The predominant view of B2B buying is that it involves expensive and/or complex products or services, large buying groups and long buying cycles. In reality many B2B companies derive substantial revenue from other types of sales. That's why marketing leaders should define relevant buying scenarios as part of their planning for 2022.
Most of the research and other literature relating to B2B marketing has focused on "high consideration" purchases that involve multiple decision makers, complex decision-making processes and lengthy buying cycles.
For example, in a recent survey of sellers by Forrester, 94% of the respondents said they sell to buying groups of three or more individuals, and 38% said they sell to groups of ten or more people.
In the 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study by Demand Gen Report, 54% of the survey respondents said four to nine people were involved in their buying decisions, and 11% reported having buying groups of ten or more people. And in the 2021 edition of the study, 55% of the survey respondents said the length of their buying process had increased substantially or somewhat compared to a year earlier.
But high consideration purchases with large buying groups and long buying cycles have never represented all B2B buying. In fact, many B2B purchases are routine, and the buying decision is made quickly by a small number of people, or even by one person.
In a 2021 survey of 401 "industrial buyers" by Thomas, 53% of the respondents said they make buying decisions in less than one month, and another 33% said they make buying decisions in one to three months.
It's likely that substantial dollars are associated with purchases that don't fit the high consideration stereotype. In a major survey of business buyers conducted several years ago by Enquiro, respondents estimated that 50% of their budget was spent on low risk purchases that are made frequently and involve only minimal changes from purchase to purchase.
The reality is, many B2B companies earn revenue from multiple types of purchases, and different buying scenarios call for different marketing strategies and tactics to achieve maximum success. Therefore, B2B marketing leaders need to define the buying scenarios that are relevant for their company and map revenue to those scenarios as part of their planning for 2022.
Elements of a Buying Scenario
A buying scenario is a description of a buying process that includes two major components - the functional attributes of the process itself, and the factors that describe the context in which the buying decision is made. The following diagram depicts the buying scenario model I've used for several years.
The functional attributes of the buying process are shown on the right side of the diagram. They include the size and composition of the buying group, the length of the buying process and the activities performed by the buying group.
The items on the left side of the diagram describe the context in which a buying process is conducted. The common denominator across all these factors is that they describe the level of risk that buyers associate with a prospective purchase.
As the level of perceived risk increases, buyers will take steps to mitigate the risk, and those steps will largely dictate the functional attributes of the buying process they will use. So for example, the buying process used for an expensive product or service, or for a purchase that will require a significant amount of change in the buyers' organization will usually involve more decision makers, include more research activities and take longer to finish.
A Buying Scenario Example
One buying process attribute that often receives too little attention is what I call "Influence of individual buying group members." It's not uncommon to identify a buying scenario in which the official buying group includes several people, but the buying process is actually driven primarily by one member of the group.
The value of identifying this type of buying scenario is illustrated by one of the case studies in The Organic Growth Playbook by Bernard Jaworski and Robert Lurie. This case study involved a company that manufactures commercial heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment and building management systems.
To improve sales growth, the company conducted research to map the buying processes used for commercial HVAC equipment and building management systems. Among other things, the research identified the steps in the buying processes and the participants in the buying decision.
The research found that the typical buying process involved multiple "buyers" including building owners, financial executives, facilities managers, procurement personnel and facilities engineers. The research also found, however, that the facilities manager was the key buyer in many buying situations. In these scenarios, the facilities manager drove the entire buying process and made the final purchase recommendation.
Equally important, the research also revealed that many facilities managers were authorized to make purchases up to a set dollar amount from discretionary operating funds without having to use a full-blown capital investment review process.
Based on these research findings, the company made several changes to its go-to-market model. It changed its marketing communications strategy to focus on creating better engagement with facilities managers, and it modified its product line to enable customers to buy equipment and services in modules, which made it possible for facilities managers to make purchases using a more streamlined buying process.
As a result of these changes, the company's sales growth accelerated significantly in the three years after the changes were implemented.
Top image courtesy of Mark Morgan via Flickr (CC).