At the most basic level, successful B2B marketing and sales depend largely on having solid answers to four questions:
- Why do companies and businesspeople buy products or services like those we provide?
- How do our products or services create value for our customers?
- What differentiates our products or services from those offered by our competitors?
- How do our prospects make buying decisions?
Of these four issues, many B2B marketers and salespeople have the least understanding of how prospects actually make buying decisions. In the 2013 Sales Perforance Optimization survey by CSO Insights, only 9.6% of respondents said that their ability to understand their customer’s buying process exceeded espectations.
Over the years, marketing and sales professionals have developed several models to describe the B2B buying process. Some still use the Awareness-Consideration-Evaluation-Purchase model that’s been around for decades. The SiriusDecisions model depicted below is another widely-used representation of the B2B buying process.
Models can help us understand the buying process, but all buying process models have two important limitations. First, they inevitably make the decision-making process more linear and less complicated that it actually is. And second, buying process models don’t contain all of the information you need to design effective demand generation programs or develop relevant and compelling marketing content.
Because of these limitations, I use a different approach when I work with clients on demand generation/content marketing programs. What we do is identify the questions that prospects will need to answer to feel comfortable making a buying decision. These questions are developed for each relevant buyer persona, and they are also formulated with a specific product or service in mind. These critical questions are part of what Ardath Albee called a “buyer synopis” in her great book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale.
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To illustrate how this works, the table below shows some of the types of questions that would likely be included in any buying process for a complex product or service. For this example, I’ve collapsed the six-step SiriusDecisions buying process model into three broad buying process phases – Discovery, Consideration, and Decision. The questions in this table are general, and when you develop buying process questions, you’ll want to include several that relate specifically to your product or service.
Developing an extensive list of buying stage questions helps you understand how your prospects think whey they’re evaluating a prospective purchase. Just as important, it helps you design effective demand generation programs by enabling you to pinpoint the issues your marketing content resources need to address to move prospects through the buying process.