For enterprise technology deals with price tags of six digits of more, 20 people may be involved in the customer buying process and that makes it difficult for B2B marketers to identify the buyers that they need to target. With so many individuals to target and many perspectives and needs to fill, how can B2B marketers create a managed, repeatable process for customer acquisition that is both efficient and effective?

The first thing best-in-class B2B marketers do is break down the customer buying process into stages. B2B marketers then focus on the primary persona at each stage of the customer buying process in order to create content that attracts and engages qualified prospects. By doing this, meaningful and relevant conversations regarding the desired business outcome can occur.

Depending on the size, location, industry and maturity of one’s organization, the number of stages in the customer buying process will vary. Below is an example of a six-stage enterprise customer buying process and the role/title that usually drives each stage.

Stage #1 – Determine the Desired Outcome for Your Organization

Typically business outcomes are a strategic decision that are directly aligned with a company’s objectives. As a result, CEOs, CIOs, IT executives, and LOB executive management tend to own this stage of the B2B technology purchase process.

Stage #2 – Document Technical Requirements

Documenting technical requirements is all about figuring out if what functionality is required to deliver the desired business outcome. This step requires documenting capabilities, functionality and the IT infrastructure in which the solution will reside. At a conceptual technical level, the CIO or other IT executives will take the lead. At the operational level, IT staff and engineers tend to document the details required.

Stage #3 – Evaluate Vendors, Solutions and References

Evaluating vendors is the natural extension of determining the technical requirements. This step requires understanding what is under the hood. IT staff and engineers will end up implementing and supporting the solution so it’s obviously key to win them over. In addition to the IT staff and engineers, IT management must also be convinced as they are the ones responsible for ensuring the technology is properly implemented and the desired business objectives are achieved.

Stage #4 – Recommend a Vendor, Select a Solution and Agree Upon an Implementation Plan

In terms of who chooses a technology solution, there can be some variation. In some cases the CIO or IT executive management will make the call if they have solved the problem before and have a solution in mind, or if they have a trusted partner (vendor, consulting partner, etc.) or if a peer provides a recommendation. However if the technology or business problem is new and the CIO and IT executive staff do not have a history of solving the problem, they may rely on their IT management or staff (as the perceived experts on the topic) to recommend a solution.

Stage #5 – Gain Internal Support for the Business Outcome, Solution and Implementation

Regardless of whether the technology works or does not work, if an organization refuses to change its behavior (i.e. modify systems, processes and people’s work rhythms) any solution will fail. It’s not about being the smartest person or being right, it’s about motivating people to act. This stage in the customer buying process is usually managed by the CIO, CTO, IT executive or IT management.

Stage #6 – Authorize and Approve the Purchase Decision

Two situations are typical at this stage of the customer buying process:

1) There is a budget for the proposed solution; or

2) The technology solution is not budgeted

In either case “It ain’t over till it’s over,” to quote Yogi Berra. The CEO, CFO CIO and sometimes an IT executive can authorize and approve the decision based upon the size of the budget and signing authority (as a budgeted line item, as a budget reallocation or as a budget addition). However, financial conditions, organizational changes, competing technology projects and changing priorities can rail or derail a technology purchase.

In order to be successful, B2B marketers must understand the customer buying process to produce content that is fully aligned with each persona at each step in the buying process. The right content also has to be in the right format, on the right channel and served up at the right time. The best B2B marketers do not think about each stage as separate and discrete steps, but rather as a continuous process whereby the personas in one stage can help sell the next stage.


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