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This is the fourth article looking at buyer trends that will influence marketing and sales in the near and foreseeable future. The first three covered experience creation, BIG insights, and demand fulfillment. This article looks at how buyers are developing more complex networks of interactions as well as decision-making and how organizations must adapt their view of buying.
Buyer Trend: Developing More Complex Networks That Collaborate On Decisions
As many B2B organizations know, when dealing with complex selling situations, identifying the influences on buying processes and the purchase decision is often the most difficult challenge faced by marketing and sales teams. This is doubly so as we enter a new world order of business models altered significantly by the convergence of the Internet and the Social Age. The traditional views of how business is conducted and the buyer-seller relationship operating in a vacuum are running out of steam.
A key trend that is altering the landscape of conventional buyer-seller models is buyers are developing complex networks that engage in collaboration whereby decisions are not made in isolation. The buyer network acts as a collective form of collaboration with each node of the network directly influencing purchase decisions. In addition, the buyer network is expanding. External collaborators such as partners, suppliers, communities, and valued customers are participating in the buyer network with direct influence on decisions. This emerging development makes each “node” not only an influencer but an activate participant in the purchase decision. While there still may be an ultimate buyer, the buyer is guiding each node of the buyer network in collaborating on meeting financial, technical, strategic, and productivity goals.
My work in originating buyer persona development led me to collaborate with three Fortune 100 companies on developing a Buyer Persona Ecosystem™ view of buyers. This is now evolving into what I call a Buyer Persona Network™ view. Understanding an ecosystem is the foundation for understanding how a buyer network is formed and how it behaves. One element we’ve come to learn is that a singular view of a buyer today is woefully inadequate in complex B2B marketplaces. Let me echo a recent interview with a head of sales for a large IT service provider:
“We had an opportunity with an existing customer where we knew they had about an $18m spend annually on our type of services. For the past two years we’ve been only getting about $2m of that spend. What we learned recently is that one of their key partners considered our services to be inferior. We had no idea and it really put us behind the eight ball.”
What Must CEO’s, CMO’s, and CSO’s do?
The implications that results from the emergence of buyer networks are no doubt enormous. They will shake the very foundation of our existing thinking on how buying gets conducted and how decisions are made. Today’s C-Suite will need to adjust their own views of existing customers and prospective buyers. The power of “group think” really does begin with the kool-aid organizations drink. If you are drinking a single view of a buyer and the mantra of pushing harder, then the organization will eventually pass out from this toxic mix. The modern C-Suite must enable an organization’s fundamental understanding of emerging buyer networks and adapting operations such as marketing and sales to account for this emergence. A place to start is to improve the organization’s insight as well as intelligence in two distinct areas:
- Identifying relevant buyer networks for their existing customers and prospective buyers
- Identifying how different scenarios impacts a buyer network and how the weighted degree of influence changes
For CMO’s and CSO’s in particular, working together on developing the mix of conversation and interaction that meets the goals of the buyer networks relevant to their industry is crucial to longevity. Buyer networks will continue to expand and grow. Not having a deep understanding of the tools used by relevant buyer networks, how buyer networks interacts, and the desired outcomes of buyer networks will in essence cause their own efforts of pushing harder to hit a brick wall. Long held perceptions about buyers and the role of influencers will begin to fade away as buyer networks and collective collaboration on buying and purchase decisions emerge.
In the future, the relationship between selling organizations and buyer networks will begin to look and relate differently than the buyer-seller relationship of the past. The buyer of the future will have a different set of skills to go along with a new mindset of collaboration. The connected buyer of the future will help to guide this new form of collaboration in ways that will no doubt change rapidly as new technologies are introduced. Engaging with such new technologies that enable collaboration amongst organizations and reshaping our thinking on existing models of business relationships.
One way for organizations to stay on top of this emerging trend is to earn a very special privilege. That privilege being to earn the right to be a participating member, or node, of relevant buyer networks. Whether it is as a supplier, partner, or even a customer themselves – there is much to learn in this new form of collective and connected collaboration. Are you ready to start learning?