There are roughly 120 million businesses worldwide with paid employees. Each one of these employees plays a role in the organizational buying process. Therefore, it is essential that B2B marketers understand how each organization and their buying participants make decisions based on their unique needs, resources, policies, and buying procedures.
Although basic marketing concepts such as customer relationship management (CRM) can be applied to business markets B2B marketers face many shared challenges such as:
Understanding customer needs on a deep level
Identifying customer values
Taking advantage of new organic growth opportunities
Establishing accurate marketing performance metrics
Identifying accountability metrics
Competing in growing markets
Product and service commoditization
Getting innovative offerings to market faster
Transitioning to more competitive business models
Managing geographically concentrated buyers
Getting C-suite executives to support a robust marketing concept and plan
To advance against these challenges B2B marketers must acknowledge the differences between consumer and organizational buying. A notable difference is in purchasing behavior. The phases of the buying process may be the same for consumers and organizations (→problem recognition→information search→alternative evaluation→purchase decision→post-buying behavior) but organizational purchasing behavior is much more complex due to the layers of people involved.
Further differences are apparent in the fact that business markets consist of fewer but larger buyers, customized offerings which require a closer supplier-customer relationship, stricter more professional purchasing behavior, more sales calls over a longer period of time, business demand derived from consumer demand where economic factors are out of the marketer’s control, demand for products and services is inelastic (i.e. not affected by price changes), demand is more volatile, and buying centers bring several people together in the buying process.
The complexity increases when considering that one person can hold multiple roles or several people can act as users and influencers. The following roles are involved in the B2B decision-making process:
•Initiators – perceive problems/opportunities requiring new product or service
•Users – use or work with product or service
•Influencers – provide information for evaluating products or suppliers
•Gatekeepers – control flow of information
•Buyers – contact selling organization and place order
•Deciders – final authority to purchase
•Controllers – determine budget
Each decision-maker has their own buying criteria based on status, level of persuasiveness and authority. Additionally, they have their own personality and motivation for individual achievement and reward. Furthermore, each decision-maker approaches a buying situation from a different angle. There are “keep it simple” buyers, “expert” buyers,” “buy the best” buyers, “old school~let the sellers battle it out” toughies, and the younger, “computer savvy” buyers that run extensive analyses on potential sellers. To address these extrinsic, interpersonal influences B2B marketers must strengthen the corporate brand.
Organizational buying decisions are both rational and emotional to meet the needs of an organization and individuals. B2B buying participants purchase solutions to two problems. The first problem is organizational at an economic and strategic level. The second problem is personal. In fact, this problem is critical since it is people, not organizations that make decisions. In addition to targeting what type of company to focus marketing efforts on, B2B marketers need to know what drives decision-makers and who to focus on. Furthermore, they must regularly challenge their assumptions about buying-participants.
Knowing who the major decision-makers are, how much influence they have, what decisions they influence, and what their evaluation criteria are is key to building a winning B2B marketing strategy. And within that strategy is the need to build business relationships both online and offline, and establish corporate trust, credibility, and reputation. Thankfully technology is helping marketers answer many of the questions surrounding B2B decision-makers and it is helping companies build business relationships. To do so companies are redesigning their websites, leveraging email, optimizing search results, publishing viral content, and crushing it with Webinars and podcasts. By engaging across multiple channels, B2B companies ensure that they address and align with the needs of customers, remain relevant and top-of-mind, and build lasting long-term relationships.