When it comes to buying, decision-making teams are getting larger. Gone are the days when a single stakeholder authorized a purchase. Recent research from CEB shows the average number of people involved in a B2B buying decision is now 5.4. As the number of decision makers grows, the likelihood of a purchase declines. Single approvers buy 81 percent of the time. Once the number of stakeholders reaches five, purchase percentages hover slightly above 50 percent, falling to just 31 percent when there are six people involved. For suppliers looking to succeed in this changing landscape, consensus is the new focus.
Members from buying teams can often span jobs, functions and in some cases geography. Achieving consensus when there are multiple personalities, seemingly different interests and perceptions is tough. Addressing the needs of the individual, while serving the group is a balancing act. Especially in light of recent research that shows personal emotional connection trumps logic and reasoning in purchasing decisions. The CEB study found that 71 percent of buyers who see personal value in a B2B purchase will end up buying that product or service. Perceived personal value has two times the impact of perceived business value. The traditional sales tools—ROI calculators, lifetime value assessments, cost-of-ownership breakdowns—won’t do. Suppliers must bridge the gaps between the individuals and the group.
The Harvard Business Review has a clear idea of what not to do. With groups of stakeholders, personalization can backfire. One-on-one interactions benefit from an individually tailored message that appeal to that individual’s personal values. Try extending the same technique to the group, and prepare for not-so-great results. Presenting different tailored messages to each group member can highlight differences and cause stress. Instead of working to create a personal connection with each member of the buying committee, the authors of the article titled “Making the Consensus Sale” recommend connecting committee members to each other.
Group decisions are difficult. B2B buyers who participated in group buying found the process two times more stressful than single buyers, CEB reports. By shifting focus to what unites instead of what separates stakeholders will help them identify shared interests. Shared interests suppliers can translate into a group personal value. Two options suggested by the Harvard Business Review are creating a common language, finding overlapping meaning in the wants of team members, and shared learning experiences, helping committee members understand where each one is coming from.
The most difficult part of the buying cycle for most groups is solution identification. Midway between the problem definition process and choosing the supplier-supplied solution, most buyers struggle with identifying a common definition of what they actually need. According to surveys conducted by the Harvard Business Review, suppliers aren’t even brought into the mix until buyers are two-thirds of the way through the cycle, meaning the solution phase is well underway. Building on that knowledge, the authors suggest suppliers focus on helping buyers define a solution rather than choosing a particular supplier. Borrowing an approach from the marketing playbook can help. Marketing teams often have tools to reach potential clients early on in the buying cycle.
It turns out emotions play a bigger role in B2B purchasing than most people would like to admit. Even if emotions outweigh logic, business personal value could be framed as a risk benefit analysis. According to a Gallup report published last year, “Members of a buying center typically decide in favor of suppliers that make them feel that doing business with them entails the least risk and delivers the highest benefits to the company.” More than half of respondents to the Gallup survey would pass on a business decision because of a “bad feeling,” even if the analysis was positive. These findings were reinforced by those of the Harvard Business review. Willingness to advocate for a product more than doubled when perceived organizational support increased.
Sales processes must reflect the changing ways consumers buy. Creating consensus now tops the list of requirements — sales teams can no longer focus on linking the customer and supplier, but need to connect decision makers within a customer’s organization with one another. Personal values also matter, appealing to buyer’s emotions is more important than impressive analysis. Personal does not mean individual. Helping to establish common group values built from the individual satisfies both the part and the whole.