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It’s now widely understood that most B2B purchases are made by groups of people. According to CEB, the average B2B buying group now includes 5.4 individuals. SiriusDecisions says that B2B buying groups range in size from 1-2 decision makers to 6-10 or more decision makers, depending on the dollar value of the purchase.

In virtually all cases, these buying groups must reach a consensus before a purchase will be made, and that doesn’t come easily or quickly in many cases. Recent research by CEB found that B2B buying groups now typically include diverse stakeholders whose goals and interests can conflict, which can make consensus difficult to reach.

The CEB research also found that while reaching consensus decisions is hard at all stages of the buying process, the greatest challenge is getting consensus on the type of solution to acquire and implement. The second most difficult challenge is reaching a consensus on the definition of the problem that needs to be addressed.

This means that buying groups have the greatest difficulty achieving consensus during the early stages of the buying process, when they are more likely to be performing research on their own and relying on content to help them define their problem and identify possible solutions. Therefore, it’s important for B2B marketers to develop content resources that will help buying groups reach a consensus on these essential issues.

Developing content that supports the consensus-building process requires a deep understanding of buyer goals and interests. To lay the foundation for creating consensus-friendly content, you will need to take three steps:

  • First, identify the relevant goals and interests of each member of the buying group.
  • Second, identify which goals and interests are shared by multiple members of the buying group.
  • And finally, identify which goals and interests are in conflict (actually or potentially).

CEB has recently argued that the use of personalized marketing messages and content can actually make it more difficult for buying groups to reach consensus decisions. I don’t completely agree with this view, but it is clear that most major content resources, such as white papers, e-books, and longer videos, should contain material that supports the consensus-building process.

For example, suppose that your company provides sales enablement software that can allow sales reps to customize marketing content resources to make them more relevant for potential buyers. The buying group for sales enablement software usually includes the chief sales officer and the chief marketing officer, and in regulated industries, it may also include someone from the legal/compliance department.

Each of these buyers is likely to view your customization capability somewhat differently. The CSO usually sees the capability as a way to make sales reps more effective. The CMO is usually concerned that customization may result in inaccurate or inconsistent brand messaging, and the compliance executive is likely to be worried that content customization may lead to regulatory violations.

To help the buying group reach a consensus, you’ll need to have content that emphasizes the positive benefits of customization for the CSO, and also addresses the concerns of the other buyers. In other words, most major content resources should, in some way at least, address the concerns of the entire buying group, even when a resource is primarily intended for a particular type of buyer.

This approach allows you to demonstrate that your solution can help each buyer achieve his or her specific goals, while simultaneously protecting the interests of the other members of the buying group.

Image courtesy of HORANCapitalAdv via Flickr CC.