Thursday, February 11, 2016

Who Really Counts? Mapping Internal Influence in the B2B Buying Game


Everyone knows that B2B customers buy as a team. Participants play different roles – technical, line-of-business, financial, etc. Marketers usually focus on individual personas. But buying is not conducted in isolation. It's social. By understanding not only the players but also the way the game is played, marketers will develop more compelling content and campaign conversion strategies.

Buying teams can be large. According to IDC's 2015 IT Buyer Experience Survey, the average buying team for companies with 1,000+ employees has 9.2 members. While each buying team member goes through their own decision-journey, they don't all march through in tandem. And like a sports team, different players contribute in different ways.

Using data from the IT Buyer Experience study, IDC mapped the relative influence of buying team members to understand the dynamics at the exploration, evaluation, and purchase stages of the buying decision-journey.  IDC looked at the influence of the LOB executive, LOB staff, CIO, IT staff, CFO, and purchasing.

Here's a chart showing the rise and fall of influence for just two of these team players - the CIO and the LOB staff-level roles. Survey participants were asked to rank the relative influence of various buying team roles. The higher the ranking, the more influence the survey participants gave to different roles.
 

Influence Scenarios

Based on these influence ratings and other data such as use of content types at different stages, here's what IDC finds is happening during the buying decision stages.
  • Exploration stage: Exploration can be time-consuming. It's no wonder that staff-level "explorers" (both LOB and IT staff) do most of the work and thus have the most influence in this very early stage. The (LOB) executive who owns the problem is also very influential. IDC Guidance: Make a compelling case for change that will convince the executive who owns the problem. Also, educate the staff-level explorers so they can serve as internal experts. Spur the internal conversation with "shareable" content that says, "Hey, check this out. We really should be talking about this issue."

  • Evaluation stage: Many more influential players, including the CIO and purchasing, are added to the team during the middle stage of the decision journey as the enterprise works through the complexities of consideration and selection. IDC Guidance: Since vendors are infrequently present at the table to explain their messaging during internal discussions, there is a premium on clear, complete, easily accessible, and shareable information.

  • Purchase stage: Financial and contractual considerations are most important at this final stage. Purchasing function and even the CEO rise in influence, while other players move into spectator mode.  IDC Guidance: Marketing needs to help sales close the deal. But also stay alert to social buzz. The closer the deal gets to the wire, the tension rises. On one hand, the buying conversation gets very narrow, personal, and specific to the deal, and on the other hand, it widens out to intensely search for any final verification of a good choice or any final hidden reasons to divert the process.
Continue to pay attention to the information needs of specific buyers. But to really serve the full customer experience, don't forget that buying is also a social activity.
See IDC.com for the full report (Subscription or fee required)
This post first appeared on January 11, 2016 on LinkedIn