Try this Method to Uncover Your Customer’s B2B Buying Process

sales strategies, b2b buying process, people around a table

Your customer’s B2B buying process matters. If you know how your customers do business, you’ll be more successful selling to them.

That’s my assertion.  I have no infographics to back it up, and your experience may vary. 

But it makes sense. Better B2B customer research should lead to better sales and marketing results, right? It makes sense that if that customer research includes mapping out their B2B buying process it can pave the way to smoother sales, and it matches what I’ve seen happen at the companies I’ve worked with. 

How do people in your market segment want to buy what you’re selling?

Here’s a start:

  1. Take a day to clear your head of preconceptions about how you think your customers buy.
  2. Ask your best salespeople and your industry’s best salespeople how they guide customers toward a successful sale.
  3. Ask your customers and other people’s customers what needs to happen before your product can be purchased and successfully used at their company.
  4. Compare the first set of answers to the second.
  5. Test what you’ve learned.

How does this relate to the B2B buying process models you’ve read about?

It’s all in the details.

Take for example John Dewey’s 5 steps in the buyer’s purchase decision, first published in 1910 (we’ve been solving this problem for a while now).

  1. Problem/Need recognition
  2. Information search
  3. Evaluation of alternatives
  4. Purchase decision
  5. Post-purchase behavior

Here’s how to use this model to ruin your day:

  • Ask your biggest champion at a potential client how they buy.
  • Hear her say “Once you give me a firm quote on the price we’ve agreed on for the features we need, I just need to get a PO generated and we’re good to go.”
  • You seem to be in stage 4 of 5! Set the deal to 80% in salesforce and send her the quote.
  • Six months later the deal has gone nowhere.  Set it down to 5%.
  • Lose credibility with your boss and try to ignore the layoff rumours.

That’s one way that sales strategies done wrong do more harm than good.

What about more recent models of the B2B buying process?

The more recent models of the buying process won’t help you avoid this scenario either.  Some describe the B2B buying process as a linear path. Some describe it as a B2B buying journey. Some describe it as a B2B buying cycle. These are all decent models, but their job isn’t to point out the details that can ruin a sale. All models simplify a complex situation. In B2B sales, the details skimmed over by these models can make or break a deal. You need to figure out what the details of the B2B buying process are for each customer that you sell to.

(By the way, I’m not even 100% comfortable calling it a “B2B buying process”.  Calling it a “process” makes it sound like one step leads to the next.  In a lot of companies, it’s a lot messier than that.  Maybe we need to call it a buying checklist.  A list of requirements have to be met, but the order may vary.)

Here’s an example.  A colleague was telling me about a sale they lost.  They had a champion, the “users” wanted the solution, the CFO issued a PO, all they had to do was install it.  But the IT team wouldn’t install it because their leader felt slighted.  They hadn’t shown him the respect he felt he deserved early in the project.  So he delayed and delayed.  He always found more urgent things to occupy his team with.  End result: the customer lost interest.  The PO lapsed.  The deal was lost.

Most B2B buying process models don’t have a step called “Respect the IT team’s authority.”  But it’s this kind of thing that will sink your deals, or even worse, put them in limbo.

If you skimmed the rest, here’s the main thing:

“Ask your customers and other people’s customers what needs to happen before your product can be purchased and successfully used at their company.”

It’s the “successfully used at their company” part, enlightened by a cautious respect for company politics and human nature that could have saved my colleague’s deal.

If you’re in a B2B tech company, let us know how you’ve figured out how your customers want to buy, and what it’s taken to get your teams to use this knowledge in their product development, marketing, and sales work.

If you’d prefer to speak privately, I’d be happy to hear from you.

If you’d prefer to learn more on your own time, I highly recommend my Buyer Roundtable Essential Guide.