False insight about your B2B buyers is worse than no insight at all.

False insight about your B2B buyers is worse than no insight at all.

The problem, of course, is that no one believes that they have false insight about how their customers buy.

How could your sales team possibly bring in millions of dollars of revenue every year without knowing how your customers buy?

How could marketing not know your buyers when they regularly survey customers, track their digital footprint and analyze their online behavior against a well-documented buyers journey?

And aren’t your senior executives talking to your customers every day? They must be a reliable enough proxy for understanding how your customers buy!

After speaking with many buyers about their purchase experience, I have learned that the answer is most often no. Most providers aren’t aware of the drama that’s playing out in their customers lives and are more focused on what buyers think of them, their product and how the buyer will make a solution choice. This is not buyer insight.

Buyer Insight. It’s not what You Think.

Take a close look at your website, your about page, your marketing messaging and collateral, your sales deck and your strategic vision and mission statement. If your touting;

“We are the leading provider of…”

or

“Our mission is to disrupt…”

or

“Our value is…”

or

“We’re are #1 in…

it’s a pretty good indication that you’re addressing what you think is important and should matter to your customers. You think you’re customer-focused but you’re not. It’s a blind spot and you’re operating off of assumptions that give a false baseline and that means that your sales and marketing will be off.

Solution looking for Problem

One of the biggest flaws with operating from a false baseline is that we mistakenly try to convince prospective buyers that they can be more effective with our solution when they’re struggling to understand how or why they need to change at all.

You may have the perfect solution, but if the buyer doesn’t know how to align all of the pieces of their internal operation so everyone will be happy to change, they will do nothing.

It’s not just a decision about the problem your product solves or what you think is important, it’s about your buyers ability to understand and manage all of the people, rules, policies and procedures that contains and maintains the problem. This is the drama that’s unfolding in your customers lives and what matters to them.

Whatever is holding the status quo in place is way more powerful than any solution you can offer.

The heart of the problem for sales and marketing is that they’re outsiders. How can they begin to understand all of the issues that hold the status quo in place or all of the history and internal politics that have prevented buyers from solving their problem?

A Simple Fix

This is a simple problem with a simple fix, which is to ask recent buyers to share their buying experience.

Not your customers but the buyers; they’re different people. You need to interview:

  • The people that bought your solution.
  • The people that bought your competitors solution.
  • The people that evaluated multiple solution options and did nothing.
  • The people that bought a solution and never even considered your company.

It can be a delicate conversation to get these people to share their purchase experience openly without feeling manipulated or pushed but the buying patterns will emerge quickly and remain remarkably consistent across buyers, regardless of company size or industry.

The real challenge is to ensure that they tell you the truth and don’t leave important facts undiscovered.

Shifting the bias to get to the truth

It’s not that these recent buyers will try to lie to you, the problem stems from your own need to know information.

When you approach these interviews with a need to know specific information, you can’t help but pose bias questions and bias questions are going to get a biased response.

Even the best, well thought out, open-ended questions, cannot extract good data.

You end up restricting the possible answers to a confined data set which results in buyers offering bad or incomplete information that you mistakenly take for truth.

When we conduct these interviews on behalf of our clients, we use one scripted question to get the buyers to open up and share what happened the day they decided that things had gone too far and decided to fix the problem. This is the trigger point and you should probe deeply here as it will set you up well for understanding how to jump start future prospects and drive urgency in their purchase decision.

For the rest of the interview, we follow along with the conversation and focus on the criteria for change which shifts the bias from our need to know, to the buyers true discovery and decision-making process.

Using Buyer Insights to Align Sales and Marketing

Marketers can use the insights to craft a “path to purchase” that helps prospects recognize all of the internal issues that they will need to complete before they will be able to get buy-in.

Sales reps can use the insights to understand all of the behind-the-scenes issues that prospects are wrestling with and help them work through all of the necessary ins and outs of the decisions that buyers will need to make.

Shared insights across sales and marketing is the basis for alignment and a continuous improvement loop that runs through the organization. If you start with the buyer, marketing can prime the pump and sales can facilitate the buyers path to purchase.

It sounds easy and obvious, I know. After all, we all know that a fundamental aspect of selling and marketing today is to sell the way your customers want to buy. Aligning your efforts to the things that buyers need to do to gain approval for a purchase is a great strategy – it helps you reduce time on things that aren’t relevant to the buyer and helps the buyer embrace change.

Unfortunately, most companies exhaust every possible option to understand the customer’s buying behavior and decision process with one exception: asking actual buyers.

That’s where we come in!

Every day we ask business decision makers to tell us how they made their decisions, what internal issues they wrestled with, who was involved and what criteria ultimately got the decision team to buy-in.

We’ve had lengthy conversations with C-level executives, directors, engineers, lawyers and doctors, asking them to take us through what they were doing and thinking when they decided to investigate alternatives to solve the problems our clients address.

The insight that we provide is pure gold!

About Gordon Hogg:

I help CEOs align their sales and marketing teams around Buyer Insights — to power success in sales and marketing through customer-centric strategy. To learn more or get in touch, visit https://insighthought.com/

97% of B2B buyers prospects struggle with How to Buy NOT What to Buy

97% of B2B buyers prospects struggle with How to Buy NOT What to Buy

Before any B2B buyer makes a solution choice they have to make a decision to change/buy. The time it takes buyers to determine and manage their criteria for change and ready their organization to accept the disruption your software will surely bring, is the length of your sales cycle.

The sales model is a solution looking for a problem

One of the biggest flaws with the sales model is that we mistakenly try to convince prospective buyers that they can be more effective with our solution when they’re not certain of their criteria for change.

You may have the perfect solution, but if the buyer doesn’t know how to align all of the pieces of their internal operation so everyone will be happy to change, they will do nothing. It’s not just a decision about the problem your product solves, it’s about understanding and managing all of the people, rules, policies and procedures that contains and maintains the problem.

Sales and Marketing ignore the people who could become buyers

Most marketing teams and sales reps are well positioned for finding and educating buyers that have a “need” and are ready to buy. Unfortunately, 97% of the leads that they uncover may have a need but the prospective buyer can’t figure out how to manage the change. They’re not ready to buy.

They can’t tell you their “needs” because all of the stakeholders haven’t weighed-in on their requirements, there’s no buy-in for change or the full decision team has not yet been assembled. Whatever “needs” the prospective buyer does tell you are limited by their access to the decision team and how deep the team has dug into the status quo and understood all the changes required.

When I ask reps how they handle these situations, it isn’t clear that they have a strategy to deal with buyers that are not ready to buy. And it seems to me that they’re asking all the right questions at the wrong time or with the wrong person and the answers they’re getting back are causing the reps to immediately disqualify some potentially good leads, prematurely.

Prospects are stuck on HOW to BUY not WHAT to BUY

As a seller, you will never understand all of the issues that hold the status quo in place or all of the history and internal politics that have prevented buyers from solving their problem. Whatever is holding it in place is way more powerful than any solution you can offer.

The problem is these prospects are stuck on HOW TO BUY not WHAT TO BUY. And until they work through their internal issues they’re not going to buy anything. It’s not about their need or your solution and pushing solution content, product information or challenging their actions/behaviors isn’t likely to help them resolve their internal issues any faster. And in many cases just causes resistance.

These early decisions are never revealed in an active sales situation. The reps can tell you all you need to know about how buyers chose one solution over another and customers will give you great user feedback. But if you want to find out what internal issues buyers wrestle with and how they make decisions, then you need to talk to buyers.

You need to talk to recent buyers!

It can be a delicate conversation to get recent buyers to share their buying experience openly without feeling manipulated or pushed. Asking leading or open ended questions that seek answers that we want to hear, coax the buyer in a direction that is often biased and risk missing the full range of accurate responses.

It’s not that buyers are trying to lie to you – the problem is when you approach these conversations with a need to know information you can’t help but pose bias questions. And bias questions get biased responses. You end up restricting the possible answers to a confined data set and buyers offer bad or incomplete information that you mistakenly take for truth. The best, well thought out questions, cannot extract good data.

How to conduct a buyer interview without bias.

When we conduct these interviews on behalf of our clients, we use one scripted question to get the buyers to open up about what happened the day they decided they could no longer live with the way things were working and finally decided to fix it. “Take me back to that point in time when you first decided to fix (the problem) and tell me what happened?”

For the rest of the interview, we follow along with the conversation and focus on the buyers criteria for change, which shifts the bias from our need to know information to the buyer’s true discovery and decision process. We never use scripted questions.

You should plan to interview at least 2 recent wins, 2 losses, 2 no decisions and 2 deals that did not involve your company or solution. Record the interviews and analyze the transcriptions for decision patterns and common priorities across the interviews. Once you’ve uncovered the patterns, you’re well on your way to determining the decision sequence that your buyers are following. The insight is pure gold!

Every buyer goes down the same path in order to discover their own purchase sequence. The decision insights that you uncover will fit within one of the following 3 critical steps:

Step 1. What are the hidden elements that caused and maintain the status quo?
  • Buyers need to understand everyone and everything that created the current problem and would potentially touch the new solution. How they got to where they are now, what’s missing and how the problem is being maintained? What initial decisions and priorities got them to where they are and are those reasons still valid?
Step 2. How can they fix the problem with internal resources and workarounds?
  • Before buyers can add any external solution, they must first confirm that they cannot fix the problem with their current staff, familiar vendors or the suppliers they’ve used in the past. There are usually a range of fixes available for problems and their internal group will have priority to provide a fix or workaround to “manage” the problem.
Step 3. How can they get internal agreement and buy-in to proceed?
  • Buyers need to get buy-in from all of the people, policies, rules and politics that would be affected by the change. They have to unravel all of the history and previous decisions; align current relationships, jobs, roles and responsibilities; deal with the political maneuvering and hidden agendas and maintain business demands and expectations before they will fully understand who and what will be affected by the new solution.

The length of time it takes buyers to uncover all of the internal decisions that they need to make and determine any fallout to the company, relationships, people and policies that change will incur and how to minimize it, is the biggest drag on the sales cycle and often the root cause of a no decision. The process never begins as a decision to make a purchase.

Your leads suck. Why aren’t you generating more leads?

Your leads suck. Why aren’t you generating more leads?

The lack of contact with self-educated buyers might be limiting the lead information that marketing is providing and could be causing your reps to reject potentially good leads, prematurely.

Lots of data but no insight

There is no denying that self-service has created a self-educated buyer and the lack of contact with these buyers is being felt at the sales and marketing level. And eventually on the profit of your company.

The quality of the leads that marketing is generating reflects the fact that nobody from the company is talking to the self-educated buyer. It should be no surprise then, that your rep’s lead follow-up conversations are uncomfortable and confusing for the buyer. In fact, every rep that I talk to tells me the conversations usually start slow and end fast.

But wait the CMO says, “we track the leads across our website and social media, we know what they’re doing, we’re delivering the right content at precisely the right time, for the right buyer and our predictive analytics determine the exact moment the buyer is ready to buy”.

Really?

1. How will the reps get someone who visited your website or signed up for webinar to buy your CRM system?

Just because they visited your website and seem to be actively looking for a solution doesn’t mean they’re buyers.

2. What’s stopping the reps from converting all of the marketing leads that they think they should?

A self-educated buyer that’s playing his cards close to his chest doesn’t make this any easier for your reps. And if the buyers not telling your reps how they’re making decisions, it’s highly unlikely your reps will be able to influence them.

3. How will a rep connect meaningfully with a prospect when he has little or no lead information about what problems the buyer is trying to resolve, how the buyer is making decisions or the criteria that they’re trying to evaluate?

The reps tell me that their conversations usually start slow and end fast.

4. How will the reps qualify a self-educated buyer that is reluctant to share details about their decisions, either because the situation is now competitive or because they’re still dealing with some internal issues and don’t know “how to buy”?

The reps are asking the right questions at the wrong time or with the wrong person and it’s causing them to reject marketing’s leads, prematurely.

5. What’s stopping the reps from helping the prospect who’s not ready to buy to understand what they need to do to get the right people on the decision team, recognize what’s holding the problem in place and get buy-in to solve it?

The reps have quarterly targets and really don’t have the time to waste working through a prospects internal issues if they’re not willing or able to buy something for another 6–12 months.

6. How would you know when it would be time for marketing to target buyers that are not yet ready to buy with content to help them recognize the internal steps they’ll need to complete and work with them to get buy-in before they pass a lead to sales?

The problem is that these prospects are stuck on HOW TO BUY not WHAT TO BUY. And until they work through their internal issues they’re not buying anything. Pushing product and solution content or challenging their actions isn’t likely to help them resolve their internal issues any faster.

Is it possible that our sales and marketing approach is causing some of the problems?

Relentlessly pushing facts and information about the customers challenges and our products are ONLY relevant for the 3% that are “ready to buy” (the low-hanging fruit) and largely ignored by the 97% that might be willing to buy but unable to get their internal ducks lined up.

The sales and marketing model, (whether challenger, solution selling, consultative selling, SPIN, Miller Heiman, whatever) is designed to push OUR agenda (product sale) and ignore the full set of internal offline purchase issues that buyers must deal with before they’re ABLE TO BUY.

The sales model is dealing with solution choice while the buyer is stuck on change management.

You’ll never hear a buyer say ” we couldn’t figure out how to deal with the impact your solution would have on our politics, standard procedures, historical decisions, cultural norms, job roles and responsibilities, etc but we decided to spend $1MM on your software anyway”.

Data will not solve this issue

Algorithms will collect and analyze data to identify the 3% in a faster, far more efficient manner. They cannot possibly be effective for the 97% that’s dealing with issues unrelated to needs, identified problems or your solution offering. These issues are entangled in personalities and the idiosyncrasies that are unique to every company.

You’re an outsider and you will never know (regardless of how much you understand their business, speak their language, challenge their actions) what is holding the status quo in place. And whatever is holding the status quo in place is far more powerful that any solution you can offer!

What would you need to know or understand to be willing to help the 97% get unstuck?

The first step is to understand DEEPLY, how buyers are making decisions internally (to get buy-in and be able to bring in a new solution) if you have any hope of influencing those decisions.

Marketing can use the decision insights that recent buyers wrestled with to help prospects make their own decisions faster and generate better quality leads for reps in the process.

Marketing IS the Future of Sales.

I have worked with marketers that are now delivering 40% lead conversion instead of 4%. I have seen SDR’s flatly refuse to pass well developed leads to sales reps that “just don’t get it”. I have also worked with companies that couldn’t handle the organizational power shift that this new approach created and opted to return to the “old way” even if it meant less lead conversion, pipeline and ultimately, less revenue.

Change is hard for all of us in sales and marketing. Not just for our customers.

Why B2B Buyers Don’t Buy – it has nothing to do with their need, your solution or your relationship.

Why B2B Buyers Don’t Buy – it has nothing to do with their need, your solution or your relationship.

I speak with sales reps and their customers every day about what prevented buyers from investing in solutions that perfectly matched their needs. The answers I hear from buyers always astound the sales team and are a complete mismatch (100% of the time) with why they believe they lost a deal AND in many cases, why they won. Think about that for a minute?

Buying is a change management problem not a solution choice problem.

A decision not to purchase a product or service has very little to do with the seller, the solution, the relationship or the need. It has everything to do with the buyer’s inability to manage internal change and the fact that:

  • there are people in the company that don’t see a need for anything new or any reason why they need to fix the problem now.
  • the tech guys have priority to do all new systems changes and enhancements themselves.
  • they don’t have buy-in to look for an external solution.
  • they’re not willing to give up the workarounds that they have in place and that contain the problem well-enough.
  • anything new will enter the company’s core systems and processes and force them to replace or reconsider what’s already working.
  • adjacent departments, processes and people will be displaced and the disruption will leave a mess.
  • the president has other more pressing issues and has not informed the rest of the company on these priorities yet.

The company systems and processes are sacrosanct.

A purchase is the very last thing a buyer wants and until everyone and everything that created the problem and would touch the new solution understands, plans for and agrees to the disruption it will cause, no purchase will take place. The smooth operation of the company systems and processes is essential and more important to them than fixing a problem that’s already baked into the operation of the business.

You better believe buyers “Get it”

Make no mistake, buyers know they have a problem that’s why they’ve built, funded, staffed and maintain workarounds to “manage” the problem. The external solution will impact all of this (the status quo) and they’re not sure how deep and embedded the status quo even is in their own company and it’s likely been there for years with lots of historical precedence and political supporters. So even though you may have exactly the right solution, if buyers can’t make sense of their own situation your marketing content, sales pitch, presentation and script won’t matter.

The problem gap between buyers and sellers

Sales reps have been trained to probe for needs, ask questions to inspire agreement and admit need, prove a need/solution match and enter into relationships based on what their selling.

Marketing is expected to create content that delivers the right campaign to the right buyer with the right solution, messaged the right way at the right time.

Buyers need to understand how they got to where they are now, what’s missing and how the problem is being maintained. They need to conclude that they cannot resolve the problem on their own or with known resources, they need to fully understand any negative consequences of change and they need buy-in from everyone that created the problem and will ultimately touch the solution.

Do you see the problem gap – different goals, different behaviors, different communication and thinking patterns?

It doesn’t matter what your product is or how you sell and market it, if the buyer doesn’t know how to align all of the pieces of their internal systems so everyone will be happy to change, they will do nothing. It’s not just a decision about the problem your product solves, it’s about understanding and managing the entire internal environment that contains and maintains the problem.

Closing the problem gap

Buying is not sales or selling/purchase-based, it’s all about managing change. Buyers need to get their ducks lined up and both sales and marketing can help them do exactly that and be on board and accepted as a provider when they go through their vendor selection process.

I understand this is not how sales and marketing are supposed to think or act but I can tell you that the best sales people that I’ve worked with actively manage and work the buyers decision making process right from that initial contact or 1st call response on a marketing lead and they’re firmly influencing buyer opinions and selection criteria and in most cases, they’re part of the buyers decision team. Try competing against that!