This is the fifth in a series of articles looking at buyer trends that will influence marketing and sales in the near and foreseeable future. We explored so far experience creation, BIG insights, demand fulfillment, and buyer networks. This article looks at how buyer decision models are changing and how marketing and sales can think beyond the buyer’s journey or buying process to adapt. (Image by Kenny Madden © All rights reserved)
Buyer Trend: Buyer Decision Models Are Transforming
Decision-making in business is undergoing its most significant changes in modern business history. For decades, business decisions were almost exclusively hierarchical. The convergence of the Internet and Social Interactions has produced a movement towards flattening models of decision-making. This is enabling more participants and more involvement in decisions that affect organizations. Buying decisions are not excluded from this profound movement.
The previous trend explored, Buyer Network, provided the first clue of how buyers are establishing networks for co-creation as well as co-deciding. In essence, new enabling technologies and the flattening of organizational decision-making are allowing members of buyer networks to have more “say” in purchase decisions. This is drastically changing buyer decision models. There are four elements of buyer decision models that are being altered as a result:
Context: new contextual scenarios are emerging in the modern business era that affects decision-making in general business – including purchase decisions. Business as usual no longer exists and buying as usual no longer exists as well.
Goals: buyer goals have become more elastic and buyers are considering more input and alternatives to overcoming obstacles to achieve goals. Additionally, what we are seeing is more interdependencies, made evident by expanding buyer networks, on achieving goals.
Process: the buying process, or the more recent trendy description of buyer’s journey, is undergoing change as well. Well documented over the past two years is how buyers are typically 70% into their buying processes before encountering direct sales interaction. This means that stages of the buying processes are not as clear as they once seemed and that the standard textbook views of buying processes or the buyer journey needs reviewing.
External: the global marketplace as well as the global economy is proving to be a disruptive force in buyer decision models. This is resulting in a more careful examination and scrutiny of decisions on an organizational level. The affects of higher degrees of uncertainty, risks, shifting markets, and changing buyer behaviors are becoming long-lasting.
What is clear today is that these four metamorphosing elements are directly impacting the how and why of buyer decision models in ways unimaginable just a decade ago. These elements also have a direct impact on buyer behavior with respect to purchase decisions.
What Must CEO’s, CMO’s, and CSO’s Do?
The C-Suite of today can begin to gather business insight into changing decision models of organizations and consequently buyer decision models. Using explored business insight to expand their sphere of understanding beyond that of just the buying process or buyer journey. The general pattern for decades has been to view the buying process or the buyer journey linearly or from a circumference viewpoint that appeared symmetrical. The reality today is that buyer decision models may have appearances akin to disparate networks and at times be very asymmetrical. This development is creating the need to understand how to connect these disparate networks of decision-making. C-Suites of today may find this occurring in their own organizations and can begin assessing how this is playing out in the marketplaces they serve.
In a recent qualitative study I was fortunate to be a part of for a Fortune 100 organization; four specific vertical markets were looked at. What business insight uncovered were four distinct buyer decision models for each of the vertical markets studied. While the buying processes or buyer journeys had consistencies across each of the vertical markets - with various stages being omitted by each, the models for decision-making were distinctly different. This led to senior members of the organization to focus marketing and selling efforts more proportionately on buyer decision models as opposed to a strict buying process orientation. This also meant shifting resources vertically as well as redesigning their conversations with existing customers and prospective buyers.
What CEO’s, CMO’s, and CSO’s can begin to ascertain is how buyers are making decisions (i.e. their buying processes) – what is even more important in today’s business climate is to understand why buyer decision models are transforming and to adapt accordingly.
Future trending suggests that buyer decision models will become more complex. While technologies characteristic of social business and Enterprise 2.0 enable more participative and flattened decision-making, they also create more complex buyer decision models. Subsequently then, more complex buying processes or buyer journeys emerge as an element of transformed buyer decision models. The C-Suite and organization of the future will need to become adept at understanding, through business insight, how purchase decisions are part of – as well as adhere to - newly forming organizational models of decision-making.
The implication for organizations is that new competencies will need to be developed in the future - both in terms of talent and processes – that can enable them to become participants of buyer networks and engage in new models of decision-making. And business schools and M.B.A. programs really need to start replacing some of the outmoded textbooks describing buyer decision models and buying processes of yesteryear. Otherwise, we will a have a very ill-equipped workforce in the future.
The future presents a very challenging question: How well do you know your buyer's decision models?