B2B Team Buying, Complex B2B Sales & Status Quo

Ed Marsh | May 31, 2016


"Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM"

You've heard that expression - and if you sell capital equipment or other complex B2B solutions you understand exactly what it means.

Engineers and finance folks often feel safer going with the traditional solution. It may not be favorably priced and may not offer the best performance or highest value. In fact it may be a mediocre solution to the problem they have. But if it goes badly nobody can ding them for an experiment that put the company at risk.

Compared to that, if someone tries a really creative and untested solution and it goes really well - they're just doing their job. But if it goes poorly (and eventually one will) they they're in a world of hurt.

This isn't new - it's the traditional inertia that favors incumbents and market share leaders in B2B sales.

But that's the old inertia......

Team buying & B2B Sales

"Sell from the top down" and "find your champion" are two common B2B exhortations. Both assume that there's someone in the organization that can get a deal done. In theory that's correct. In practicality, it's simplistic.

Empowerment, buy-in, interdepartmental collaboration and various other management approaches now create a much more complex scenario. Now there isn't any single person who will get it done. (Sure, there's a check signer who could, but likely won't fall on their sword and disrupt everything else they're working to create even for your project!)

There's a team working together to make a decision:

  • any can say "No"
  • often all (or most) must say "Yes"
  • you'll never meet them

That makes the sales rep's job tough....but it gets tougher.

Persona & Journey

More and more marketers are talking about personas. A few actually build them well, with rigorous qualitative research (sitting around collecting ideas from your sales reps doesn't contribute to a persona - it's an echo chamber.)

Fewer really explore the buying journey or understand the priority initiatives that trigger projects. That's where key insights lay.

Research I've done for industrial manufacturers of capital equipment over the last several years is pointing to a clear trend.

Manufacturers are adding capital equipment only when existing machine MUST be replaced or when they must add capacity. Most of the machine builders assumptions about all the life changing reasons why companies will buy their machines are simply fantasies.

Why do capital equipment suppliers and their customers have such different perspectives? I think it comes back to inertia and team buying. Here's why.

Me vs. We

It used to be departmental managers, business unit leaders and execs had budgets and autonomy. They still do....but now they don't make the decisions themselves. That means that a hot button topic (say ergonomics, residual value, reduced maintenance costs, shorter changeovers, etc.) might have been a key focus for a decision maker in the past - and might have been enough to engage them emotionally and drive them to justify a purchase with logic.

Today, however, each member of the team will have those hot buttons - but collectively the net effect is that none of them are shared by enough of the team to coalesce the group around a proactive solution. (Jim Burns (@SalesVPI) takes an interesting look at this problem in this article.)

As a result many of the reasons that drove capital equipment sales ten years ago, no longer do. Only an unequivocal need to add capacity (or satisfy a key customer requirement) actually result in consensus.

That creates a problem for a capital equipment manufacturer - if the opportunity is solely dictated by overall economic circumstances then the only way to grow in a flat market is to grab market share.

And displacing an incumbent is tough.....

The job of scalable growth turns out to be very tricky...nigh on impossible!

But, all is not lost.

Nurturing & Selling by Proxy

You would probably agree if I suggested that you'd be effective sitting at the conference table, selling to the whole buying team, right? You'd understand each of their perspectives and know how to present your solution in the right context so that it resonated with each member. For example:

  • finance would love the lease solution, which in conjunction with accelerated depreciation, makes it appealing from a cash management perspective
  • maintenance would value the savings on obsolete parts and way to avoid extensive unscheduled downtime
  • operations would be ecstatic about very short run & quick changeover capability
  • HR would be thrilled that turnover would be reduced by easier operating conditions

The problem is that you'll never meet them; your "decision maker" will be hesitant to impose her preference; and your champion will never sell this as effectively as you can to each department.

Here's where a really well aligned B2B sales & marketing effort can pay off - particularly when there's persona & journey driven content AND a robust marketing automation solution supporting their efforts.

Convert those empathetic conversations you'd have with each of them into segmented content that speaks to each of their perspectives. Make it simple for your contact to share it in an organizationally and contextually appropriate way internally.

Content mapped to personas, influencers AND the stage in the buying journey provide sales enablement tools for your team and for your proxies.

Appreciation vs. Resentment

It will pay another dividend for you too. You've had those awkward conversations where you try to get your contact to put you in front of everyone. The problem is that they told you it was their decision - you both knew they were lying, but it's tough to overcome. And practically, the meetings will be scheduled at the last minute and cover other topics besides yours. You're not going - and to keep pushing it breeds resentment.

In contrast, though, if they want what you're trying to sell, they're probably frustrated that they are unsure how to convince their colleagues. So GIVE THEM THE TOOLS!

They'll love the fact that you're helping them get done what they must to do their job better....but what they worried would be stymied.

And that will earn you opportunities that you wouldn't have otherwise had.

Buyer behaviors have changed

It's fact. The Willy Lomanesque lamentations are fruitless.

It turns out they're also unnecessary.

You've got readily accessible tools to overcome this team buying challenge - and help buyers not only select your capital equipment solution in competitive situations, but even to return to the glory days of selling machinery for important but not critical purposes.

To make it work, though, you're going to have to exercise your noodle in ways you're probably unaccustomed to. Are you up for it?

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