliver that result.
Prior to our partnership, my client’s sales and marketing leaders rolled out a number of very good programs, including sales training seminars, stronger collateral, and even cutting the price slightly to ensure they were the cost leader. They even re-evaluated their qualification rules to ensure they were pursuing the right kind of deals. The programs laid a good foundation for success, but the impact on the win rate was negligible.
As I began interviewing their buyers for the Win Loss program, signals of a problem quietly bubbled up.
My client gave me the names of hospital administrators to interview, explaining they were the primary buyers. As I spoke with these administrators, they revealed a wealth of information on pricing and contract terms. But when I would ask about the product specifically, they replied with something like: “I’m not sure I can really explain what we liked and didn’t like about the software. It seemed good. What I cared about was the price.”
It was easy to conclude that price was the main motivator. Based on the feedback, I made recommendations around pricing, such as implementing a few bundling options and revising terms to reduce confusion. When implemented, those changes had a modest impact but not the outcome my client needed.
There was something nagging me, though. How can the primary decision maker not understand the product? Why couldn’t I get feedback there?
So, on the next buyer interview, I asked.
Turns out, most administrators turned evaluation of the software over to the people who would have to use it: the Director of Nursing and their staff. The administrator was the Economic Buyer. The Director of Nursing was the Technical Buyer.
As I reviewed the sales approach with my client, we soon realized their sales teams had little interaction with the Director of Nursing. They were pitching to the financial buyer only when they needed to pitch to both.
My client worked quickly to implement several key changes, including adding a stage in the sales cycle focused exclusively on the Director of Nursing, coaching the sales team on how to host an on-site “demo event” with all nursing staff, and creating new marketing education tools that explained the problems their software solves for nursing. The product team also stepped in and resolved issued with the software that the Directors of Nursing mentioned.
Within 6 months, my client’s win rate surged from 41% to 63%. Needless to say, revenue and market share surged.
Where to Start
This process merits another more involved post, but here are three key actions you can take now to uncover hidden buyers.
- Create a list of all of the areas you think someone would need to evaluate to make a decision about your product.
- Listen to your buyers. Sit in on a few sales calls or, even better, conduct win loss interviews post-sale. Ask about their decision process and match it against your list. If there are holes, you know someone must have evaluated those areas, so ask.
- Listen to your sellers. Ask your sales team who they usually work with on a deal and why. Ask who they think is responsible for each area on your list.