Applying B2B buyer decision stages to your business

In a recent client meeting, I was explaining how to use buying committee decision-making roles and stages to build a content plan. The client thought that while useful in theory, the buying/decision-making stages sounded generic and were not relevant to her unique sales cycle.

As we discussed her sales cycle in more detail, and tried to view it through the eyes of a prospective buyer, we started to see and hear hints of what sounded similar to the more generic B2B buyer decision stages.  Perhaps they would work after all.

What we ended up with after about 45 minutes of discussion was a very relevant, tailored version of the generic buying stages that provided clear direction and guidelines for the marketing team to begin prioritizing and briefing content production.

This client’s customer decision-making stages, in the context of questions that the buyer needs answers to, now looks something like this (anonymized to mask industry details):

  1. “Is our company committed to capitalizing on this business opportunity?”
  2. “Of the different business models that could help us capitalize on the opportunity, which model best suits our company?
  3. “Now that we’ve identified the right business model, which of the solutions/vendors that enable the chosen business model best suits our company?
  4. “Now that we’ve selected the most suitable solution/vendor, how do we reach a buying consensus and move forward?”

Can you hear the hints of the more generic B2B decision stages in each of them?  Here they are, just as a refresher :

  1. Defining the problem: stating the problem
  2. Evaluating alternatives: finding & comparing solutions
  3. Negotiate & commit: committing to an alternative

B2B Decision Stages: Understanding what your customers want to know at each stage of their decision-making process from defining the problem to evaluating alternatives to negotiate and commit. Including: Trends & Statistics, News & Analyst coverage, Benchmarks, 101 Education, Need & Gap Assessments, Solution comparisons, Implementation plans, Product roadmaps, How to buy, Credentials, Real case-use studies, ROI/TCO, How to build their business case
Understanding what your customers want to know at each stage of their decision-making process

There are a few key nuggets of learning here:

  • Tailoring generic models and theories to your business makes them much more useful and actionable.
    Spend the time to understand a model, and then recast it using terms, issues, and situations that are specific to you and your customers.
  • Many buying decisions include a step often overlooked by vendors: selection of the appropriate business model.
    This step often happens before even looking closely at any specific solution or vendor alternatives.  If you can add value and assist prospects in making this decision without forcing your own product or service down their throats prematurely, you have the opportunity to build a relationship based on trust and genuine expertise that could work in your favor down the line when they ARE evaluating your offering.
  • Competitive positioning will be an essential marketing and sales tool.
    But it needs to be honest and aware of the market in which you exist.  Make sure your messaging explains clearly and sensibly how you compare to your competitors.  If you don’t think you have any competitors, you haven’t done your competitive analysis right.
  • Once a buying team has selected their solution of choice, their work (and yours) is not over.
    If you’re the selected solution provider, be sure you are supporting your new client as they work to secure internal buy-in and commitment.  Chances are good that an entirely new group of people will come out of the woodwork who will need to be educated and brought up to speed.  Don’t lose the deal after you’ve been selected.