The conventional wisdom among marketers and sales professionals is that the fastest and surest path to a closed sale is to identify and create engagement with the economic buyer – the individual who can actually make the decision to purchase your product or service.

Both marketers and salespeople know that most B2B buying decisions now involve more than one person, especially when a significant purchase is on the table. They also understand that it’s important to communicate with “influencers” as well as the ultimate decision maker. That being said, the economic buyer remains the primary focus of most marketing and sales activities. One example of this focus is that many companies still use the traditional BANT criteria (Budget-Authority-Need-Timeline) for defining a qualified sales lead, and the “authority” component of BANT is the authority to make the purchase decision.

As it turns out, though, taking a direct approach to the economic buyer may not be the most effective strategy. Research by the Sales Executive Council of the Corporate Executive Board shows that when decision makers (economic buyers) are evaluating purchases, the single most important criteria is widespread support for the proposed supplier/solution across the organization. In other words, what the decision maker really wants to know is that a proposed purchase has the strong backing of his/her team.
Consensus buying is not, of course, a new phenomenon. Wise economic buyers have always sought input from their colleagues, especially when they are one or two steps removed from the use of the product or service under consideration. Consensus buying has now become the norm because leaders recognize that stakeholder buy-in is needed for the successful implementation of any new solution.

In The Challenger Sale, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson argue that the emergence of consensus buying has far-reaching implications for sales effectiveness. They contend that sales reps have traditionally viewed stakeholders in the prospect organization as sources of information. In the traditional selling model, sales reps gather information from stakeholders and use that “inside” information to fine tune their presentation to the economic buyer. Dixon and Adamson argue that a new sales model is emerging in which information and insights flow from sales reps to prospect stakeholders. These insights are designed to build broad stakeholder support for the proposed solution and provide stakeholders the information they need to evangelize the proposed solution with the economic buyer.

The emergence of consensus buying has implications for marketing as well as sales. Most importantly, it means that marketing must create content that speaks to the concerns and needs of all the stakeholders who will influence the purchase decision. Marketing is just as responsible as sales for creating engagement with all significant buying influences.

The second implication of consensus buying is that marketers can’t afford to target lead generation campaigns too narrowly. We now know that targeted, more relevant lead generation programs are more effective that the “spray and pray” campaigns of the past. Targeting is important, but you shouldn’t exclude influencers from lead generation programs, even if you have a good idea of who the economic buyer is. Other stakeholders can provide a valuable initial contact with the prospect organization, and their support is essential for a successful sale.