Understanding how potential customers make buying decisions is critical for successful B2B demand generation. But research shows that this is a big challenge for most B2B marketers and salespeople. For example, in its annual sales performance optimization surveys, CSO Insights asks participants to rate their ability to understand their customer’s buying process. The following table shows the percentage of survey respondents who said their understanding of the customer buying process “exceeds expectations” in each of the past five annual surveys.

Table for Blog - CSO Insights-Understanding the Customer Buying Process

Part of the problem is that most models of the B2B buying process make it appear to be less complicated than it actually is. For example, the SiriusDecisions model that is shown below is a great high-level representation of the B2B buying process. However, even the SiriusDecisions model doesn’t reveal the true complexity of the process. There’s a great deal going on in those steps called “loosening of the status quo” and “committing to change,” and most of what’s happening has little to do with buying a specific product or service.

SiriusDecision B2B Buying Process

What most models don’t make clear is that the B2B buying process is really a part of a larger change management process, as the following diagram illustrates. This is particularly true when a major solution-type purchase may be involved.

Buying Process-Change Management Process

We understand parts of the buying process reasonably well, but the change management process is difficult to decipher for several reasons. First, most change management issues relate primarily to the prospect organization. They have very little to do with the selling company or its products or services.

Second, every prospect organization will have a unique set of change management issues, because many of the issues arise from the culture and the “political” environment of the organization, and from the relationships among the organization’s decision makers.

And finally, change management issues are often difficult for decision makers to directly confront, so they aren’t always discussed openly inside the organization, much less with an outsider.

For these reasons, it’s difficult for marketing and sales leaders to develop accurate generalizations about a potential customer’s change management process. In reality, you can’t develop a detailed picture of the change management environment in an organization until you have spent a fairly significant amount of time interacting with the organization’s decision makers. That being said, there are some change management issues that arise in most organizations.

  • Does the organization have a problem (or a need or a challenge) that needs to be addressed?
  • Does the problem (or need or challenge) need to be addressed now?
  • How will any potential change affect the existing organizational “system” (people, processes, and technology)?
  • Who must be involved in the decision to change?
  • Can the problem (or need or challenge) be addressed using internal resources?
  • What issues or concerns (whether expressed or unspoken) must be addressed in order to get buy-in from all necessary parties?

Until these and other similar issues are satisfactorily addressed, it’s highly unlikely that any change will be made or that anything will be bought. So it’s important for sellers to provide content and tools that will help decision makers work through their change management process. Some examples could include:

  • An assessment tool that helps decision makers quantify the financial implications of their problem, need, or challenge
  • A white paper that describes the limitations of potential workarounds and/or the challenges involved in developing an internal solution
  • A case study that demonstrates how the potential solution can be implemented with minimal disruption of existing operations

For marketing and sales professionals, the important thing to remember is that before you can help prospects buy, you must help them navigate change.

Top image courtesy of Daniel Olnes via Flickr CC