Today’s expensive, complex B2B purchases are made by groups, not by individuals. According to the CEB, the average B2B decision-making group includes 5.4 buyers from a wide variety of roles, teams and locations, and that number continues to rise.
Yet marketing and sales efforts still tend to target just one person at a time. How can advocates help you reach all of the stakeholders in this new reality?
During his keynote address at Lead Love Boston on Monday, Steve Woods (co-founder and former CTO of Eloqua and now CTO of the newly-launched business relationship app, Nudge) brought a new perspective to the way B2B purchases are made.
The impact of trust on the buying process
What many marketers may fail to take into account is what Steve termed “groupness” as a proxy for trust. The idea is that if you trust her, and she trusts him, then you can trust him too because you’re all part of the same group.
As a result, as the buying committee is conducting its research and due diligence, group norms and opinion often trump logic. In other words, the individual members of the committee are likely to be swayed by the group’s overall consensus (similar to what occurs with a courtroom jury).
One reason for this is that we are all pressed for time. The other reason is simply human nature – people don’t want to be ostracized from their group.
To tap into this tendency, Steve advised B2B marketers to identify the individuals closest to the decision and transform them into as advocates who can steer the group’s choices.
While “advocacy” is often referred to as a stage at the end of the marketing and sales funnel, the truth is that someone can become an advocate for you at any point during the customer journey: before, during or after the purchase.
Key to making inroads with these advocates is remembering that these buyers “can only be understood and influenced in context of their humanity, their trust in you, and their group,” Steve explained.
So first and foremost, keep in mind that advocates must trust you as you seek to educate them. That means you need to prove your commitment to helping them over time.
According to Steve, each interaction establishes a “moment of trust.” The idea is to build up these interactions until you’ve established a solid foundation of trust.
At the same time, you need to share information and content that will guide the thinking of the entire group, not just the individual advocate. You can sway groups in this way by educating, influencing or relating to them.
3 ways to build trust
1. Look for existing connections between your advocates and the decision-makers
Tap into that “groupness” idea by leveraging the trust that already exists between the buyer and your advocate. As a result, you’ll have to spend less time building that foundation of trust because your mutual connection will have already laid a lot of the groundwork for you.
2. Act as a matchmaker
Make valuable new connections between your advocates and prospects. Most professionals want to build their networks and appreciate being introduced to peers who can help them make important decisions now and in the future. It saves them a ton of time and effort, plus they end up in a better position in the future. Again, as they start to trust their new connection, they will also be more likely to trust you by proxy.
3. Give away valuable content, context and best practices
Things they can’t obtain anywhere else. This strategy is not as effective as the first two, but each tidbit shared is yet another “moment of trust” that adds to your foundation.
Time to rethink the funnel
As you educate, influence or relate to your buyers and advocates, don’t forget their emotional, “human” side. As part of that, consider their role, identity, and behavior as part of the buying group. After all, humans change the way they think and behave based on the context of whatever group they’re in at that moment. Just think of how you act and think differently when with family, with friends, or with colleagues.
As they chewed on these implications for interactions with potential buyers, Steve challenged the marketers in the room to rethink the classic sales and marketing funnel.
He left them with these questions to guide their thinking as we near 2015:
- Are all our interactions looking to sell?
- Does our interaction approach differ by length of relationship?
- Is a solo MQL the same as one in a group?
- Can we use analytics to identify group behavior?
- Are we assuming buyers are rational, or human?
- Do we identify moments that influence would matter?
- Do we have a happy and willing group of advocates?
- Does “fit” matter when identifying influencers?
- How do we analyze advocate motivation?
- Is relationship building part of the demand gen process?
- What do we do with leads who are not ready right now?
- Does relationship strength factor into our lead scoring?
What is your experience with selling to a committee of buyers? What has – and hasn’t worked – when it comes to harnessing the power of advocates to influence group decisions?