Purchasing complex B2B solutions, products or services is rarely a straightforward process, but it doesn’t have to be a painful one.
Anyone involved in B2B decision-making is likely aware of how complex a process it can be. In a typical organisation, these decisions will involve, on average, 6-10 people. It’s probably unsurprising that getting a sense of agreement out of this group will not be an easy task.
Ironically, the abundance of high-quality information readily available online has only made this process more challenging in recent years. Gartner reports that, while 90% of B2B purchase decision-makers say that the information out there is high-quality, 50% found the sheer volume of trustworthy information to be overwhelming.
The problem is neither a lack of information nor the quality of what is available; there’s simply too much high-quality information to be easily managed.
This new information environment is daunting, yes, but if wielded correctly, it can position your team ahead of the pack. We have developed four simple guidelines for turning this potential hindrance into an advantage. First, however, it is crucial to understand the nature of the B2B decision-making process.
Gartner identifies 4 tasks making up the buying process: problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building and supplier selection. These tasks do not play out in a linear progression. In fact, just to complicate things further, two additional ‘tasks’ are always on in the background: these are validation, and consensus building.
Source: Gartner, ‘New B2B Buying Journey & its Implication for Sales’
Together, these six tasks overlap, interact and play out simultaneously across the entire decision-making process; inevitably resulting in ‘looping’.
What is ‘looping’ and how does it affect the decision-making process?
Indicative of the complexity of B2B purchase decisions, ‘looping’ is the process whereby a task once considered complete is returned to.
Take the following scene for example; a mid or enterprise-size business whose IT infrastructure serves the business needs across a range of applications. To improve the delivery of its services, a decision was made to move the majority of its services to a virtual private cloud hosted by, let’s say, Amazon Web Services (AWS). But alarm bells start sounding when the expected improvements to delivery of services did not materialise. An investigation is launched.
Through a combination of online research, emails and telephone calls with current suppliers, the problem is identified. It appears that the company’s current file management system is incompatible with the new cloud platform. From here, a team is assembled to address this problem (let’s call this the ‘buying group’). The team’s purpose is to drill down into deeper research to explore potential solutions and build a new set of requirements based on the company’s specific needs.
If the buying process was linear, the next, and final step would be to select a supplier. Instead, the team’s research results in an unexpected conclusion; a new cloud-based data management system is needed to take advantage of the benefits of migrating the services to the cloud.
The parameters of the problem have shifted from file management to broader data management and the other tasks must adjust accordingly. The team has just ‘looped’.
‘Looping’ occurs during every task within the purchase decision process. Narrowing down a list of potential suppliers may alter the requirement criteria as a greater understanding is gained of what features would best align with the company’s business goals. Similarly, as requirements are solidified, the way solutions are explored will change accordingly.
Remember, throughout this process two additional buying tasks are continually underway, which Gartner calls ‘validation’ and ‘consensus-building’. As steps are taken to make progress in each task there will be a constant back and forth as the team attempts to reach an agreement.
All in all, B2B decision-making consists of 6 overlapping and intersecting tasks: problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection, validation, and consensus-building. Making a final purchase decision is possible only when your team considers all six to be complete simultaneously. Achieving this demands digesting vast volumes of information over a relatively short period of time.
It is unlikely that finding information relating to cloud data management will prove difficult. Rather the opposite – difficulties may arise from just how much information you do find. The volume of trustworthy information available on any given topic today is often overwhelming for someone trying to quickly identify the information most relevant to their company’s needs.
How to make the purchase decision process easier:
The purchase decision journey is best understood as a diverse set of tasks playing out simultaneously. Depending on the approach to these tasks, they can either work to contradict or to compliment one another.
1. It’s a journey – short-cuts won’t help
It’s necessary to accept that the problem-solving journey will be just that: a journey. Attempting to cut corners or leaping at the first solution you encounter will be to the detriment of long-term goals. You and your team are going to learn more as each task progresses, and may end up with an altogether different problem to what you anticipated.
2. Understand your company’s unique needs
Going in blind expecting to stumble upon a magic solution will not work. It is necessary to appreciate the company’s unique challenges, needs, and interests. Understanding these factors provides a solid foundation to leverage and build upon as you progress with each task in your problem-solving journey.
3. Regular and clear communication with your buying team
Constant validation and consensus building may seem like a burden; however, if executed consistently across the entire process, the opposite is true. Regular and clear communication about the progression of each task will help foster a uniform vision of the problem and solution across the entire team.
4. Think big picture, but task execution is key
Your team must approach each task as one component of a larger picture. To get the right information at the right time, you must first be asking the right questions. To achieve this means understanding what job you are currently undertaking and how it relates to the overall process.
Making a B2B purchase decision is hardly a straightforward task – it involves a team of people coordinating multiple tasks simultaneously. Add to this the large volume of high-quality information to sift through and the whole process begins to look somewhat overwhelming. The steps outlined above are by no means a magic catch-all solution, rather, a roadmap to help you and your team navigate the B2B purchase decision journey and maximise desired results.