B2B brands are feeling the pain. With Brexit looming in the UK, instability in other major EU countries such as France and Italy, and a question mark over where the USA goes next, many businesses are delaying big investments. But you can still successfully sell to these companies – you just need to understand the mindset of the pragmatic buyer.
It’s a tough time to do business. Even eight years on, there’s no sign of a return to pre-2008 market buoyancy. Austerity has bred caution among B2B buyers, and those who’ve taken a pragmatic approach to purchases have, it seems, been justified in their approach. Economic stagnation has been accompanied by political shocks. And there’s no escaping the uncertainty around what Brexit and the election of President Trump will mean for business.
Faced with a succession of political and economic upheavals, companies are taking a more deliberate approach to B2B buying – delaying spending and investment. Loudhouse research found that 54 per cent of B2B buyers take longer to make decisions about buying products and services than they did 12 months ago.
How, in this kind of market, can B2B providers ever hope to prosper? There’s no question; it’s tough. But it’s not impossible. Forward-thinking businesses know that they can’t possibly halt all investments. If they do, they’ll be slow off the mark when conditions pick up, and experience a rapid decline in market share to better-prepared rivals.
The challenge is to ensure that decision makers choose to spend what limited budget they do have on your product and not someone else’s. To do that, you need to understand the psychology of the pragmatic buyer.
Pay attention to the ‘Top of the Funnel’
In a more buoyant market, companies often assume limited product knowledge from customers at the top of the sales funnel. Classically, you might assume that your potential buyers knew they had a problem or a business requirement but not what to do about it – let alone which product or service provider to choose.
In the current market, that’s not the case. Executives today have to fight hard to get any amount of budget released. You don’t win that kind of argument without being able to put a well-rounded justification in front of the board. As a result, business purchasers are coming to the consideration phase better qualified and better informed than they were even just a few short years ago. They’re looking for products and services that will make a decisive difference to core business operations – ‘nice to have’ won’t cut it – and they come to the top of the funnel already well informed.
There’s been a lot of push-back in the industry against various statistics claiming to show that 57 per cent or 67 per cent of the purchase decision is complete before businesses even call a salesperson. The industry’s problem with this type of headline figure is that they’ve often been used to argue that the Sales team isn’t as important as it was. There’s good reason to be sceptical about this – it’s complete nonsense.
Marketing and PR need to work harder than ever to service Sales
What these figures actually show is that Marketing and PR need to work harder than ever to service Sales. It’s no good simply showing that you understand the customer’s pain points or trying to engage with their business needs. Delivering detailed, compelling information about your product or service into your narrative is a must – and it’s vital you get your corporate story into places buyers will see it. Namely, right at the start of their journey.
Durability is a brand value
Your corporate story assists your sales story in more ways than one. Executives – who have to defend the necessity of every line-item in their budget – want to be sure that the company they choose to partner with is going to be able to stay the course.
Your potential customers want to know that your company has business and financial foundations solid enough to help it weather whatever the market throws at you over the next few years – together with a clear roadmap for the future. Pragmatic buyers want to feel sure that you’re committed to developing the product or service in ways that will help it – and them – stay ahead in a challenging market.
Simplicity is the key to selling
The way things stand, there is no place for complexity in the sales process. Pragmatic buyers know what they want. To win their business, you need to give them the shortest possible route to their goal.
The buying process should be as simple as possible. Optional extras should be just that: ‘optional’. Give the buyer a simple, modular approach to building a product or service that exactly fits their needs.
Communication is crucial. Make it clear how to buy and never leave a question unanswered or a facet of the sales process unclear. Uncertainty will drag your conversion rate down, every time. A 2015 study by consultants MHI Global found that companies with a customer-aligned sales process – characterised by simplicity and clarity – achieved conversion rates as high as 46 per cent. Those whose sales process was not aligned with the customer, and was still characterised by complexity, converted 27 per cent of leads at best.
CEB found that those companies scoring high on simplicity were 86 per cent more likely to successfully move prospective customers down the sales funnel, from consideration to purchase.
Know your influencers
‘Know your customer’ – sure, it’s a cliché but that doesn’t make it any less true. However, when dealing with pragmatic buyers, it takes on an extra layer of complexity. With so much at stake – spending precious, hard-won budget only on functions that have a direct impact on the core business – finding a single person within the company who has the authority to make a purchasing decision just doesn’t happen.
Decision makers are cautious and even high-ranking influencers, such as CEOs, will defer to their firm’s subject matter experts
Decision makers are cautious and even high-ranking influencers, such as CEOs, will defer to their firm’s subject matter experts. To win, B2B brands need to have in-depth and detailed intelligence that allows them to identify the various stakeholders in the sales process, and move them towards a consensus.
Yes, there are a lot of variables to get a handle on. But mastering this complexity, and understanding what drives today’s pragmatic buyers, is what separates the winners in the B2B space from everyone else. With the right approach, and the right partners, your business can be one of the winners.