The odds are high that every buying group you encounter will harbor some internal dysfunction, even if it is well masked. No matter how good your product, your price and your pitch, if you don't discover and engage stakeholders in the buying group and help them avoid dysfunctional dynamics, your deal is in jeopardy, big time.
According to an extensive study CEB (Corporate Executive Board) conducted, on average, 5.4 people are involved in the majority of B2B buying decisions. When a second person gets involved, purchase likelihood plummets from 81 to 55 percent, a precipitous 26 percent drop. Purchase likelihood drops further to just 31 percent--a full 50 points below a single decision maker--when six or more stakeholders participate.
Last week, I was chatting with Garin Hess, founder and CEO of CONSENSUS (formerly DemoChimp). Their software addresses the group buying dysfunction problem by delivering a custom video demo to each stakeholder in the buying group early in the sales process, then delivers analytics on how how the buying group engages with it. Earlier this week, they announced a new Series A round of funding (with investors including the aforementioned CEB Ventures, the company that literally wrote the book on group buying dysfunction, The Challenger Customer). Their challenge: letting the world know their B2B demo automation software thrives at facilitating buying consensus.
Garin and I talked about the roots of group buying dysfunction and what it takes to tackle it.
"The biggest problem is that surprisingly most account executives don't know how to deal group buying dysfunction. Sales professionals often complain about the 'complex sale,' but really there are only 'complex purchases--that's what makes the sale complex," Garin said. "It's all about understanding what's happening on the buying side that matters."
To drive a complex purchase to a close, Garin suggested considering taking a six-step approach to your sales engagement:
- Identify and support a champion. That doesn't always mean "the boss"--rather, it means the member of the group who seems most likely to be a strong proponent of change. Use that champion to discover and engage the buying group. If possible, leverage technology like CONSENSUS to do this faster than traditional methods so you can involve them as quickly as possible.
- Arm your champion with materials and tools they can use to make their case. Rather than just handing over your stock presentation or brochures, give your champion access to materials that speak directly to the different members of the group. Access to personalized demos is crucial, so that each member of the group can hone in on the aspect of the product or service that matters most to their function. This is not about abdicating your role in selling, because chances are slim that your champion has the same sales skills you do. This is about letting the champion open the door wider for you, and to let your materials do their work.
Once you've identified them, you need to develop a rapport with everyone in the group to find and make an ally of your change agent. Once you do, though, they are the key to tipping the decision in your favor, and they can reach their colleagues in ways that you can't.
- Turn your account executives into "buying coaches". They need to understand the group dynamics going on inside the prospect organization and guide their champion through the process. You already know who the main players are in most buying groups that purchase your product or solution. Help the champion uncover roles and stakeholders that they may not have considered. This may seem like stretching out the process, but whether you do it proactively early or they surface late in the deal, you'll still have to win them over. Make sure your champion is prepared with ways to overcome objections likely to surface from each role so their enthusiasm isn't crushed the first time they approach the other stakeholders with objections they aren't prepared for.
- Tailor your prospect education to each stakeholder in the buying group, but focus it on solving the larger problem that faces everyone in the group. If possible, automate the personalized education experience so you can drive agreement faster.
- Track engagement with your educational content so that you can see where there is alignment or misalignment in what is driving purchasing interest across the buying group. That way you can facilitate productive discussion to get everyone on the same page. If one stakeholder thinks a certain benefit is critical and another thinks it is unimportant you need to know that and press on it.
- Go for buy-in on solving the problem then agreement on the specific solution. You first have to make sure they agree they need to solve the problem, then they'll be interested in the specific solution.
Buying consensus and its evil twin, buying dysfunction, are so pervasive that many B2B professionals have come to accept it as the way things are; the status quo. Like fish in water, they're totally immersed in it and haven't seriously considered doing something about it because, until now, there haven't been many viable solutions for addressing these unique challenges. That doesn't have to be the case.